It was always going to be a big ask for Neil Findlay to win the Scottish Labour Leadership election. As a relative newcomer to frontline Scottish politics Neil was up against one of Labours big beasts whose profile had risen considerably following the recent referendum. The margin of victory for Jim Murphy undoubtedly reflects his personal status in the party and the three colleges that formed the electorate in the contest.
Jim’s victory also owes a great deal to Neil – throughout the campaign Neil set out a radical agenda of policies from a mass council house building programme through to the creation of a living wage and the abolition of zero hours contracts – all policies that Jim adopted during the campaign. We hope Jim’s return to traditional Labour values go beyond just winning votes in the leadership election and he turns them into turn into concrete policies for the party’s manifestoes in 2015 and 16 in Scotland.
In the aftermath of the election my union Unite has come under particular scrutiny for our support for Neil. Chief among the allegations is that the levy paying members of Unite who voted in the election had supported Jim, contradicting our backing for Neil. Nothing could be further from the truth. Neil received 59% of the votes from eligible Unite members, Jim 33% and Sarah 7% percent. The size of Neil’s vote from Unite members clearly reflects their support for the values and principles that Neil set out in the election
In the deputy leadership campaign our preferred candidate Katy Clark won the support of 70% of the support of our members compared to Kezia Dugdale the eventual winner who received 30%.
The next line of attack our opponents make against us is for the campaign materials we produced for the election. Through our democratic processes at Unite the decision on who to endorse in the leadership contest was the constitutional responsibility of Unite’s Scottish Political Committee. The committee is made up of thirty elected lay members reflecting the diverse nature of our industrial sectors – not officials. Having looked at all the candidates for the leadership and deputy leadership they chose to endorse Neil and Katy. Similar processes were followed by all the other trade unions affiliated to the Labour Party in Scotland – those that supported Neil and those that supported Jim.
As a Union we believe in the engagement of our members and we sent out materials to our levy paying members explaining our democratic decision and setting out why we believed Neil and Katy were in Unite’s view the best candidates. That so many of our members agreed with that decision and chose to support Neil and Katy shows that as a Union we are in tune with our membership and their values.
Democratic decision making and engagement with our members underpins the union’s approach in Scotland. It is those democratic lay Structures that resulted in the union adopting a position of neither endorsing the Yes or the No camps in the recent referendum. Unite’s Industrial Sector Committee’s, Political Committee and ultimately the Regional Committee came to the view that Unite should not make a recommendation for either side in September’s vote. There are those that have criticised us for that position but how much louder those voices would have been if we had run roughshod over the democratic decisions of union members. Our strength as a union is founded on the efforts we go to reflect our members decision making and it is something that we will never compromise on
Unite having nothing to be ashamed about in our support for Neil and Katy – it was a democratic decision made by a democratically elected committee. We have nothing to feel embarrassed about by engaging our members during this election process – it is what our members have come to expect and it is what a modern trade union does. And we have nothing to feel guilty about in our support for Neil. He was in the unions view the candidate that offered a credible agenda for social justice, or to use a word that Jim Murphy has been using recently, Neil Findlay offered a socialist alternative and one that has now set the political agenda in the Scottish Labour Party.
Pat Rafferty is the Regional Secretary of Unite in Scotland