WordPress has been acting up for me all Tuesday. For some odd reason, I am unable to access any WordPress site using Internet Explorer. I hate Windows 8. Everything works fine on the desktop, which runs on Windows 7. And it all works on the laptop when I use Chrome. Firefox works on the laptop too, although it doesn’t display the banner image. It’s all very peculiar, and I’ve already wasted several hours trying to fix it. I’ve given up now. Life is too short.
There’s a great article in Tuesday’s Guardian – no really. They’ve actually gone and published something positive about Scottish independence. It’s a wee sop to distract from the shocking pro-unionist bias which characterises the rest of their reporting. There were a number of articles about Scottish independence in Tuesday’s issue, all were unremittingly negative, with the exception of a piece by the respected Labour party member and antipoverty campaigner Bob Holman, who explained why he’s going to vote yes in the referendum.
Bob’s article is well worth a read. Bob lives and works in Easterhouse, where I used to live. He understands the problems and challenges Easterhouse faces better than most. And despite his long stand commitment to the Labour party, he knows that 60 years of Labour domination have done little to alleviate the situation. Bob remains a Labour supporter, but praises the steps that the SNP administration has taken to address the blight of poverty and social exclusion which stalks Scotland. He also recognises that only independence can unlock Scotland’s potential.
Like me, and like many on the left in Scotland, Bob believes that the consensus of opinion in Scotland is to the left of the political consensus in England. Although England has a long and proud tradition of left wing and progressive politics, the current political consensus is dominated by the demands of a first past the post electoral system where change can only occur when a limited number of marginal seats change hands.
The English left has no option but to put all its faith in a Labour party which can only get elected by pandering to the opinions of Tory leaning voters in Tory-Labour marginal seats. There are no such marginal seats in Scotland, so Labour is not under any pressure in Scotland to tailor its policies to fit the demands of a Scottish electorate. In fact, quite the reverse, the adoption of policies which might be favoured by ordinary Labour voters in Easterhouse, Niddrie or Torry would damage the party’s chances of securing the votes of Tory leaning voters in southern constituencies.
Although we are frequently told of the importance of Scottish Labour votes to the return of a Labour government, the party can – and does – take its Scottish support base for granted. The result is the yawning gap between the tortured messages of Johann Lamont and the aspirations of ordinary Labour voters in Scotland as she tries to appeal to working class voters but at the same time follow a party line set according to a very different set of priorities. You could almost feel sorry for her. Almost, but not quite.
Under the current system, the Labour party preaches solidarity but is incapable of demonstrating it. The Parliamentary Labour party shows no solidarity with the voters of Easterhouse. Easterhouse residents know that all too well, which is why the area has one of the highest percentages of non-participation in elections. There’s no point in voting when your vote means nothing. Ed Miliband winning the 2015 election, which is by no means certain, would not result in any great changes in Easterhouse. Bob writes:
“… a Labour government would do little for poor people in Scotland, as it supports Osborne’s welfare cuts. My hope is that radical advances in Scotland would persuade Labour, dare I say it, to adopt a socialist programme.”
The only hope for the revival of Labour in Scotland is through independence. The party would no longer have to pander to the demands of the first past the post system and be forced to rely on Conservative leaning voters in order to form a government. The Scottish Labour party would operate in Scotland’s proportional system, where it could tailor its policies to the demands and expectations of the electorate in Scotland, without constantly looking over its shoulder to check how the message was playing in the leafy suburbs of a Conservative marginal constituency down south.
And even more importantly, Labour in Scotland would finally be accountable to the voters of Scotland. The party could no longer rely on its safe seats and its machine politics. It would have to learn accountability, or die. In the aftermath of a yes vote, Labour in Scotland will be in turmoil, but something good can grow from the ashes.
Meanwhile someone called Andy Beckett (no I’d never heard of him either) also wrote a piece for Tuesday’s edition of the Guardian. In what was clearly intended as a spoiler to Bob Holman’s piece, Andy warns that independence may unveil the true extent of Thatcherite support in Scotland, pointing out that the Tories still gained 26% of the vote in Scotland in the 1992 Westminster General Election. There is no guarantee of Bob Holman’s belief that independence will deliver social democratic policies.
Of course there are no guarantees. But independence offers the left in Scotland the possibility of hope, and that’s got to be better than the certainty of none. I’d vote yes for that and no other reason. I think Bob Holman would too.
Andy Beckett is apparently an Oxford educated writer who lives in London. He has written a number of books about Thatcherism, but as far as I can tell has little direct experience of Scotland. I am quite sure that he is diligent in his research, thorough in his work, and sincere in his views – but 26% is a long way short of a majority. 74% of voters in Scotland rejected the Conservatives. But we still got a Tory majority Government. In a PR electoral system such as Scotland’s, 26% of the vote is unlikely to make a party the largest in Parliament, and at best it could only hope to become the minor partner in a coalition government. 26% is quite considerably greater than anything that the Tories have polled in Scotland in this century. 22 years is a very long time in politics. It’s a whole generation ago. Scotland has moved on since the days of Thatcher and Major. The view from London hasn’t.
Andy’s warnings miss the point. Scotland will only return a right wing government if Scotland votes for it. And Scotland will only return a right wing majority government if a very large percentage of us are foolish enough to vote for it. Under the Westminster system we get majority Conservative governments most of the time. We can’t vote them out.
The voice from Easterhouse says vote yes. The voice from London says vote no. I know which one speaks to my heart and my experience – and so do the people of Easterhouse.
And finally – I’d like to thank everyone who contacted me after yesterday’s blog piece about my wee project to build a Glasgow Corpie Transport layout for local elderly people and dementia sufferers. You’ve offered some fantastic help and some great ideas. It really does wonders for your faith in human nature – there are so many good and thoughtful folk out there. A mere thank you will never be enough.