I was planning on keeping my big gub shut during this election period, mainly due to the fact Westminster elections are boring beyond belief, even for a political bore like me. Yet I can’t, I have to chip in with my two pence about the Scottish Labour party. Why is it every time they speak I feel as if the they think we are idiots or we button up the back?
Now it’s no lie that I detest New Labour, that’s nothing new to anyone who knows me, what’s new for me is Scottish New Labour facing the prospect of electoral annihilation in May. And it is in Labour’s response to this electoral hammering that has propelled me to write this piece. See, Labour could try to apply some critique or cold hearted evaluation to their woeful polling predictions, – with some commentators like Lord Ashcroft suggesting they could lose 36 of their 41 seats – instead they continue to treat us like idiots. Now I’ll be a little egotistical here and say I consider myself fairly intelligent, not a genius, but I certainly don’t button up the back. Yet, time and time again when I hear a New Labour spokesperson open their mouth I find myself reaching for my buttons. So allow me to offer my critique on why Scottish Labour find themselves up the proverbial creek without a paddle.
Rather than start with the ‘BetterTogether’ campaign which seen New Labour stand shoulder to should with the Tories – a party which the great Labour politician Nye Bevan described as vermin – it is important we understand why the referendum came around in the first place. Labour haven’t seemed to grasp that the referendum wasn’t a result of SNP or Alex Salmond. The Scottish people, whilst always being patriotic, have never been overly nationalist in the sense of demanding independence. Quite the opposite could be argued, the Scots have always been proud of our place within Britain and further than that, our place within the struggles of the British labour movement. This seems to be completely lost on the Labour party today tho. Everyone who’s had a debate with a Labour supporter will be familiar with being called a ‘Nat’. But what Labour are ignoring in calling anyone who supports independence a ‘Nat’, is that us Scots have never truly been ‘Nats’. Scotland’s move towards becoming ‘Nats’ lies firmly at the feet of New Labour.
For me thinking back to when I was an 8 year old boy in 1997, I have two prominent memories. The second memory- which has nothing to do with this critique – is of my mother crying hysterically on the 1st of September as the television reported the news of Princess Diana’s death. The 1st of September also happens to be my young sisters birthday, which is why I remember that particular moment. Anyway back on track, my first memory of 1997 is of Tony Blair and New Labour winning the General Election. Everything about that election victory sticks out in my mind: the theme-tune, the excitement, the expectations, everyone proclaiming loudly ‘Labour is back’. You could almost taste the happiness on your tongue – Thatcher had been defeated and Labour were back. Now, of course as an 8year old boy I had no true understanding of what any of this actually meant. Yet when I think back to that image of Blair shaking everyone’s hand and ‘things can only get better’ blaring from the sound systems, I have a deep sense of melancholy.
Well what a false flag Blair and New Labour turned out to be. What many thought was the return of Labour was actually just a different version of Thatcherism – Labour never came back, Old Labour was gone, Nobody can put it better than Maggie herself when asked what was her greatest achievement, she answered: “Tony Blair and New Labour.” Her greatest achievement was also the greatest gift to the cause of independence.
When New Labour came to power the country – well Scotland at least – expected an ideological change. The vicious assaults on workers rights, the rampant privatization of public industries, the crippling inequalities of Tory society, the unashamedly neo-liberal assault on the working people of this Island, all of that and some was to be challenged by New Labour. Tony Blair and Co was expected to be the government that stood on the side of the working people. Whilst there was some worthy achievements the New Labour project of Tony Blair was a far cry from the Labour Government Scotland expected. As such the SNP stole a march on Labour and started to outflank Labour on its left, which would begin the movement towards the referendum.
The Scottish National Party, despite their name have never been Scotland’s national party. Labour were our party, they were our protest against the Tories, they were our shield down at Westminster, ultimately they were the party that represented you and I. Yet they were losing their grip on Scotland. The warning signs have been big, bright and unavoidable for years and subsequently ignored. Scotland and her voters have seen self-proclaimed “socialists’ embrace the New Labour project and have moved away in their droves, ultimately to the welcoming arms of the SNP.
Now lets fast-forward to the independence campaign, the campaign in which Labour stood so comfortably shoulder-to-shoulder with the Tories. Labour shout they have never been a party that supports independence, it was logical for them to campaign with unionist parties on this single issue. How can you disagree with that? Well, I disagree wholeheartedly and let me say why. Labour had all the political clout and electoral support to save the Union themselves, there was no need to dance down the aisle with a party they once viewed as vermin. Labour were the key reason the country voted NO, if Labour wanted a YES vote, there would have been a YES vote. So whilst Labour campaigned for a NO vote, their behaviour during the campaign that really leaves a sour taste in your mouth. I’m sure we can all agree it was shock, even despite Blair and the New Labour project, to watch how comfortable current Labour politicians were in campaigning alongside the Tories.
In no particular chronological order, I’ll give you some examples of distasteful behaviour that sticks out in my mind. We had the leader of Scottish Labour Johan Lamont stand outside Asda celebrating a potential price rise if we vote YES; we had UK Labour leader ‘RedEd’ Milliband promise to ban us from using the Pound if we dared defied Labour’s wishes and vote YES – he even went as far as to say this threat would be included in their GE manifesto for 2015; we had Labour decry every legitimate argument for independence as ‘Nationalist folly’. We seen Labour ignore the concerns of ordinary people struggling to get by in modern day Britain, by going around showing off fake currency with Alex Salmond’s face on it. We seen Labour ridicule anyone who attempted to suggest our beloved NHS was at threat from a privatization agenda of the Tories as ‘Nat scaremongering’; we heard Labour accuse YES leaning voters as people betraying their comrades in England; we watched as Labour bathed in the news that banks and big business were threatening to leave the country if us ‘Nats’ voted YES. I could go on and on giving certain examples that shocked me from a so-called ‘socialist party’ but there’s a wider point I’m trying to make. Labour rather than making a positive case for the Union, revelled in the potential failures of an independent Scotland.
Labour campaigning to save the Union as I’ve said wasn’t a surprise. Seeing Labour take pleasure in Scottish voters being held to ransom was a surprise. The argument for leaving the UK was ultimately not strong enough, I think most honest YES voters would accept that. What YES voters will struggle to accept is the unadulterated joy in which Labour carried out the wishes of big business and the financial elites. What we are struggling to accept, is how Labour could stand so easily by the side of Tories as the threatened Armageddon. Labour showed a complete disdain for the socio-economic circumstances that led to so many people actually choosing to break up Britain. Scots voters aren’t ‘Nats’, Scots had never embraced the lures of independence, not even during the heights of Thatcherism. The thing that Labour refuse to accept is that their ineptitude has done more for the SNP’s dream than any nationalist ever could.
The referendum is over, but Labour’s current campaign tactics show they have learned nothing. Now maybe it was a cruel twist of fate but the areas that voted YES in September are the areas that Labour are now dependent on in order to win the General Election. Unsurprisingly these areas are on course to become SNP heartlands, which is invoking the ire of the Scottish Labour party. “You’ll let in the Tories” they cry, “A vote for the SNP is a vote for David Cameron” they scream and blah, blah, blah. But you see the electorate here in Scotland is clever, and politically awakened like never before. So when we hear Jim Murphy tell us “The NHS is at risk of Tory cuts” we think back to his denial of such during the independence referendum. When we hear RedEd say Scotland can’t afford five more years of the Tories, we think back to Gordon Brown saying he’d rather a Tory/Ukip coalition than Scotland being independent. When we hear Labour complain of big business supporting the Tories for number 10, we think back to Johan Lamont’s cheeser outside Asda as business threatened YES voters. No matter how hard Labour try and hold us to ransom for this coming election, it will be contrasted with their behaviour and actions during the independence campaign. Every argument they used to diminish the case for YES will be held against their plea to vote for them in May.
Allow me one final point, which Labour refuse to accept or acknowledge. Every time Labour bring out a policy for this supposed incoming majority government of theirs, like banning zero hour contracts, or increasing the minimum wage to $8, or promising an energy price freeze, they ignore their Westminster record under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Any attempt at debating these policies with Labour is met with their standard response of, “what redistributive policies have the SNP got.” This emphasizes that Labour really do think we are daft. For every time Labour announce a new policy, voters aren’t comparing it to the SNP, we are comparing it to their 13 years in Westminster. Tony Blair promised to end zero hour contracts, it didn’t happen. Gordon Brown allowed the banks to bankrupt the country without prosecuting a single banker, Labour say they will abolish the House of Lords, yet they didn’t abolish the HoL during ’97-10. Today they don’t even take a principled stance and boycott the Lords as proof of their desire to see it consigned to history. Labour also overseen the gap between the rich and the poor to rise when they were last in office. The SNP are the beneficiaries of Labour’s failings, not the root cause of them. These failings are what Labour need to grasp to show us they don’t think we button up the back.
When the next referendum comes around, or the next time Labour find themselves at odds with a large percentage of the working classes they supposedly ‘champion’ they have to listen. They’ve been told countless times, “I didn’t leave Labour, Labour left me.” Until Labour acknowledge the true meaning of this, no threats of David Cameron coming to power, no insult of ‘Nat’, no half baked policy, no Smith Commison DevoMax delivering Lord, no Union supporting GERS figures, nothing will bring back those once loyal voters. Labour stopped being Labour and if they don’t start listening, they’ll stop being relevant.
Over to you Labour,
Over to you Labour…