A guest post by Lauren Gilmour
It is with a heavy heart that I have to write this article, but if this were six months ago, I imagine there would be a lot more love lost than now. Fast forward to today, the 10th of August 2014 and things have radically changed for me, for the better.
Six months ago, I was a skint student flirting with the idea of voting yes because I was sick of the idea of neo-liberalism and how there was little desire to change that across the UK. But I had a problem. I was a stalwart Labour party member, my local constituency loved me and I could probably have got myself selected for the 2017 council elections. But the Labour Party had taken a very clear and staunch ‘No’ stance. I was living a double life where I would be with my university friends, voicing my true opinions, my reservations about the Labour Party and my distaste at voting no and being part of a party who was actively campaigning for a no vote. Then I’d be with my ‘friends’ in the Labour party where I would be criticising the Yes campaign and laughing along with them. I was between a rock and a hard place, all in the name of politics.
Now, I’ve finished university, I’ve got a job and I’m about to embark on what I think is going to be a great career in local government, where I actively get to work with people who are experiencing dire poverty.
People tried to win me over to the staunch no side, asking me questions about class solidarity and what about the poor across the rest of the UK? How can we espouse ideas of class solidarity in one of the most unequal countries in the Western world? How can we actually convince people that a no vote against independence will improve class relations in an independent Scotland when inequalities in Britain have risen consistently over the last forty years?
Being part of the United Kingdom has consistently shown that we are going to experience a rise in inequality, rather than a fall. For poorer areas across the UK, it’s about getting organised and having enough people saying “We won’t put up with this bullshit much longer.” I’m fairly certain that people in Newcastle are going to be more disproportionately affected by NHS privatisation than people in Kent. But for people who are affected by poverty, they are largely apathetic, and that is due to the political elite. “What difference will it make?” is genuinely the best question people can ask in the eyes of the political and economic because it shows disaffection and a lack of power. Apathy means that the political elite will continue to do things and implement policies that only benefit their wealthy elite friends.
But in Scotland, we seem to be experiencing a new political dawn: where ordinary people are engaging in debates about independence; where you hear independence being discussed in taxi queues after a night out, and where you hear people on the bus, young and old, discussing independence. It is a truly wonderful thing to see as a former politics student who has been constantly trying to get her peers to engage with politics. Imagine my surprise when I went to one of my friend’s houses for a party to find that most of them would be voting yes. There appears to be a new democratic thirst within groups of people who may not be typically ‘political’. For example, young people and people who live in poverty.
I finally came out for a yes vote a few weeks ago and people’s silent reactions to this have been interesting to say the least. My parents, completely taken in by unionist media (my Dad is a great supporter of Northern Irish loyalism, despite not actually living there) were shocked. My local Labour party, and of course the wider party, don’t really want to know anymore.
Someone I considered a good friend has just deleted and unfollowed me on facebook (though admittedly he has a twisted sense of humour). I’ve been told I talk a load of crap by men. Today, I was shown the reaction on a secret Labour party forum, where I was called an opportunist, seeking my fifteen minutes of fame and had an inflated ego and sense of self importance. If I was an opportunist, I’d still be in the Labour party looking for a job and kissing the behinds of anyone I could to get me ahead. No one has any idea of how much it took to sit down and write this.
So, I had enough of the negativity from the Labour party and subsequently cancelled my direct debit. It wasn’t before time. There is no place for me within their ranks, my opinions are too dangerous and too radical to be taken seriously by the party faithful. I’ve experienced things like misogyny and sexual harassment being unreported, and laughed off if it is reported because “Oh, that’s just….he doesn’t really mean it.” This man has made inappropriate comments to just about every woman member, he has condescended and belittled women, yet nothing has been done about it. Another male member actively makes women feel uncomfortable because of his behaviour towards women that aren’t necessarily party members.
I’ve always said that the Labour party is the only party on the left where women can feel safe, but this shit literally goes on and is unreported and women don’t feel brave enough to speak out. In the youth and student wings, women are actively used in props in arguments from men against one member, one vote.
They get young people and young workers to do their dirty work. During the Cowdenbeath by-election, they made a young parliamentary assistant trawl through ten thousand of Natalie McGarry’s tweets to find one about teachers that wasn’t particularly flattering but not the worst tweet anyone could ever have sent. Basically, the Labour party orchestrated a social media attack against a young woman yet they are supposed to be the party that espouses beliefs of equality? For who, exactly?
The bitterness and hatred that Labour have exhibited over the period of the independence referendum campaign have also made me hang up the red rosette for good. They have personalised the independence referendum as a campaign against Alex Salmond and the SNP, despite nearly 200,000 Labour supporters who are reportedly voting yes. They are striking fear into the people of Scotland with their assertions that we won’t be able to use the pound. This is exactly the tactics that nationalisms of Christmas passed used to use. They used to strike fear into people of change, and they tell us that they are not ‘narrow nationalists’.
The discourse from Labour is getting old and tired. I cannot be a member of a party so reluctant to change and embrace a new constitutional settlement for Scotland. I cannot be a member of a party where women are made to feel uncomfortable by men.
One day, I hope all this changes and I can rejoin the Labour party because I’ve had some great times as a member. It’s taught me that no matter what, I should always stand up for what I believe in, it opened my eyes to socialism and the trade union movement and I’ve met people that have shaped the way I think and act.
In the words of Dougie MacLean:
So I have moved, and I’ve kept on moving
Proved the points that I need proving
Lost the friends that I needed losing
And found others on the way
This article was first published on Lauren’s blog, Like a Red Red Rose, and is republished here with kind permission.