Why Galloway should stop voting Tory

It is a badge of shame really.

Since turfing Ian Lang out with all the other Tories in 1997, Dumfries and Galloway and the two parliamentary seats that make up (just about, with a stretch and a tug here and there) the local authority area have bucked the national trend.  One of only two regions to vote No to tax-varying powers in the devolution referendum, it has also turned Dumfries red and then blue again at different elections, while the Galloway bit slipped from yellow to blue in both.

I dread the election announcement from my neck of the woods;  even in this year’s historic election, Alex Fergusson hung on by 500 votes.

Nope we’re not known for following the prevailing political winds in Dumfries and Galloway, and it was ever thus.  For some reason, folk where I come from seem to like the Conservatives and what they stand for.  They’re also a bit partial to the odd Liberal Democrat at local level, though that has never translated into parliamentary support.  It’s odd and I’m sure there’s a PHd dissertation in it for some enterprising politics student.

Well, here’s something that might just make them all change their minds.

Last week, the Conservative Liberal Democrat Government passed a bill that will effectively abolish the Agricultural Wages Board for England and Wales.  An important cornerstone of the welfare state, it was brought into being to address poverty and low-income in rural communities, acknowledging that farm work was dangerous, dirty, with long hours and at the time, low paid.  It was also deemed necessary to keep folk on the land, in post war Britain, to keep producing scarce foodstuffs for a population that would still face rationing for a number of years.

Now, the ConDems have decreed it is a bureaucracy no longer needed.  The free market shall reign untrammelled, their rich landlord pals will get richer and the poor can be damned.  It will result in young people leaving rural communities even faster than they do now and increase our food import dependency, at a time when to be greener, we should be producing more of our own and seeking food security.  In a neat twist, they have completed Thatcher’s legacy for her.  She began the erosion of minimum wages boards but even she baulked at removing pay protection for agricultural workers.

For rural communities in south of Scotland that have been a trifle sniffy about the benefits of devolution, now is the time to be thankful.  Because Scotland got its own agricultural wages board and legislation in 1949, and since rural affairs are a devolved issue, Scotland is untouched.  Our board survives – despite an attempt by the Labour-Lib Dem Scottish Executive to abolish it in 2005.  Wages and conditions are still set for our rural workers:  at the start of October, pay rises of 2.5% were announced, against the grain, and even the dog allowance went up.

Unlike the ConDems, the SNP values the role not only of the Scottish Agricultural Wages Board, but also the role farm workers in their all their guises play in keeping our rural communities thriving.  Only this week, statistics revealed that farms are still the most dangerous workplace in Scotland.  People who work on them know this only too well.  It’s still dirty and dangerous work, manual labour at its hardest, with long and punishing hours.  Eighteen hour days are not unknown at harvest time.  Yet, it is also vital, for all of us who live in cities and take for granted the ready availability of fruit and vegetables, dairy products and quality meat.

The trend is definitely local – I go out of my way to purchase organic dairy products, knowing that the raw commodities often come from Galloway.  I also buy meat from my local butcher who has a map on the wall showing the farm provenance of all that he sells.  And I seek out Scottish berries and vegetables whenever possible.  I do it, from a sense of patriotic duty, to keep folk working and earning in communities where alternative employment is often hard to find.

But I also do it to demonstrate solidarity with those still at home.  Who choose, or cannot not choose, to live and work on farms, acknowledging that rural Scotland must not, cannot be allowed to be treated as a playground for urban Scots.  And that the habitat we like to enjoy is essentially manmade one, which needs folk living and working on it to remain accessible to we central-belters.

And I do so, fully aware unlike the Tories, that the Agricultural Wages Board is as relevant today as it was back when it was formed.  The need for it has not diminished, indeed, is arguably greater, to protect in particular, seasonal and transitory workers.  I know that every time I buy Scottish produce, the people who contributed to its creation, are at least decently paid.  That matters to my conscience, but apparently not to ConDem politicians.

Gallovidians have many friends and family in rural England and Wales.  We should lament the impact of the loss of the Agricultural Wages Board on their lives.  But at the same time, be thankful that we do, in fact, live in another country.  One with distinct values, with a Government which does things differently and which will defend all of our traditions and invest in all of our people and resources.

And it’s time all Gallovidians woke up to that and used their votes accordingly.

(For my Pops, and all his pals who read this blog, including the ones who do so, apparently, on “verandahs in Egypt”)

8 thoughts on “Why Galloway should stop voting Tory

  1. Dumfries & Galloway is an enigma in political terms. Once a Liberal safe seat through Tory SNP and now Labour for Westmidden elections it almost bucked the trend at this years Scottish Elections. I was one of the activists for the SNP and was priveledged to work for Dr Aileen McLeod (she got in on the list). I do believe that the seat will turn at the next election, however, like the other Tory stronghold in the Borders, there are a lot of “incomers” in both areas. They are good for the economy in many ways, however too many seem to retire to these rural areas then “seemed like a good idea at the time” logic kicks in. I know of many who voted SNP, aven some who were “active”.

    Good article nevertheless, just please remember we are not totally out in the sticks. I live in Kirkcudbright, a small but vibrant town.

  2. That area was one of the areas that performed really well for the SNP in the growth of SNP support in the 70s and the great year of 1974. What happened?
    Is it something to do with the telly?
    Is it something to do with the border?

    We need a big push in the borders to win over that unionist line that lies along it or the mischevious will start to talk about “partition”

  3. Ode to Galloway

    In the SNP you can trust,
    with the Unionists you go bust.

    *with apologies to the bard and burd.

  4. Hmm, the Dumfries and Galloway exceptionalism certainly merits analysis. Anecdotally, however, I think it’s worth saying more than folk from D&G have friends in England and Wales. A lot of folk in D&G are from England and Wales. That’s not being xenophobic, just pointing out the obvious. A lot of folk in Cumbria are from Scotland. So, I’m not sure how useful an appeal to nationalist ‘be thankful’ sentiment would be in either direction. I also reckon there’s a lot to be said (dunno what, though) for the vagaries of the class structure in the G part of D&G at least. It feels very different from other parts of rural Scotland, at least.

    Incidentally, I’m from Galloway and, as a Trot-in-exile, have met many other Gallovidian commies since moving to the central belt. Maybe the folk who aren’t voting for the more ‘reformist’ parties are just waiting for the revolution instead. Maybe.

  5. Shouldn’t need to tell the Burd this but the reason she dreads elections and the resulting blue/red splotches disfiguring her local map is that local SNP dominance went walkabout after the seventies. It’s not that there are no dedicated activists but the bulk of them date from the 1974-79 heyday and don’t get out & about the way they used to. More than anything, that’s what turned Galloway from 1997 yellow back to blue.

    And, since the council group behave more like the rest of the D&G independents, there is a clearly different feel to SNP activity at any level south of Moffat, with local trends running contra to those of the last five years in the rest of Scotland.

    This is intended as no personal rebuke to anyone. But if Robert, Alasdair or Andrew feel moved (using the current phrase) to “give me a doing” for this, they may need to take a number and get in line behind the Burd.

    • I think your analysis is way off the mark actually.

      I am always surprised when talking with my dad about the cooncil, how much SNP policy they have managed to get through there. Indeed, they were doing SNP policy like concessionary bus fares before the party thought of it. And that’s from being in opposition. I’d be willing to wager that more flagship SNP policies have been implemented in D & G than in Edinburgh where the SNP is in administration.

      The reasons for Dumfries and Galloway’s rainbow mentality are more complex than that.

      • Fully accept that the Burd—who has soared the Gallovidian skies far more than I—probably understands the patch better. But, while the D&G council group may have achieved policy implementations straight out of the SNP manual, the resulting profile has been, for whatever reason, muted.

        And, even if fewer policies have been implemented in Edinburgh, from having one councillor and no MSPs/MPs, the SNP profile in the capital is now well past D&Gs. No disrespect intended for anyone (i have much time and respect for Robert, Alasdair, Andrew et al) but there’s more than party policy and rainbow mentality at work here.

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