I think the first thing to do is to acknowledge that standing as RISE in the Scottish Elections we did extremely poorly, but probably no better or worse that we would have done standing as the SSP, and any criticism of RISE here is only because it was as RISE that we stood. Standing as the SSP, I don't think we would have done much better because we would have run a very similar campaign using almost exactly the same methods as RISE did and achieved virtually the same outcome. There was very little new in either the approach or the policies we relied on to persuade the voters into our camp.
On the positive side the SSP has learned a lot about the quality of our social media offerings. Rise material was incomparably better than anything we have ever produced and we fail to learn from that at our peril. The medium was exploited about as well as it could have been. Would that I could say the same for the message.
As the left, whichever name we campaign under, we keep making the same mistake. We campaign on the things that are important to us rather than what is important to the voters.
Looking at the headline policies on the main RISE leaflet,we had we were asking for a second referendum at a time of our choosing. No doubt we were looking for disaffected SNP supporters, but there are very few disaffected SNP voters. Their new members haven't had time to become disaffected and their 'old guard' wouldn't go anywhere else at any price. Add to that the fact that 55% of the electorate had already rejected independence very recently and we were always backing a loser with this as a headline policy. We were competing on someone else's turf and they had it fenced off very well. The problem is that we knew all of this and still headlined the policy.
We said no to cuts and save local services. This is a message we were sharing with other parties. There was nothing distinctive about our approach. It didn't tell voters clearly enough where the money was to come from and that was where our distinction lay. We were asking them to take us on trust when they didn't even know us.
We were saying we would scrap the hated council tax and that we had a plan for an alternative that makes the rich pay. But council tax has been frozen for years and voters, especially those on fixed incomes like pensioners value predictability. We didn't define 'the rich' so many would assume we meant them because they regard the poor as being those on benefits and see themselves as being rich by comparison. We were asking them again to trust us without really knowing who we were.
We said we would de-criminalise marijuana, but we found ourselves at hustings in towns and cities where nearly every family has had a drug related problem or even tragedy within their ranks. Most of them would never challenge the policy publicly but they wouldn't let our view over-ride their own instincts without knowing us and being convinced that we were more likely to have a solution than the police, press and courts. They need to trust us before we can convince them that we know best.
We said we should end the Police Scotland farce, but for most voters a police officer is just a police officer. Their organisation structure is of no interest to voters, what is important to voters is that there are never enough police on the beat. Re-organisation of Police Scotland is of absolutely no importance to them in the polling booth however important it seemed to us.
Free public transport is the final headline policy on the leaflet. But the demographic most likely to vote already travel free on the buses and in poll after poll car owners show no interest in giving up their cars and you really can't sell this policy to the rest of the voters in one line, it's a long term message for after you're trusted, so as a headline policy I'm afraid it wasn't going to be very effective.
All of these policies are excellent and very important in their own right, but they are very important to us, not to the voters. If we are to convince the voters to vote for us we must first address their issues. We had nothing in our headlines about health or hospitals, education or schools, houses or housing or jobs and employment. We focussed on the things that are important to us instead of policies that are important to both us and the voters. Our policies should all have been in the manifesto, but on the leaflets, as headline policies, the ones we chose were absolutely inappropriate.
Before we can get people to believe we are right about our issues we have to let them know we are addressing their issues. We have to be embedded in their lives locally, not only in local campaigns but in their lives. We need to be in community councils, parents' associations, tenants' associations, fighting for them every day where they live. We are already well established in the trade unions and we should expand on that and that should be our model for involvement in other organisations. I don't just mean coming along to save a school here or a park there and hitching our wagon to a local campaign. We need to lead our people. Voters have to believe that we believe in them, working for them all the time and picking up the heavy end when other parties are attending civic receptions and doing everything they can to avoid their own people except at election times. And we should always be recognisably representing the SSP in the community, deeply involved and listening.
The notion of left unity is little more than a pipe dream. If all of the minor left parties were joined in cooperation we would still fall far short of a critical mass in terms of electoral muscle. And for reasons of doctrine or for other reasons some left wing parties wouldn't join with us and some we wouldn't consider joining with. Our future has to lie elsewhere and if we can make a success of it we will become the pole of attraction for the rest of the left, unless they decide that the case for left wing electoral politics is over or carry on dreaming and getting one or two per cent in the polls.
I think there was and is a fundamental flaw in our approach and severely compounded by the novelty of RISE. They had little or no recognition and only when we have done the hard miles will we be able to compete seriously for votes. We will only convince voters that the things that are important to us affect their lives profoundly if they trust us enough to think that we might know better than the media what is important for them in their society, and that the new society we advocate is possible.
That is the challenge for us in the SSP and there are no short cuts.