Run For The Shadows

This will be my last word on politics for the foreseeable future. Today is unspeakably grim. As it stands, I see absolutely no silver lining so, as I said it was in my pre-election blog, I am writing my thoughts down as self help therapy then I’m going to do everything I can to let them go.

I think about my political values & beliefs every day, in a way I imagine some people consider their religious faith. Certain aspects of what I believe are set in concrete, other elements of my political views can sway slightly one way or another. None of the opinions I hold & express are lightly held. Certainly many of the people I consider to be my closest friends have told me at one time or another that the fact I hold, & care about, the political beliefs I do is one of my better qualities (one of the very few). Today those beliefs, those things in our society I care so deeply about, have been given the most almighty kicking. I should stress this isn’t about tribalism, this isn’t about The Labour Party, this is about the place where we live. It’s about just how much worse our country could become for those on the bottom few rungs of the ladder. £12bn in welfare cuts, bedroom tax stays, zero hour contracts stay & what on earth will the NHS look like in 5 years. 5 years!! 

Although I’m not out pounding the pavements, knocking doors & leafleting. Although I’m not actively & physically involved, I still find political campaigns gruelling. They take an emotional toll. I watch hours of television every day, listen to hours of radio, read umpteen newspaper articles. Almost all of them sending my anger & frustration levels through the roof. Then there is social media. So many pointless debates & arguments. No one in the history of Twitter has ever won an argument. No one has ever tweeted, “Actually, I’ve changed my mind, you’re right”, they just keep arguing round & round in a circle until, as Godwins Law has it, someone calls someone a Nazi. So after absorbing the independence referendum & now the General Election I am broken. I’ve no arguments left in me. I just want to express my thoughts here & then shut up & keep my own counsel. 

The Labour Party. I wrote in my last blog a brief summary of where I thought the party had gone wrong over at least a decade in Scotland & in last few years nationally. I’d add this, certainly as I sit here today I think Labour went into this election with the right manifesto. I think it struck the right balance between the centre left (where Labour needs to win votes in the South) & a good way further left (which they need to appeal to the North Of England & Scotland). The failing, to my mind, is Ed Miliband & the Labour campaign only really won my full-throated support in the last 2 months & I’m a fairly easy target. Really I should have been on board 2 years ago. They should have been cutting through a lot deeper 2 months ago with winning support of less likely voters. I’ll not go into the reasons for losing Scotland – I’m sure there will be many, many books written on that topic in months & years to come. 

As for The Labour Party from now, I have very grave fears of what comes next. We now face another months long leadership election like 2010. I suspect that this one will be particularly brutal. The battle lines have started to be drawn this morning. A great deal of people inside, & outside, the party think it should go further left & become a true socialist party again. They think that will get the working class fully behind them & win back support in Scotland. Perhaps they’re right. Perhaps that’s where I stand, fundamentally. Perhaps. There are also a great deal of people that feel the party should move back towards the centre-left ground of New Labour because they feel that’s where they can win elections from because they can win more votes from the Tories in the South. I also think that’s possibly a sensible pragmatic point of view. I often wonder how New Labour’s legacy would be perceived if it didn’t have the catastrophic disaster of the Iraq War hanging round it’s neck. Whether a new Labour leader could risk trying to take Labour to the centre-left is debatable because that would present a real threat of losing the support of the Unite union (plus the funding it provides) which in turn would likely mean the formation of a new party further to the left (with the funding Labour had lost). If there were two parties on the left of the political spectrum splitting the left vote then neither  party could challenge the Tories effectively. I think what Labour really needs is a strong unifying leader (preferably a woman, in my view – it is time Labour had a female leader) however I’m not sure I see a suitable candidate. I dearly hope someone proves me wrong. Grave fears, little optimism, as it stands. 

And so to Scotland. I found it really, really difficult to watch SNP politicians & supporters celebrate last night while it already looked obvious to me that we were heading towards a Tory majority government. I personally called it as Tory majority rather than just the largest party at half 1, a good while before the first Scottish seat was declared. I understand that if you support a party, have campaigned for a party, then when your candidate wins then there is cause for celebration but where has it left Scotland in the House Of Commons now? I’d argue absolutely nowhere. The Tories have known for years they don’t need votes in Scotland to form the government. The SNP can holler & rabble rouse from the opposition back benches but the Tories have a majority, they don’t need the SNP’s 56 votes. The SNP’s influence in Parliament is zero. Remember all those great things the LibDems achieved in Westminster before 2010 with a similar number of MPs? No, me neither. All the SNP have achieved in reality is they have wiped out Labour in Scotland & have absolutely no doubt they have handed the Tories a majority government. Pretty much the only thing the Tories campaigned on was the fear of a Labour/SNP coalition. That is the single biggest issue that decided this election. That is what swung the target seats to the Tories in the south. That is why Miliband ruled out any deal with the SNP – so many SNP supporters cried foul on that, strategic suicide they said – guess what, he was right, they were wrong. But fair play, people get to vote for the party they choose, that’s democracy however they/we all have to live with the consequences. They’ll blame Labour (same as the Tories/red tories/not left wing enough) but Labour offered their most left wing manifesto since 1983 – they weren’t interested. They say Labour just don’t get it without ever explaining what “it” is. I think I know what “it” is, they want Labour to back independence. It’s the be all & end all. Labour can’t & won’t do that. It’s important to note that a minimum of 50% of the Scottish population still don’t want independence. Labour has to respect that, it would be nice at some point if “the 45” could too. 

Where does the independence issue stand today? Support since the referendum for independence hasn’t moved much. So no one in the SNP will be calling for it in the next few months. I’d wager that the SNP will put it in their 2016 manifesto for the Scottish Parliament but not outright, I think there will be a proviso that if the UK votes to leave the EU in the 2017 referendum then that will trigger a 2nd independence referendum. Realistically that would mean it would take place in 2018 at the earliest. If UK votes to stay in EU then it won’t happen. Either way, Scotland isn’t escaping 5 years of the Tories. We’re certainly all in it together now. Maybe 5 years of the Tories will strengthen support for independence. Maybe something will change with SNP support over next 5 years. 5 years is a long time in politics, an eternity.  So today, I don’t think independence is any closer than it was yesterday. There will be more powers for the Scottish Parliament though. The extra powers may even be quite considerable but I wouldn’t underestimate the appetite of many within the Tory Party to stitch Scotland up. They may even offer Full Fiscal Autonomy – which it is widely accepted would be terrible for Scotland right now – David Davis & Boris Johnson have already spoken in favour of it today. If it were me, I’d much prefer to deal with a Labour Government if I were in Scotland. I said it a lot through the campaign, careful what you wish for. My view was always, if you were a Yes voter, vote Labour in the general election then give them a kicking in the Scottish elections next year – a referendum could still have been in the SNP manifesto and the SNP would have a better hand if they were dealing with a UK Labour Government with something to lose in Scotland. 

And here we are. 5 years. 5 fucking years. I watched in a state of shock last night & I cried this morning. Undoubtedly this is one of the worst days of my life. My son was 3 when the Tories came back to power & now they’ll stay there until he’s at least 13. That in itself breaks my heart. The city I live in has been one of the hardest hit over the last 5 years of Tory austerity & now it will be hit again for another 5 years. We needed a Labour government & we weren’t alone. On some level I feel the country I live in rejected me last night & the country where I was born & grew up rejected me too. Hull voted Labour. Thank you Hull. I am proud to call you home. 

People, politicians, have spoken today about fighting back. I’m not there yet. I am beaten & I am broken. I just want to stand back. No more debates. No more arguments. I just want to concentrate on the things that I can always rely on, my son & my football team. 

I promised on Facebook that you wouldn’t hear anything about politics from me again. I mostly stand by that, after this. Maybe I’ll become vocal again before the 2017 EU Referendum. Nothing political until then. I’m out. 

And all the nobody people, and all the somebody people, I never thought I’d need so many people

It would be fair to say that, at times, this general election campaign has left me apoplectic with rage. I’ve seen things on television & Youtube, I’ve read things on social media & on news websites & I’ve heard things on radio that have made me want to physically attack inanimate objects until they are very, very sorry indeed. 

Ultimately, that rage is motivated by one thing, the fear of this election leading to 5 more years of a Tory-led govt or, even worse, a Tory govt with an outright majority. In the strongest possible terms, I don’t believe anything good can come from that. I’m not sure I have to list the reasons why for the people likely to read this blog. I think most of the people I know are broadly on the same page in terms of values yet I’m keenly aware that for the first time in my life the people I know are undoubtedly divided. 

That division has also played a large part in my rage, my frustration. Personally I have found this election campaign, & last year’s referendum campaign, very difficult. I am a member of the Labour Party, I come from the traditional Labour heartlands in the West Of Scotland, I believe in the Labour movement & what it stands for. That is unlikely to change – although my support & belief is not, by any means, unconditional. However, the polls suggest that, the tectonic political plates in Scotland have shifted. A great many people, that I believe share similar values to me, have shifted their support to SNP (including within my own immediate family I suspect – if I’m honest I’ve found that genuinely upsetting). The thing is, I get it (to a certain degree), I understand where people are coming from, I share a lot of their concerns, even though I haven’t come to the same conclusions. I have had huge issues with the Labour Party over the last 5 years, I believe the political system needs serious reform so Westminster is more representative of everyone &, most importantly, I think the country has to quickly change direction – it’s time for progressive politics in govt, for an end to austerity, for social justice. 

So The Labour Party (and I mean all of it, I’m not interested in distinctions between Labour & Scottish Labour), few things have the ability to snap my temper like the Labour Party. In the last 5 years I’ve felt they’ve had an open goal in terms of attacking a diabolical Tory-led govt & too often they’ve failed  to hit it. I felt they lacked strong leadership, although in Miliband’s defence he’s been given a wretched time by the right wing press. In fact, that same right wing press has allowed the Tory narrative to become received wisdom – Labour broke the economy, etc. I got very angry that Labour seemed to spend 2 or 3 years after the 2010 election defeat apologising for it’s record in govt. A full & frank apology for the Iraq war was definitely merited, I strongly opposed the Iraq war &, in fact, I voted for the Scottish Socialist Party at the 2003 Scottish Election & I chose not to vote at all in the 2005 General Election as a result. I came back to Labour after Gordon Brown replaced Tony Blair (incidentally, I finally joined the party in 2010 having first considered it in 1994). Besides the Iraq war there were other things under New Labour I took issue with (quite a number) but I got very angry that the many, many positive things that Labour achieved in govt were lost under the deluge of the great 3 year Labour apology marathon. It made Labour look weak, it made Ed Miliband look weak & it undermined the grassroots of the Labour Party. I switched off again & I’ve had no active involvement with the Labour Party since early-2013 (although I will get involved again in the future & I would have been active had I been in Scotland in the last 12 months). Point is, I get disillusionment with The Labour Party. However as the General Election has gotten closer I think Mr Miliband has turned things round a fair amount – I’m not overly bothered about the shallow personality side of politics but I know that it matters & I think he’s done well to change people’s perception. More importantly, I like the manifesto (although I wouldn’t necessarily have been in any hurry to carve it in stone), it has a lot of the policies in there that matter to me – end of the bedroom tax, end of zero hour contracts, higher minimum wage, among many others. You should read it http://www.labour.org.uk/manifesto. It doesn’t have everything I’d like, of course it doesn’t, but with all the political parties I think you have a certain amount of tacit understanding of where they are coming from & what they stand for – have faith that they’ll deliver things they wouldn’t put in a manifesto as they are chasing the centre ground in order to win the election & their opponents would use some of their policies to scaremonger (for example, I tacitly understand that UKIP would like to throw all immigrants & ethnic minorities in the sea – but it’s not in their manifesto). I have belief & faith in this Labour Party led by Ed Miliband. Given the chance it could do great things. 

Watching on from afar (although I do pay pretty close attention to Scottish politics via Twitter, news websites, TV & radio – not Wings Over Scotland though, that guy is a moron!), I do also understand criticism of Labour in Scotland, to a fairly large degree. I would (un)happily concede that Labour got too complacent in Scotland at a local council level & in the Scottish Parliament. At both levels they took the Labour vote for granted. At Scottish Parliament level, they passed the legislation that set the wheels in motion for a devolved parliament then, Donald Dewar aside, treated it as a second class institution. When Donald Dewar died I think there was a vacuum of Scottish Labour gravitas in the Parliament with no one to fill it. A feeling of resentment among the Scottish electorate has grown since then & I think that’s somewhat justified. The more capable of Scottish Labour’s politicians remained in Westminster when perhaps some should have been persuaded to stand for the Scottish Parliament in 2007 or 2011. Now it looks like the consequences of that resentment may be coming home to roost for some of them. 

I’m not naive though, I also understand that whatever resentment may have already existed it has been amplified by the independence referendum. I’m afraid I am not going to concede that the ill feeling of the Yes campaign failing to win the referendum vote is justification for taking it out on Labour. In hindsight, I’ve been convinced that Labour could have adopted an alternative campaign strategy that wouldn’t have seen them stand under the same banner as the Tories but I still fully back their opposition to independence. I remain opposed to independence. That doesn’t mean I don’t think Scotland is capable of being independent (although I believe there would be economic hardship for a good number of years before Scotland could see any benefit), it means I see it as the wrong path at this current moment, it is not the path that will help the greatest number of people at a time when they need that help. For me it will never be the path but that’s for another time.

I realise that, given I have conceded Scottish Labour deserve to be kicked, that I’m asking you to vote for them anyway. My reasoning is fairly simple, the Labour manifesto is the right one for all of the UK right now. In addition to that I am far from convinced that the SNP merit your vote either. Anyone that follows me knows that I hold the SNP in absolutely no regard whatsoever. I will give them some credit though, they are now an excellent campaigning machine, a supremely disciplined political party & grand opportunists. Labour dropped the ball, the SNP have picked it up with interest. However, there is no argument that their prime (only) objective is independence – that’s not even about the aforementioned tacit understanding, just fact. I am a long way from believing they are the left wing party they currently portray themselves as. Their record as the Scottish Govt certainly doesn’t back up their left wing credentials – not one redistributive piece of legislation in 8 years. In fact, I find it alarming how little public scrutiny there appears to be of their record in govt – start with falling numeracy & literacy levels in Scotland, the massacring of college budgets, the offensive behaviour at football act, spending on the NHS in real terms in comparison to the UK & the low percentage of the poorest students actually going to university (despite no tuition fees) compared to the rest of the UK, not to mention the levels of debt those students would be expected to take on compared to the rest of the UK. My personal view of the SNP is neither here nor there though, democracy is about everyone making up their own mind in their own way. They can’t form the govt at this election though & for a variety of reasons I don’t think it’s possible for them to be part of any formalised coalition. If you are clear-eyed about that & vote SNP then all power to you. 

Here’s my concern at the likely outcome of tomorrow, the Scottish Labour vote collapses as polling suggests & it lets the Tories back in. The more seats SNP win, the more likely a Tory govt. That’s not scaremongering, it’s a distinct possibility. I’m preparing myself for that gut-wrenching, heartbreaking moment when the reality of facing up to another 5 years of Tories kicks in. It doesn’t have to be like this. In my view the debate has been framed all wrong, willfully so, by the SNP. I saw someone remark on Twitter the other day that the average English family couldn’t care less about the average Scottish family. He’s almost certainly right, if you choose to view things through that particular prism. My response though was they probably don’t care any more or less than a Glasgow family cares about a family in Aberdeen or a Hull family cares about one in Bristol. If you choose to see things as being about Scotland & England then that’s your prerogative (flawed as I believe that view to be). I don’t think that should ever be the starting point but certainly I don’t think it’s what this election is about. It’s not about Scotland vs England, it’s about left vs right, it’s about rich vs poor. It’s about social justice, it’s about a fairer society, it’s about the inequality gap. 

The SNP purposely present themselves as the only true Scottish Party, criticism of the SNP becomes criticism of Scotland, they present themselves as the true voice of Scotland. They’re not any of those things. They say that 50+ seats will mean Scotland will “at last” be properly represented in Westminster. Rubbish. Scotland will have 59 MPs after the election, exactly the same as they did before. To suggest those MPs from the last Parliament weren’t properly representing Scotland or, more accurately, their constituencies is just offensive. The next step when coalition doesn’t happen is to brand Labour as betraying Scotland – I guarantee you that. I strongly agree with the view that you can’t form a stable UK govt with a party that wants to break up the UK. 

Anyway, I’ve been working on this blog, off & on, since last Friday. My intention is very much self help therapy rather than actually thinking for one second I’ll change anyone’s mind – write it down then let it all go, what will be will be. Finally though I’ll say this, to anyone who says Labour are just the same as the Tories – total rubbish, read the manifestos. To anyone who says “I never left Labour, Labour left me” – shut up. Shut up shut up shut up shut up. Ed Miliband has moved the party left. This is Labour’s most left wing manifesto in 30 years. You voted for Blair! Shut up! 

Most of all, make sure you vote. And if you intend to vote Labour – vote well & vote often. 

Tomorrow I’ll be voting Labour & I’ll do it proudly & with a clear conscience.

You could too.