A response to the new Tory administration

This is a guest posting by Rob Hudson, a photographer I know who is based in Cardiff.

Is there an emoji for feeling completely and utterly depressed? Because that’s all I felt like posting yesterday. Honestly I don’t recognise this country anymore and I don’t suppose for one second I’m alone. I suppose I was privileged to be born into a humane country, where for the most part people cared about their fellow citizens (even occasionally citizens of other countries), but I surely won’t die in one.

I feel like taking the first boat out of here, but there are people here who’ll be all the more reliant on me after this election. The country is broken, the NHS is in mortal danger, the poor, the weak and the young and elderly will be sacrificed to the vagaries of the unfeeling, unthinking free market.

It’s the sense of disbelief that’s most palpable here today. We really are a nation divided, divided ideologically, philosophically and morally. Forget national geography for a moment, this is neighbour against neighbour, town against country, city against City. And that gulf is enormous, I actually find myself hating, fearing and despairing of my fellow countryfolk and countrywomen today. How could they do it, how could they vote for self-interest and against caring for those in need? It’s hard to believe we will ever be reconciled, it’s like we were born on different planets. What they voted for is evil and I don’t know how I’m going to talk to them again.

I have heard rumours that perhaps 30-60000 of our fellow citizens have died after being declared fit for work, more after their benefits were sanctioned for the most trivial reasons. There’s an FOI request imminent (the DWP have been sitting on it during the election, despite having been ordered to release the figures in February) and I do hope Tory and UKIP voters will feel sick when they see the bold facts. Because with £12bn in unspecified welfare cuts it is only going to get worse.

But will they feel sick? Are they so self interested or sociopathic that they will think that an acceptable toll for a £5 a week cut in income tax? I hope you spend it wisely, because it’ll be little use if you lose your job, become ill, are young or get old.

No. I can’t think that negatively about the people I grew up amongst. I don’t believe we’ve become inhumane overnight. I believe we (in England and Wales) were not offered an alternative in the form of a party with the remotest chance of power that could inspire us.

Labour offered no serious critique of our situation, allowed the Tory lie that they were responsible for the deficit through overspending to become commonplace. They failed to propose an alternative to austerity, an alternative electoral system, to propose reform of an inequitable tax system, failed to propose any meaningful response to the huge growth of inequality and fell into the Tory trap of failing to propose an anti Tory alliance with the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens. And on top of that ignored the environment.

I speak as someone who joined the Green Party last year and it’s amazing how taking that stance has enabled me, in my mind, to critique what had formerly been my party of choice – Labour. But I feel guilty; I take some of the blame because I have not been nearly active enough. And that makes me even more depressed.

Yet it’s little wonder Labour lost, they tried tinkering at the edges under Blair and Brown, and that’s simply led to large numbers of disenchanted Labour voters, who’d seen no real change, to switch their allegiance to the bigots, homophobes and thinly disguised misanthropes of UKIP. I hesitate in calling them racists, but suspect that hesitation is unjustified.

There is one glimmer of hope and that comes from Scotland. Whilst Plaid Cymru made little progress outside of their language based heartlands, the SNP were elected in nothing less than a political tsunami. I thought I might have more to say about Plaid, but I really don’t. They’ve made little progress; they are essentially still a political irrelevance. They obviously have much to do to convince the electorate that they no longer represent the interests of the minority of Welsh speakers alone. In essence they are where the SNP was thirty years ago. It’s not to say their message won’t have impact in the future, they are undeniably a progressive party.

I know many of you in England and Wales base your opinion of nationalism on an analysis based in the 1930s. But what that fails to recognise is that the nationalist parties learned from the experience of Nazism, and rejected ethnic nationalism to become what are now known as ’civic’ nationalists. The SNP aren’t the evil Scots rising up to steal your babies as portrayed by the Tory press, the Tory Party and depressingly Ed Miliband. They are what we might have once called broadly social democrats before every major UK party moved to the right of social democracy, including Labour. They believe in government close to the people who elect them, as I do, and I include Wales and the English regions. Most importantly they offered something of an alternative to the cold winds of free market austerity.

But it’s not nationalism or even particularly regional democracy that I want to agitate for at this time, that’s an argument for another day. What is really important is the way the independence debate engaged and politicised the electorate. How grassroots activism has sustained and (in Scotland) elected a party that presents a genuine alternative to the status quo.

We, south of the border, need to come together too, we must offer an alternative. We need to become active citizens: screw your online petitions, join together, and actually do something. Join a political party, join a union, form groups of like-minded people outside the current broken system. Take every opportunity to protest and to inform your fellow citizens because you can be sure the tax avoiding non-doms who own our press won’t. You can be sure the newly enfeebled BBC won’t.

There is no Tory majority; they simply have the most seats in the discredited first past the post system (in fact only 27% voted Tory). Politics comes from the people and that means you and me folks, because there isn’t anyone else, we are the people. And if we don’t, if we stand by and let the new government literally kill tens of thousands of our citizens and unleash yet more evils of neoliberalism; what does that say about us, other than we are complicit. Because alone in our despair we are weak, but together we can find hope.


Alliances and Not-Alliances: Westminster 2015 – postscript

I don’t want to harp on about this much more, but I do want to add two short points to my last post on the Scottish National Party’s failure to pursue an alliance with the Scottish Green Party and the Scottish Socialist Party in the 2015 Westminster elections (and warm thanks, by the way, for the lively discussion in the comments section of that posting – they are well worth reading if you haven’t already done so).

Firstly, whilst I welcome the news that Nicola Sturgeon is entertaining the possibility of an alliance at Westminster between the SNP with Plaid Cymru and the English and Welsh Green Party, her failure to engage in a similar alliance with the SNP’s erstwhile YesScotland allies in Scotland, the Scottish Green Party and Scottish Socialist Party, emphasises the narrow party political advantage that she and her party leadership are pursuing now that the referendum campaign is over. The idea that the SNP might continue to co-operate willingly with other parties after the referendum needs to be treated with great scepticism: the massive growth in party membership that all the pro-Scottish anti-austerity parties have experienced, with the SNP benefiting the most as they were the largest of the three parties to begin with, seems to have blinded the SNP’s leadership to the advantages that strategic alliances – and that word strategic is key here – might bring. That is rather disappointing, but will need to feature in the ways in which decisions by the SGP and SSP are made in future.

Secondly, related to that: I made a mistake in my last posting: having been away for my branch party’s AGM I missed the fact that the Stirling Greens decided to field a candidate for the 2015 election; the candidate is to be nominated in December. Obviously, since I was not present for the debate on this I don’t know how the arguments went. However, despite the fact that all canvassing is good in raising our party’s profile amongst the electorate, I am yet to be convinced that this is a positive move. What I think will really count at the 2015 Westminster election is giving a pro-Scottish anti-austerity party a chance at winning this seat, rather than the Scottish branch of “Labour” perhaps retaining it, or, just as bad, the Tories winning it. Whether my fellow Greens like it or not, this area is not like Edinburgh East and the only pro-Scottish anti-austerity party that has any hope of defeating the pro-austerity unionists here is the SNP.  This means that SGP (and perhaps SSP) members who supported independence face a dilemma: canvass and vote for a Green candidate in the knowledge that this might enable one of the pro-austerity unionist parties to win because votes for the Greens take away from the pro-Scottish anti-austerity SNP, or – gulp! – not canvass for our nominated candidate and perhaps even vote SNP, despite the SNP’s narrow-mindedness on the question of co-operation.  I don’t yet know where I stand on this question myself.

In conclusion: I remain concerned that whilst so much of what Sturgeon’s SNP is doing is really positive and good for Scotland (and indeed the rest of the UK even if all it is doing for other parts of the UK is demonstrating a viable alternative approach to the pro-austerity unionist parties), this failure by the SNP to work together might yet cause them real electoral damage.

Alliances and Not-Alliances: Westminster 2015

I’m a Green party member, and during the referendum campaign I canvassed a bit for Yes in my area. My party’s strength in the Stirlingshire area in terms of elected representatives is centred around the Dunblane/Bridge of Allan area, where the marvellous Mark Ruskell is a local councillor. However, that’s 20 miles away, and with active canvassing for Yes happening closer by, it made sense to join my local canvassers. Given that two of the local councillors, Ian Muirhead and Graham Lambie, are from the SNP, the people I mostly canvassed with were SNP activists.

I was warmly welcomed by them, and was very aware that my presence (wearing my bright Green Yes tshirt) helped us – it clearly demonstrated to voters that the Yes campaign was not about the SNP, but about a broader alliance of people from different constituencies.

All the Yes parties have grown since the independence referendum, including the Greens: the first branch meeting I went to after the referendum needed a hall and over 50 people turned up; meetings before the referendum had been in cafés and pubs with half a dozen or so folk! We are still, overall, a small party when compared to the SNP, but we’re not insignificant. Therefore, I was delighted to see that my old friend Peter McColl has been selected as a Green candidate for Westminster in my former constituency of Edinburgh East (we moved from there last year), opposing the present “Labour” incumbent, Sheila Gilmore. This won’t be easy – the seat has been held by “Labour” for a long time, with Gavin Strang preceding Gilmore.

The Green party does not have the resources to stand candidates in every constituency, so it chooses seats where it might realistically be able to make progress. The combination of Edinburgh East and McColl really does offer that – but it’s far less likely if the former Yes vote is split and an SNP candidate stands too.  In fact, it might even mean Gilmore gets back in, and the unionists will hold the seat.

I welcome Nicola Sturgeon as the new leader of the SNP, and I think she’s likely to be a very good First Minister of the Scottish Parliament. However, I do think it’s a shame that she seems to have ruled out a party political alliance, even a very loose one, for the 2015 Westminster election. The SNP has said it is prepared to support candidates from outwith the SNP who would stand under an SNP banner: whilst this is very welcome (I can’t wait to see who some of the candidates might be), it seems an alliance between parties is being ruled out.

Alliances are common in many European and other countries, and I see no reason why they wouldn’t work well in Scotland for Westminster elections, given that many of us who voted Yes are keen to have parties in Westminster that will stand up for Scotland. This is something that none of the unionist parties offer, least of all “Labour” – as the former leader of their Scotland branch, Johann Lamont, has made clear.

What I would have liked to have seen is as follows: an agreement that in constituencies such as Edinburgh East, where the Greens have a realistic possibility of unseating a unionist politician with a capable candidate such as McColl, the SNP would agree to not stand a candidate themselves but put their considerable resources into serious canvassing for the Green candidate (the ballot paper could say something like “Peter McColl – Scottish Green Party (Scotland Alliance incl. Scottish National Party)” or similar, perhaps also including the SSP, who were an important part of the Yes campaign). In turn, members of the Green party (and the SSP?) would canvass for the SNP/Scotland Alliance candidate in their various constituencies where they’re not fielding candidates, such as Stirling.  Whilst I was out canvassing for Yes with local SNP members variations of this were discussed and generally thought to be a good idea.

Why is this important, when the SNP is dominating the Scottish political landscape just now? Given that in Stirling (and most other parts of Scotland) we, the Greens, are unlikely to be standing a Westminster candidate, I and other Green voters will have to vote tactically, and for many that will mean voting for the (as yet undecided) SNP candidate; I can’t see many Greens voting for the “Labour” party or any of the other unionist parties. Now voting tactically is one thing, but if I knew that the “big beast” that is the SNP was willing to openly work together with smaller parties such as the Greens in an area such as Edinburgh East where the Greens have a realistic chance of defeating “Labour”, I could actually see myself canvassing for an SNP/Alliance candidate in Stirlingshire/Strathendrick (perhaps on the ballot paper as “XXX – Scottish National Party (Scotland Alliance incl. Scottish Green Party” etc.). I simply cannot canvass for the SNP if it does not also represent the Greens.  If there is no alliance, then I might try and go back to Edinburgh a couple of times and help canvass for McColl.

Now that kind of call really is for the larger party to make, as the Green statement on the issue says – and it is a shame that it now seems it won’t be happening this time around. Instead, it seems the SNP is emphasising the more narrow party political advantage it thinks it has on the basis of current support. I very much hope that it is not underestimating the might of the forces against it, when the tired old clichés about “vote Labour to kick the Tories out” and similar nonsense will be revived, for sure (or as I like to think of it: “vote redTories to kick the blueTories out”!). Using the undemocratic FPTP system for Westminster to advantage is not something the SNP has been particularly successful at in the past, and even with polls showing overwhelming support for the SNP at the moment, I am a bit uncertain about how that will translate into Westminster seats. Better, I would have thought, to involve as many campaigners and variety of candidates as possible in standing up for Scotland in order to increase the chances of winning seats at Westminster, than to risk not doing so well alone in the skewed system that is FPTP.

This is especially the case since if there is another hung parliament in 2015, it is, I think, entirely conceivable that the red and blue Tories could form a grand (unionist) coalition, possibly with UKIP, that excludes the “separatists” in the form of the SNP and perhaps Plaid Cymru (I expect the LibDems – who? – to be an irrelevance). For the SNP to think it could play “kingmaker” could therefore well be wishful thinking:

  • it underestimates the visceral and completely irrational hatred that “Labour” have of the SNP, which, if anything, has worsened since September (and is likely to worsen further if “Labour” really are stupid enough to choose Jim Murphy as Lamont’s replacement);
  • the “Labour” party have already said they will continue the economic, military (Trident etc.), social security/welfare and other policies of the Tory party – so there isn’t very much that divides them anyway, making a grand coalition relatively straightforward;
  • the Yes campaign members were not the only ones to have collaborated closely – the No campaign also worked closely together: I, for one, will never forget the “Labour” and Tory parties at the Stirling count early on 19.9. celebrating Stirling’s No vote together – who is to say that kind of cosy arrangement doesn’t herald greater cooperation in other contexts?  (Incidentally, it amazes me that few on the former Yes side seem to think this is important.)

Of course, you might ask why I don’t join the SNP instead of the Greens and then I could campaign for them in Stirling/Strathendrick without any of these moral qualms. I actually know a Green member who after 18. September resigned his membership and joined the SNP, so it’s not as if others have not done so (in a time of crisis, he said, it was what he felt he needed to do). But I joined the Greens for more reasons than independence – the Greens are much more closely aligned to my way of thinking in most areas, and for me and others in the party, independence simply offers the best way to achieve these things (I note that not all Greens agree on this, with some opposing independence).  For me, independence is a tool to achieve greater social equality and a more responsible way of living with our resources and so on – but at the moment it’s a tool we don’t have, and therefore I want to pursue my ambitions for these things in other ways, in the first instance by increasing powers for Scotland via the Smith Commission. I’m pretty confident that independence will come before too long, and quite possibly with Nicola Sturgeon leading the way. But in the meantime, we need to make sure that we have the strongest possible pro-Scotland representation at Westminster in order to ensure that the Devo-Max promises that were made by the unionist parties are kept to. I think working together is a more likely way to achieve that.