Jimmy Reid famously said that he never left the Labour party, but that it had left him – right now a lot of Scotland is thinking precisely the same thing.
It’s been coming. Labour have been desperately telling the rapidly shrinking pool willing to listen to them that a vote for the SNP is a vote for David Cameron’s Tories, and that only a vote for Labour can save Scotland. Never mind the fact that Scotland voted overwhelmingly for Labour in 2010 and still got a Tory government; pay no attention to their conspicuous failure to offer any sort of positive vision or policy for the future; ignore your complete lack of trust in the Labour party – put everything else aside, be afraid, vote Labour and stop causing trouble!
Now all of this has been exemplified under a single – deeply-misguided – hashtag: #voteSNPgetTories
This approach is flawed on a number of levels. Firstly, one of the root causes of the decline of Labour has been the crushing negativity of their campaigning, whilst the parallel ascendency of the SNP owes much to their incessant positivity. A campaign which offers nothing but doomsday predictions of more Tory rule simply won’t cut it in Scotland any more.
Secondly, it is simply untrue. Losing Scottish MPs isn’t likely to take away Labour’s chance to form the next government (polling still suggests that they will be the single largest party and even if they are not there is nothing in law that says the biggest party must be in power), but it will leave them unable to do it alone. As the Common Weal’s ‘Red Lines’ campaign shows, in such a scenario “small” and “regional” parties could wield enormous influence, demanding the sort of genuinely radical change that we desperately need, but that the parties of the status-quo (the Tories, Labour and the LibDems) will never, ever deliver. Smokescreen politics might have worked in the past, but post-Indyref Scotland is a very different, far more politically engaged place.
People are finally asking what they will get from a Labour vote and realising that the answer is complacency, business as usual, and a group of ‘representatives’ for whom the first priority is protecting their party and the comfortable order of things from which they have benefited so greatly. Labour have successfully hidden their own inadequacy by playing Scotland off against the Tories before, but that doesn’t look like working this time. In reality, it cannot be allowed to happen this time. Why? Because doing so will let Labour off the hook, convince them that everything is fine and, in the end, rob Scotland of the sort of Labour party it really needs (and that it can only ever have if the party genuinely learns the lessons of recent years).
The central problem is that what the people of Scotland are being offered is no longer a Labour party that they recognise or feel any allegiance to. This is New Labour, the direct and deliberate consequence of a grand-plan to win power by removing ideology (and morality) from politics, dressing centre-right policies in left-wing clothes, and that project was never about the people living in areas like Springburn, Ferguslie, Keppochhill and Possilpark.
A party where 7 shadow-cabinet members are millionaires has no right to the loyalty of Scotland’s poor and powerless. It is frankly impossible to walk through some of the ‘Labour heartlands’ of west-central Scotland, witnessing poverty and deprivation which moved even a Tory to tears, and not reach the conclusion that the Labour party has comprehensively failed the very people that should define its entire existence. Jim Murphy tells us that these communities cannot survive another five years of Tory government, but ever-increasing numbers are asking themselves whether five years of Labour would really be any different. In simple terms Labour may well be better than the Tories, but so is getting hit by a car instead of a truck, and people are now wondering whether it might be better not to willingly step out into the road in the first place.
As others have already pointed out, in campaigning alongside the Tories against Scottish independence Labour confirmed that they are the party of the corrupt establishment, defenders of the status-quo, and guardians of a bankrupt social, political and economic system which – like the Labour party itself – has utterly abandoned a vast swathe of Scotland’s people.
The most galling aspect of the situation in which Labour finds itself is that it didn’t need to be this way. If Labour had to support a No vote then they could, and should, have done so on their own platform, making the positive case for radical social change and UK-wide solidarity. The decision to work under a single banner was based on the idea that it would be best to put aside political differences to show that everyone was working for some greater good, but whoever made this calculation put two and two together and got five, and Labour are now reaping the whirlwind of their own folly.
Even without a separate No campaign, Johann Lamont’s honesty as she resigned as leader handed the Scottish branch of the Labour party the opportunity to shake off the poisonous associations of the independence campaign (and indeed the last decade or so); instead the members climbed aboard Jim Murphy’s Irn-Bru crate, sealing their party’s fate in the process. Imagine, though, how this General Election campaign might have looked with Neil Findlay in charge of the – admittedly dwindling – army of red rosettes: could the Scottish left have brought itself to attack with such fury a man who is, in all honesty, one of their own? Would the SNP be monstering Labour with such ease in the polls (don’t forget that those 20% swings have happened before the nationalist campaign machine has even gotten out of second gear) if their leader hadn’t been one of the most high-profile faces of the No campaign? Would articles like this one be effectively writing themselves if there had been a real shift in the focus of the Labour party? Of course not.
Even now, Labour are clinging desperately to the belief that Scotland owes them their votes, that our hatred of the Tories will ultimately be strong enough to stop us from upsetting the established order of things, and that at the end of the day the problem is us, not them. They have become like addicts, refusing to look in the mirror for fear of what they will find looking back at them and, like addicts, they cannot be helped until they admit that they have a problem. Sometimes it takes hitting rock bottom for that to happen – the only good news for Labour right now is that don’t have much further left to fall.