We don’t need George: we have hope

Where were you for Bradford West?

Like many others, I was loitering on Twitter, having picked up around midnight that a shock might be in the offing, lured by promises of an announcement around 1.30 am.  By 2.30 we were virtually chanting “Why are we Waiting”.

Some of us were doing so from behind our fingers.  Say it ain’t so, was our refrain, that the Georgeous one was making yet another comeback.  At times like these, I breathe a big sigh of relief to find myself not alone, not the only woman (in particular) immune to George Galloway’s oleaginous political charms.

The result was no less jaw-dropping for all that.  To take a near 6000 majority in a seat dominated by one party since 1974, toss it aside and produce a36.8% swing on a turnout of 51% is awe-inspiring.  You don’t have to like the man to be impressed.

In the days since, there has been much head-scratching, chatter and spin.  Yes, this looks bad for Labour and makes Ed Miliband even more like the hapless Wallace than before.  If he cannot find himself the political equivalent of Gromit and soon, then he will go the way of previous Labour party inventions.  This by-election defeat – for defeat it was for the incumbent constituency party looking to hold the seat at a time when the government has had a spectacular run of bad luck, headlines and decisions – acts as a legbrace for his electoral ambitions.  He approaches all future by-elections with this one dragging on his momentum: if he can avoid other such defeats, it will be removed but in the current climate, that seems a very big if.

And yes, this result is a damning indictment of mainstream establishment politics.  A majority of electors in Bradford West – from all backgrounds, demographics and circumstances – voted a plague on all their houses;  the silence of the non-voters only added to the cacophony.

In this by-election, the voters lashed out:  feel our pain was the message.  The fact that the airwaves and press pages have been dominated by politicians and commentators in England failing to do just that does not augur well.  Expect more Bradford Wests until someone, anyone gets the message.  We must hope that one of the more mainstream, or at least acceptable, parties does, otherwise the chasm between the current political class and the electorate might well be filled than a much more odious and empty political vessel than George Galloway.

Of course, we can, here in Scotland, sit smugly and point to Mr Galloway’s abject failure to secure a seat at Holyrood in last year’s parliamentary elections.  Some might say that the canny Scots can see through the equivalent of a political charlatan (I, of course, could not, for fear of the litigious Mr Galloway’s lawyers).  What he was offering in 2011 was largely similar to what he offered the people of Bradford West in this by-election, so how come they bought it and Glasgow didn’t?

It’s a complex one.  Scotland has had its fair share of firebrand politicians swimming against the prevailing political current, Glasgow more than most.  Perhaps the electorate was just tired of being offered more of the same, knowing that ultimately one maverick does not a movement make.  Riding on the reputation of Tommy Sheridan might not have been such a smart move.  Yes, he retains a small and uber-loyal band of supporters and promoters, but there are an awful lot more people who feel betrayed.  Here was someone who set himself up as a man of the common people, in touch with their concerns and values, who proved to have the same feet of clay as many in the political mainstream.  Many decent Glasgow folk who would like to see the establishment knocked down and different rules brought into play were nonetheless, disgusted at the shenanigans of Mr Sheridan and the impact his behaviour has had on the left of Scottish politics.  To invite comparisons with Tommy might not have been the smartest move George ever made.  The folk of Glasgow had seen and heard his likes before and for whatever reason, this time refused to buy into the rhetoric.

The strong support political parties enjoy from the Asian community in Glasgow is another reason that George’s kite failed to fly. There was no gap within which for him to slide, as there has been in other areas with a strong and populous Muslim community.  Most of the community leaders and many ordinary voters who could help lead a Galloway bandwagon are already engaged with Labour or the SNP.  The existence of crossover between the SNP and George Galloway (and other politicians of the old Scottish left) on issues like defence and foreign policy – with Galloway’s longstanding principles in these areas his most redeeming quality – removes the need for Scottish voters, with or without an Asian background and the influence of faith – to choose a person over a party.

Perhaps the reasons are less to do with personalities and platforms, and more to do with the prevailing political culture in Scotland.  Many of us, this burd included, have been puzzled at the lack of outwardly expressed anger of the Scottish population at all that has gone on since 2008’s financial crash.  There is no doubt that inwardly we are all seething:  it does not take long for any conversation to get round to dissing the bankers, the Tories, the cuts, the costs and the general state we are in.

But we do nothing.  We Scots who can and do march and protest better than anyone else on these islands – see Make Poverty History and Not in our Name, never mind Hands off our Water back in the day – are largely not.  We have been underwhelmed by the Occupy movement and refused to join the rioters of last summer.

Could it be because we have hope?  Despite its current dominance of the Scottish political scene, the SNP has not yet earned mainstream status.  Yet.

There is still an element of voting SNP in rejection of the established way of things, in the knowledge that while the party has worked out how to join the political congregation in its Sunday finery, underneath it might still be wearing something more risque and rather less traditional.  (Those of you reading this while eating breakfast might not want to visualise how that metaphor works for the FM…)

But I think Scottish voters might like that frisson, the fact that they know they are not casting a vote recklessly but still with the prospect of something more radical.  The SNP no longer represents an empty, negative protest vote:  it offers the prospect of something much more positive.  Their core message in recent times of hope not fear is not just an electoral theme but a way of being that is slowly and surely convincing the Scottish people to choose something its own political destiny.  Moreover, by offering a positive alternative – the bizarrely square circle of doing things differently in Scotland by not doing anything different at all from what we know and cherish  – the SNP has shut down the opportunities for political opportunists like George Galloway to seize an electoral moment.

His contrasting fortunes in Glasgow and Bradford West show how far Scots have travelled politically in the last few years, how our path is now a very different one from English politics in particular, and how we are on a journey that the Scottish people show no signs of wanting to end just yet.

The fact that we have not yet decided what our final destination is means that we live in the most exciting of times, for the best of reasons.  We are indeed travelling hopefully and we alone can determine whether or not it is better to arrive.

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About burdzeyeview

A Scottish burd casting a beady eye over political, topical, economic and social issues that ruffle my feathers.

Posted on April 1, 2012, in Political witterings and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. this fascinating article greatly improved my understanding of the Respect party,

    http://pa.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2012/01/12/pa.gsr064.full?sid=8e9b8ec8-d39f-4d89-99ab-b177e411bbdd

    I read in the FT yesterday that one “lesson” Labour has already taken from BradfordWest is that it will field more young female Asian muslim candidates as a way of countering any further Respect gains

    Labour’s high command were probably scared by this article lol

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/apr/04/how-women-won-it-for-galloway

    • Brilliant links – thanks for sharing them. And the suggestion that Labour are now going to counter Galloway’s divide and rule electoral strategy with some of their own fills me with dismay.

  2. This is the only report on the bradford west byelection that i could find on the internet which explains what really happened

    http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/2012/04/george-galloway-bradford-west-bloc-voting-labour-ethnic-minority/

    Galloway’s main appeal was opposition to the elitist kashmiri/mirpuri dominated local Labour party and alledging religous wrongdoing by his Labour opponent.

    Even the campaign manager of the outgoing Labour MP (Marsha Singh) defected from Labour to work for Galloway. Naweed Hussain was from the wrong (Punjabi) background and was upset by Labour’s candidate selection rigging.

  3. Kate,

    A pretty good stab at disentangling the web of contributory factors to a most spectacular and unexpected outcome. While I remember the vacancy arising, the by-election itself had completely slipped off my radar which gave me a double surprise on Friday morning!!!

    i would caution anyone in the SNP against taking any comfort from this result though. If it were all about there being an alternative to Labour, then how do we explain Inverclyde where the Labour message and candidate was arguably even less inspiring than in Bradford (from what I have read since Friday)?

    The sheer speed and scale of the turnaround suggests a dramatically successful viral campaign. GG himself used the term Zeitgeist but I suspect it was more about leveraging established networks to peddle populist messages to a range of groups who feel alienated. It can be potent when someone with a reputation finally reflects back what you are thinking day in day out, especially when that is reflected through a channel that you inherently trust.

    Do it right and you eventually hit a tipping point at which the campaign is run for you by the electorate themselves as they all re-inforce what the other is thinking. Some suggest that it was a similar effect which pushed the SNP through the ceiling in 2011.

    Somebody somewhere knew what they were doing and I suspect that GG is just the front man rather than the architect. That is not to downplay the importance of having the right frontman.

  4. Don’t care much for GG. I think he’s harmless. But it makes me chuckle when he annoys the Labour party and the general westminster political-media establishment.

  5. I’m wondering about the headline and the part of it which declares that Scotland “has hope”. Can you clarify Burdie? In what way do we in Scotland have hope? Do you mean through independence?

  6. Galloway has always been one to use divisive politics,great word-smith,but that is all the phrase shiny shoes dirty drawers comes to mind.He makes lots of noise but I have never seen any substance from this self publicising man. Like the some of the comments I found him to be getting worse in his divisive methods,he brings a new twist to racism,and its not a good one.We in Glasgow have a phrase that we call somebody like him “he is a user” and not a man who’s company I would search for,or seek even if I was lonely.

  7. Good post, with lots of interesting tangents Burd/Kate.

    The simple reason why Galloway failed is that the Scottish sensibility is to the left of the rest of UK anyway. As a result anyone who would have otherwise voted for Galloway would have voted for a centre/centre left SNP Administration.

    Disgusted as many people were with Sheridan’s antics, i suspect that had Sheridan come out and admited it all his political rehabilitation would be more successful than it is without that act of drawing the line.

    As for seething about the banks, the crash and the economy. Just wait untill the summer…

  8. I think you’re right, Burd, on the issue of a fissure between radicalism and a new kind of establishment that is embodied in the SNP. One of their great conceptual achievements has been to recognise that devolution gave Scots the chance to have it both ways: British government with Scottish policies. The SNP have fought to shift public affection towards the latter and away from the former, and thus have played a large part in engineering a situation where there is a real prospect that Scots will reject out of hand any attempt to take back from them a circumstance – self-government – that they feel has value to them.

    In many ways, this fissure explains both English reactions to devolution – they know, as we do, that we have a pretty good deal at the moment – and the Scottish reactions to attempts by Westminster to circumvent that arrangement. How those competing tensions play out will shape the whole debate, I think.

  9. What intrigued me was his opening remarks addressed to the returning officer about something he [the returning officer] had or had not done and stating that it would be taken up at a later time.As it was in the middle of the night I was not at my sharpest and every news item has cut out the start of his acceptance speech Anyone able to throw any light on this?

  10. George is a one-off, but the real damage has been done to Milliband.

    The Tories and Lib Dems were always on for a hiding, but Labour should have retained this seat. Saying that. George may disappear come the next GE.

    Westminster should be interesting though!

  11. George failed in Glasgow, Grahamski, because he was, to all intents and purposes, standing as a self-selected Labour candidate, fully intending to elect and support Labour’s (now second) weakest leader in generations to the post of First Minister.

    That’s where he went wrong.

  12. George Galloway failed in Glasgow for a number or reasons, firstly Glasgow doesn’t have the seething mass of disaffected Muslim youth that Galloway so cynically exploited in Bradford. His campaign was a disgrace and nobody seems to be talking about the vile sectarianism deployed by his supporters. He has previous for this, in London he ran an anti-semitic campaign against a Jewish opponent and whipped up racial and religious animosity which would have been roundly (and quite rightly) condemned if it had been aimed at Muslims.

    He also failed in Glasgow because the SNP have cornered the market in bombastic bluster and grievance politics so when he started his schtick it sounded jaded and to be honest Salmond does this kind of thing so much better.

    Having said all that the fact the Labour Party have their weakest leader in generations and seem incapable of landing a punch on the Tories made Galloway’s job an awful lot easier.

    • On the other hand, Galloway, as a Labour MP, was expelled for the Party for telling the truth about the illegal invasion of Iraq while most of his Labour colleagues, as he (famously) once said, ran around trying to find a spine between the lot of them!

      He certainly has faults. Who hasn’t? But he has qualities that no one can deny. His performance before the US Congress was something to see! He is eloquent, he is articulate, he is very intelligent and let’s face it you won’t find such qualities among Labour representatives today, especially in Scotland, and that includes their leader here.

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