Despite 37% of their own supporters backing independence, Scottish Labour played a central role in a market driven, Tory funded campaign that instilled fear of economic decay into the hearts of the vulnerable to preserve an elitist Union. This week, as the Scottish Green Party and the Scottish Socialist Party’s membership surges and the SNP’s skyrockets beyond imagination, Scottish Labour called on their party to reach out to Yes voters. It is my firm belief that after two years of labelling Yes activists anti-English separatist Nationalist deluded fronts of the SNP, their plea will fall on deaf ears.
I was born into a family with Labour at its very heart. At six years old, I can just recall the 1997 general election. My Mum gave me ice cream for breakfast and hung her red dresses out the windows. I remember a triumphant hopeful energy, which in time faded and diminished, replaced instead with heartbreak, anger and loss. The very last Labour member of my family cancelled their membership recently. They no longer want to be associated with the people and politics of this party, and they are not alone. Scottish Labour has, without apologies, turned their back on their own history, and the most deplorable part is; they simply refuse to see it.
We must ask ourselves why this party is so intent on stagnating meaningful change when the Labour movement that their politics was founded upon – which they still speak of – was mobilized on vision and the reimagining of a society that works for all. Scottish Labour’s role in the independence debate left no space for imagination or inspiration.
It’s my belief that we do not currently have a Scottish Labour Party, but rather a Labour Party in Scotland. As somebody who has never been affiliated to a political party, I desperately wanted to see a Yes vote inspire Scottish Labour to disaffiliate from a Westminster rhetoric and advocate radical change. Instead, they will continue to pander to a London centric, austerity enthusiastic agenda. Ironically, a No vote was the worst possible outcome for the Scottish Labour Party.
The first decision they made on the referendum was to bypass a vote, instinctively supporting the union. The Scottish Green Party voted on it, and despite supporting Yes they maintained that members who supported No could speak freely on the matter. This unhealthy blatant denial of autonomy witnessed the start of the transparent, unashamed ostracizing of Scottish Labour supporters backing the Yes movement. As the Labour for Independence (LFI) movement grew, Scottish Labour denied their existence entirely, casting them aside as an SNP front. At their conference, fake LFI leaflets were handed out to smear their cause, and they were seen openly mocking LFI members.
Scottish Labour actively sought to demonize the Yes movement by labeling everyone involved inward-looking ‘Nationalists’. It was as though they couldn’t possibly conceive that movement was about people, let alone working class people. During panel debates, they would frequently struggle to come to terms with my lack of SNP affiliation. Bill Butler, who described me as “well intentioned but misguided”, told a school audience that if they voted Yes, they would then have to define themselves as ‘Nationalists’. On one memorable occasion, Midlothian MSP David Hamilton repeatedly spoke about sinister Nationalism, whilst waving his hand in my direction. When I pointed out that this would make 37% of his own party ‘Nationalists’ and that Labour’s asylum policy is an example of actual inward looking nationalism, he bellowed, “I bet you’re lined up to join the SNP on September 18th, you’re just another Nat!” They were manic. It was like sitting on panels with irrational children who would have tantrum-like outbursts every time their more popular playground rival was mentioned.
There is no denying it; their behaviour throughout the campaign demonstrated nothing short of tribal-driven bullying. Scottish Labour views the 2011 SNP victory as a temporary bump in the road, and the power of the Yes movement as a result of people being lured in by Salmond’s Nationalist agenda. There remains a blanket denial that the diminishing support for Scottish Labour is in part a result of its passive acceptance of New Labour’s ideology, and its lack of desire to provide an alternative to the dominant orthodoxy that dictates politics in London.
Never was this more glaringly obvious than in the run up to the referendum. Scottish Labour’s role was almost entirely focused around a market liberal agenda for the preservation of a normative framework, unfettered Neoliberalism. The voices that dominated this were not ordinary people but were banks, supermarkets and other massively unethical and morally questionable corporate giants. I even saw a picture of Johann Lamont proudly standing next to an Asda who said that prices would increase post Yes vote. A corporate decision that would hit the vulnerable the hardest was regarded as a cause for celebration. Scottish Labour has forgotten that the economy works for the people, not vice versa.
Yet the more sinister presence in this campaign was that of fear. Backed by a largely compliant media, fear played a central role in the bid to preserve the union. This is far from my bias take on the matter; they referred to themselves as ‘Project Fear’. What I found most unbearable about this was that it did not focus on the affluent sectors of society. No, from pensions to the NHS, this was a campaign strategy that actually targeted the poor and the vulnerable, instead of standing up for them.
Unfortunately for Scottish Labour, the uncomfortable truth of the matter remains, the areas that voted Yes were also those with high levels of depravation and low life expectancy. I was at the Stirling referendum count. Watching areas like the Raploch voting Yes, only to see the likes of Dunblane and Bridge of Allan overwhelmingly say No was like watching the wealthy ignoring the poor’s cries for change. Not only have Scottish Labour played a central role in a campaign against the will of 37% of their own support based, they have also voted against the will of some of the poorest members of our society.
I watched the Labour Party conference. I watched Red Ed advocate a continuation of austerity measures targeting the safety net protecting the very poorest in our society. I was reminded of Scottish Labour’s ‘vote No to protect our NHS’, and was filled with a fresh wave of resentment.
Scottish Labour appears to think that the vote marked the end of discussion, but we are living in a changed Scotland. The traditional, tribal way in which we once perceived politics has been entirely deconstructed and it could not be more refreshing. The Yes movement was just the beginning of something beautiful. The grassroots groups in the Yes movement, from National Collective and Generation Yes to Radical Independence, the Common Weal and Women for Indy, will continue to thrive and act as vehicles for change. There is a very real appetite for an alternative to status quo, one that challenges the dominant economic and political framework of Westminster.
At a time when their popularity was already dwindling, this party played a central role in a market-based campaign that ostracized and encouraged fear without vision against the will of 37% of their own supporters and much of the working class. Realistically, Scottish Labour is in serious danger of a further fall from grace.