It’s easy to gloat when you’re the defeated 45% and electoral woes begin to beset the other side. All that we were voting to escape from down South appears to be coming to pass.
The two by-election results on Thursday in England demonstrate that UKIP is definitely on the march, highlighting all that we said during the referendum campaign. Electorally, we are now two distinct entities, goes the narrative, pulling in opposite directions. They’re going rightward, we’re maintaining our leftward stance of decades. We couldn’t be more different, remains the refrain.
Actually, we – as in the 45% – couldn’t be more wrong. Because we need to start talking about what was really going on and being said on doorsteps in the referendum campaign. Having waited in vain for someone else to remove the rose-tinted glasses, it might as well be me.
I was shocked by the racism I encountered on doorsteps. Not just occasionally but often. Not just in some neighbourhoods but most neighbourhoods. But it was most prevalent in the poorest and in the most working class. Areas that have in the past voted mainly Labour, but also SNP.
It might suit all the parties and most of the rest of us political activists vaguely/firmly of the left to pretend that Scotland is a nicer country, that is more welcoming, that is ONE. Yet, it is a myth and a mirage.
Because people buy the Daily Mail. They watch the Channel 4 documentaries. They buy into the shite they are being fed about foreigners. Foreigners are here, everywhere, taking our jobs, keeping our young folk out of jobs in particular, taking our houses, filling our houses with more of their kind, living the life of riley on our benefits. And they don’t like them. They’d like less of them please.
Oh and don’t think this is about colour, it’s not. Foreigners are loathed, whatever their colour and their presence in communities has become legion, even when it’s patently not.
In the constituency I live in, of over 58,000 voters, there are less than 500 Polish people on the electoral roll. There are even fewer Latvians and Lithuanians. There is a tiny smattering of people from Slovakia or the Czech Republic; there are more than there used to be from Spain (mostly young) but still tiny numbers. The ones we really need to be scared of, the Romanians and the Bulgarians? Negligible in number, a handful of families at most.
It’s the same with people of African and Asian nationality. Most of the Muslims I met on the doorsteps spoke with Scottish accents – born and bred here to first or second generation immigrant parents.
Yet, the fear, the racism, the otherness was everywhere. Blaming the foreigners has become the easy hit when life feels rubbish, as it all too frequently does for many right now. And essentially, it demonstrates that the establishment is winning. We might just have had confirmation of that with the referendum result, but that’s a large-scale manifestation of the much smaller-scale success of insidiously infiltrating an everyday mindset. The establishment, tiny in numbers but with the largest share of the pie, has everyone else scrapping over their share of the rest. Instead of fighting them for a bigger and fairer share of the pie, we – they – are now fighting each other for crumbs.
And it’s only when you spend time talking to folk outwith your own political bubble, that you realise it.
The question is what are we, as a nation, a country, ONE SCOTLAND don’t forget – going to do about it?
Well, if the two by-election results have failed to focus our complacent minds, perhaps we could recall that UKIP managed to win a European Parliament seat here in Scotland less than six months ago?
I don’t think I’ve ever been so angry at the behaviour of our two main political parties during and after that European election. By behaving as ferrets in a sack, they effectively let UKIP in. As the results rolled in, activists on both sides – some of them even elected representatives who should know better – reported on social media gleefully when UKIP beat their sworn enemy. Such was the narrow focus of partisan gaze that people who share much in common on the left of centre of Scottish politics celebrated when a party of the far right beat up their erstwhile opponents. And few stopped to think what that said about them and the state of our political discourse.
Indeed, it did not appear to occur to anyone broadly on the left of Scottish politics that what might have been healthy and helpful was a united stance by those parties against UKIP. There would have been very little electoral harm – for any of them – in the SNP, Labour, Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Greens issuing a joint statement deploring UKIP, all that it stands for and urging the people of Scotland to reject them. But they were all so focused on winning the battle de jour – as ever – to see the bigger picture.
Our mainstream parties seem to be harbouring a wrong-headed belief that UKIP didn’t and won’t take votes from them. But look at where UKIP did take votes in that European election. It took between 11.7 and 13.6% of the vote in Shetland and Orkney (Liberal Democrat territory), in Highland (Liberal Democrat and SNP) and Moray (SNP). It took between 10.4 and 11.7% in South Ayrshire and Scottish Borders (Conservative), and in Falkirk and West Lothian (Labour/SNP). And it took between 8.8 and 10.4% in Aberdeenshire and Angus (SNP/Conservative), Western Isles and North Ayrshire (SNP/Labour), Argyll and Bute (Liberal Democrat/SNP) and in West Dunbartonshire, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire and Midlothian (largely – still – Labour strongholds).
UKIP polled strongest in local authority areas right across the Yes/No divide and in areas where there are traditional heartlands for all the mainstream parties. There is less of a discernible pattern in Scotland than in England in terms of the type of vote and voter. UKIP is taking protest votes from left-leaning constituencies just as much as it is from right-leaning, from rural and urban areas. If there is a trend at all, it is that they appealed to the marginalised and those who feel marginalised. The common denominator was otherness: either because those who voted UKIP don’t like Europe or because they think immigration policy is too lax or because they are feeling the pain of austerity or because none of the parties speaks their language any more.
And while we might congratulate ourselves here in Scotland that we have contained the UKIP presence to a much smaller vote share, such complacency and appeasement is dangerous. UKIP has an appeal in Scotland and the worst of it is, apart from the occasional foray North by Farage, it hasn’t even really tried hard here.
So let’s stop pretending it’s their problem, not ours. And let’s start having a grown up conversation with ourselves. And let’s start challenging our parties to talk about the racism in our midst, in homes and communities everywhere. And not just to talk about it, but about the conditions which foment to allow it to exist. And let’s start tackling those. Together.
Because if we don’t, then by-election results like Clacton and Heywood could be coming to SNP and Labour constituencies near us.