A few months ago just before the Holyrood elections I passed a Labour canvasser in the streets of the East End of Glasgow, trying to persuade a young woman to vote for his discredited party. “Nae chance,” said the woman, “youse are mair shite than maist.”
Labour’s keeching itself about next year’s council elections. They see the writing on the wall, and the writing says, “See youse, youse are mair shite than maist.” This week we learned that the Labour controllers of Glesca Cooncil won’t authorise any more pro-independence rallies unless each is policed by five hundred stewards and fulfils the same obligations required of Orange Walks and fascist demonstrations. Labour wants to place the entirely peaceful and trouble free independence events into the same category as events which are invariably associated with public order offences, because the independence movement is a huge threat to the order that’s presided over by Labour. And besides, there were martyrs to the cause of saving the Union, Jim Murphy’s shirt needed to be laundered and that was a thousand times worse than the rampaging Unionist fascists in George Square in the aftermath of the indyref.
For decades Labour has gripped Glasgow as the symbol of its God given right to rule over Scotland. On Thursday there was a by-election in the city, in a ward which at the last election had given 60% of votes to Labour. And Labour lost. There have been a number of other by-elections recently which were technically Labour gains, but in all those the party actually saw swings against it. Even in North Lanarkshire where the local SNP is almost as dysfunctional as Labour is, there was a significant swing towards the SNP from Labour.
Local elections in Scotland have multimember constituencies. A by-election is caused when one of the members elected for that ward resigns or passes away. That means that the party which garnered the largest amount of votes in the original election has an advantage in the by-election. So if an SNP councillor resigns or passes away, Labour is most likely to take the seat in the subsequent by-election if Labour had taken the largest number of votes in the previous multimember election. And this is what happened in recent by-elections described as Labour gains. Labour won the seat even though they actually lost votes. Labour and its allies has tried hard to paint these gains as a sign that the party is on the road to recovery, but the truth is that they are pointers to Labour’s continuing decline. Sometimes when you win you’re really losing.
On Thursday night Labour’s decline became a rout. Not even the fact that they had a large majority of votes in the last council elections in the ward was enough to save them. The party lost what had been the second safest ward in the city for them. Because the people of Glasgow look upon the creature that Labour has become, and they think to themselves, “mair shite than maist”. Labour was, and remains, a party that’s incapable of change, incapable of seeing the error of its own ways, incapable of doing anything except repeating the same old discredited tactics in the hope that eventually they’ll produce a different outcome. It’s not the fault of Labour that they’re losing votes, it’s the fault of the voters.
We had an example of Labour cooncillor demonstrating the obtuse and wilful stupidity of Labour the other night on social media. Labour cooncillor for North Ayrshire Alex Gallagher is quite convinced that the SNP has recruited supporters and votes on the basis of appealing to anti-English racism. He’s equally convinced that if Scotland votes for independence this will be terrible, because we will turn our relatives in the rest of the UK into foreigners. In Labourlalaland being foreign is a bad thing, but it’s the SNP which is racist.
There is of course no evidence to Cooncillor Gallagher’s view that the SNP are motivated by anti-English racism. There’s only his own political prejudice, one which conveniently plays into an English racist trope about the Scots – that we have no culture or identity other than an atavistic hatred of the English. We aren’t defined by the content of Scottish culture, but rather we are defined by our relationship to England. It’s a dangerous road to go down, as it fosters the very real anti-Scottish prejudice that lurks not far below the surface of English right wing politicians. You’d think Cooncillor Gallagher should know that, but then he’s clearly not blessed with the ability to do much in the way of joined up thinking, as is amply demonstrated by his remarks about how how relatives in England and Wales would become foreigners to us.
The obvious immediate rejoinder is to ask what sort of a person believes that if their relatives in England have a different passport from them then it must negatively affect their family relationships. Why, that would be a person who is an anti-English racist. It would be a fool who put paperwork before family ties. It would be a shallow idiot who believed that citizenship was more important than love. It would be a Labour cooncillor from North Ayrshire who’s seeking to score a cheap political point but who merely illustrates that he paddles in the shallow end of the intellectual pool. If you sincerely believe that your relationships with your family will be negatively affected because they hold a different passport, then that’s an argument for family therapy and counselling. Because it means that you have some sort of deep rooted emotional difficulty.
The truth of course is that your family in England will not become foreigners to you after Scottish independence. They won’t become foreigners because the chances are that they too will be elegible for Scottish citizenship. They won’t become foreigners because unless the rUK government decides to make radical changes to British citizenship laws, Scots will remain entitled to British citizenship after independence. The only people who might lose their right to British citizenship will be a generation of children born in Scotland after independence to people who were themselves born in Scotland after independence – and they’re hardly likely to care. Everyone currently alive, and their children, will retain their right to British citizenship, unless Westminster decides to strip us all of it. We’d just get a Scottish passport too.
Meanwhile we’re all being stripped of our European citizenship, and Labour has nothing to say. Instead they prefer to complain that the SNP are anti-English racists while they themselves play on a fear of foreigners. And as the most right wing Tory government in memory stirs up the fires of racism and xenophobia, Labour in Glasgow considers doing a deal with them in order to cling onto power. And that’s why they’re going to lose their grip on Glasgow just as they’ve lost it on Scotland. Labour needs to listen to the more sensible voices within its diminished ranks in Scotland, the ones that say that the only way back is for Labour to embrace independence. Because if it doesn’t the party’s epitaph is going to be “They were mair shite than maist.”
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