There is a much chatter on social media about ‘punishing Labour’, trying to ensure a ‘Labour wipe-out’ in 2015 (Westminster General Election) and 2016 (Holyrood election). For a longer version, though not necessarily more coherent than a handful of excitable tweets, the Scottish Times offers an example of the kind of thing I mean (I have no idea who ST really are). In contrast, my Stirling University colleague Scott Hames writing at the Scottish Constitutional Futures Forum offers a more sober interpretation of where we are, including in relation to the next two elections (if you’re still a bouncy Yesser, that one might deflate you a bit, but it is worth reading).
Let me say right at the start: I can understand the desire to whack the “Labour” Party, I really can. After all, I can’t even use their name without quotation marks now, since they clearly no longer have a connection to labour as most understand it (i.e. that thing people do that’s meant to provide them with a stable and sufficient income). With the two Eds, Miliband and Balls, firmly committed to Tory/LibDem spending cuts, the argument that it actually makes no difference whether you vote Tory, LibDem or “Labour” at Westminster makes increasing sense. Why vote “Labour”? For a pink-tinted version of Tory viciousness? For a party that pretends it’s got your interests at heart, when it actually serves the same neoliberal forces as the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats? I always used to joke that I preferred Thatcher to Blair – at least everyone knew Thatcher was awful, but for a while Blair managed to fool many people into thinking he was nice (several wars and privatisations put paid to that). Nobody was ever going to make that sort of mistake with Thatcher!
“Scottish Labour” is no better. In fact, I should probably have separate quotation marks around “Scottish” and “Labour” – but that level of pedantry is a bit much, even for me. This is an utterly shameful and ignorant group of politicians: a cheerful front for the Tory/LibDem-funded Better Together organisation, doing their legwork: Johann Lamont as ‘leader’ (I’m not even sure if she thinks she is genetically programmed to make decisions), Ian Davidson (wanting to ‘bayonet the wounded’ – what is wrong with him?), Jim Murphy (who only cared about visiting communities across Scotland to secure the British state and bolster his own profile, not to engage with any social issues these communities might be facing under his Tory/LibDem allies’ tender care), Alistair Darling (the darling of the Scottish Tories and house flipper extraordinaire), Margaret Curran (so deluded she thinks her party can ‘reach out’ to those who once supported it)… oh, and Gordon Brown (who cares so much for his constituents that so far in 2014 he’s voted in parliament on eight days, and makes promises that then need huge petitions to ensure they happen). I could go on. What astonishes me most is their complete lack of self-awareness: campaigning for Yes even just in my area, the contempt so many people feel for “Labour” took me aback: these politicians are not just disliked by many people, they are actively despised. And yet they don’t seem to realise it.
So… I can appreciate the desire to ‘punish’ a party that many people at one time actually liked, respected, and voted for – and of course, when people are attached to something like a party that then moves to occupy ground they disapprove of, the disillusionment is strong. I fall into this category, and although I left the “Labour” party over the Gulf War (no, not that Gulf War, the 1990-1 Gulf War, when they fully supported the Tories plans for attacking Iraq), for some time I still occasionally voted for them – including in 1997, despite my misgivings about Blair. To use a cliché: the “Labour” party left me, not the other way around.
However, I don’t think those of us who voted Yes should set out to ‘punish’ “Labour” – not because they don’t richly deserve it, but because they’re not worth the effort. Blair McDougall, the director of Better Together, said recently that negative campaigning may not be nice but it wins. I am not convinced. The astonishing increase in support for Scottish independence in the last two years, from being at about 25% to almost double that on 18.9., is not down to negative campaigning. There was relatively little of that in the Yes movement. Instead, Yes was broadly positive and vibrant and encouraged people to imagine a better Scotland (some might say too much so and that turned some folk off, but that’s another issue). 45% of voters did just that.
Whatever constellation of candidates emerges, either from the main parties that supported Yes (SNP, Greens, Scottish Socialists), or through some kind of ‘Scotland Alliance’ or ‘Devo Max Candidate’ system, I think the emphasis should be on what they can achieve for Scotland and beyond. The ‘Vow’ may now be unimportant to Westminster, where extreme right-wing UKIPpers dominate the thinking, but Devo Max/Home Rule etc. was promised to Scots and we need to push for it and push hard, whether we voted Yes or No. Only with control over all taxes will we be able to counter the worst of the Westminster austerity cuts all three main parties there have promised. That message, about the need to control our own finances, is the one we need to communicate to voters.
Against that, what can “Labour” offer? They are austerity Tories in red rather than blue (not for nothing the #redTories hashtag on Twitter). They are widely discredited and mistrusted… But I still expect them to retain a decent number of parliamentary seats (the LibDems may be wiped out in most of mainland Scotland, but few will mourn them). There are sufficient folk in Scotland who can still see something valuable in the “Labour” Party that I can no longer see – how long that might last I don’t know, but we should not waste our time on that negativity. Instead we should seek to show that the parties that actually have Scottish, and therefore wider solidarity at heart, are the ones who can implement more significant changes. I don’t buy Scott Hames’ line, that:
… even if it were possible, ‘destroying’ Scottish Labour would be a terrible strategy for supporters of independence (or, now, home-rule). At the electoral level, the driving force of Scottish devolution was the self-preservation of the UK Labour party, desperate to hold seats threatened by the SNP. If Labour were somehow to lose all its Scottish seats, the key electoral ‘lever’ would be broken by which the threat of independence was leveraged all the way to the establishment of Holyrood and the indyref itself. The less Labour have to play for in Scotland, the less the Scottish question is a counter in Westminster party politics – and the No result puts Westminster firmly in charge of what happens next….
I don’t believe “Labour” would do much if anything for Scotland if they won at Westminster: if they were interested in doing something for Scotland or the wider UK, they wouldn’t be following the Tory/LibDem austerity programme, and wouldn’t be pushing for ever harsher measures against the young (you thought Osborne at the Tory conference was bad in wanting to stop benefits for young people? Maybe he learnt from Miliband’s speeches in June?). Of the three British nationalist parties, “Labour’s” pre-referendum ‘offer’ was the worst and least coherent. No: Miliband is counting on Scotland to provide some ‘safe seats’ (probably in vain, as John McAllion, former Labour MP and MSP, now an SSP member, argues) whilst he chases right-wing voters in the south of England. UKIP talk about threatening Tory and Labour seats – and you can be sure Labour take this seriously and will try to forestall it, offering more right-wing enticements to the electorate.
Whichever of the austerity parties – Tories/LibDems/”Labour” – emerges victorious in 2015, we know that since WWII Scottish votes have hardly ever made a difference to the outcome of Westminster elections. I therefore don’t think anyone should feel obliged to vote “Labour” to ‘keep the Tories out’.
Neither should we focus on “Labour” in order to ‘punish’ the leadership – that just drains energy that could be used in a more positive way. The current “Labour” party is a hypocritical Toryised husk of a once great labour movement, and the few good folk in the party who persist with it because they want to rescue it can be supported as friends (buy the poor souls a drink every now and then), but we should not vote against “Labour”. Instead we should vote for parties offering a positive vision for Scotland and the wider world. Until “Labour” start doing that, we should ignore them and support parties that do offer a positive vision for improving wider society (as a Green, of course I think they are offering the best programme for that!):
Vote positively, not negatively.