Whose votes matter most to Labour? Clue: it’s not ours

In Scotland today, over 1 in 5 children are growing up poor. And over 1 in 10 adults are growing old poor. And one in five adults in work are poor.

That’s a lot of people.  That’s 250,000 children, over 100,000 pensioners and at least, an astonishing half a million people who go out to work everyday.  Here in Scotland. In the 21st Century.

If ever we needed a reason to get rid of the Tories – and indeed, the Lib Dems – they bring us one, on a platter, today.  Because today in the House of Commons, they are bringing forward proposals to potentially increase poverty and to make the lives of those of us who use public services – that’s us all then – worse.

The motion today on the Charter of Budget Responsibility will increase the ratio of cuts to tax rises from 4:1 to 9:1.  Which means more austerity, not less.  More attacks on people’s benefit entitlement.  Less for Scotland to spend on all its public services – education, health, transport, social care, children.

The Charter is a wheeze of this Tory-Lib Dem government designed, apparently, to introduce more transparency into how public finances are managed and also to govern how the Office of Budget Responsibility operates. It is a creature of statute and consequently, it is a powerful thing indeed.

One of its dual purposes is to set out the UK Government’s fiscal policy framework – how it will manage the debt, what it will do with our money in the annual budget and so on.

That fiscal policy contains a clear cut commitment to manage our national debt levels down to ensure “sustainable public finances”.  What this means is that they are going to cut, cut and cut again.  And just in case we were in any doubt about whether this was political pragmatism or because they actually believe in a smaller state, the Charter makes this a key objective:

” a target for public sector net debt as a percentage of GDP to be falling at a fixed date of 2015-16, ensuring the public finances are restored to a sustainable path”.

Which brings us to the motion before the House of Commons today, which proposes to accelerate the level of cuts.  Because despite four years of austerity, our debt levels are rising.  The Tory-Lib Dem coalition for cuts hasn’t worked. All those people – poor and vulnerable people – hammered by bedroom tax, by benefit sanctions, by frozen wages, by zero hour contracts – suffering and it ain’t working.

So they are turning the screws and they have legislation to help them do it.  And an ideological belief that this is what we need. Less for the likes of us, more for the likes of them.

Which would all be fine if we had voted for this in 2010.  Except here in Scotland, we didn’t.  We voted Labour, in big numbers.

And what are Labour going to do today?  They’re going to traipse into the government lobby to support more austerity.  Why?  Because the party – of the people, don’t forget – cannot be seen to be supporting what will be presented as economic profligacy by the right wing press.  Because in the marginal constituencies that count in this Westminster election – the ones down south – they like this sort of thing (or at least the voters they need to win over like this sort of thing).

If we had a direct say in today’s vote, would we opt for more cuts, for less spending on public services?  I think not.  So can we rely on our MPs to vote for what we want and what is in our best interests?  Will our lone Tory outrider and his 11-strong Liberal Democrat posse ride to our rescue?  That’s a rhetorical question by the way.

But what of the 40 Labour MPs?  Nearly all of them represent constituencies where public services matter – as employers too.  Where significant numbers of their voters are poor, or struggling under this relentless campaign of cut and counter-cut.

Can Scotland rely on its Labour MPs to protect its interests at Westminster today?  Will Scotland’s Labour MPs choose people or the potential of power? Whose votes matter most? The ones that put them in the palace or the ones they hope will keep them there?

What say ye, Jim Murphy?  And more importantly, how will you vote today?

Whose fear is it anyway?

Fear is all around us.  All they feel is fear.  They fear it in their fingers and fear it in their toes.  They have nothing to fear but fear itself.

And boy is that a powerful emotion.  Especially when your biggest fear is that of losing your job.

The Westminster dinosaurs who once roamed this land with impunity, fearing nothing and nobody, are facing extinction.  And they are feart.  Running scared.

And here’s the news, newsfolk: just because they think they can make it news, doesn’t actually make it news.

Just because Darling and Murphy have gone to the police and the electoral authorities wringing their hands about how feart they are, doesn’t actually mean they have anything to fear.

Other than fear itself.

If anything told us that they are worried – seriously worried – that the tide in this referendum has turned, it is this little publicity stunt.  Because it is designed and intended to keep the Scottish people in their place.  To put the fear of God in them that if they turn out to vote on 18 September and to vote Yes, then something terrible may befall them.

It smacks of desperation, that the only way they can prevent defeat by democratic means is by suppressing the democratic process.  “We are worried there is going to be absolute carnage”? Yep, I can see why you’d be worried about that.  Clearly, the No campaign’s private polls are telling them things that they really would rather not hear.  That Scotland is on the cusp of dismantling the United Kingdom.  And with that, bye bye job, bye bye influence, bye bye control.  The only carnage there is going to be is of the Union and by extension, UK Labour.

I can understand why they’re just a teensy bit afraid of that.

The only attempts to “disrupt and intimidate” are coming from them, from backbench Westminster MPs with nothing but time on their idle hands.  Who are choosing to make this historic debate all about them and their craven need to be centre of attention and in a political job for life.  Scotland voting Yes changes everything. Everything.

Only men who have spent much of their adult lives plying their trade in another place could make such a vital mistake.  For months now, I have suspected that there’s a deep-seated problem at the heart of the No campaign, aside from the fact that it has far too many at the top and too few at the bottom.

It is being led by men – and it is all men – who have ploughed their politics in the last fifteen years in a neighbouring field.  They have crossed the fence to plough Scottish politics – either parachuted in on their reputation as big hitters or deliberately inserting themselves in order to create a relevance in their political lives that was hitherto missing – thinking they knew the soil conditions, they knew the way the wind blew and they knew how to grow a handsome crop of No votes.  They refused to listen to their colleagues who do know the land better – and many of them do.

And consequently, what they have produced is stunted, wind burned and blighted.  It might have bloomed late, but the Yes crop is coming good, patiently nurtured by people who live and work here, who understand the soil and the land and its people, just in time for harvest.

And all that is left to these hobby farmers is to trample that crop.  To tell the people of Scotland back in your box, do what you’re telt, ken what’s good for you.

If these Westminster dinosaurs had actually spent much time here rather than there in recent years (excepting the obligatory flurry home at weekends to do the political necessities) they would understand that the political climate and culture in Scotland has changed.  Hugely.

The defeats for Labour in 2007 and again in 2011 were not some aberration, brought about by not having good enough Labour politicians.  They were part of a shift, a knowing shift, orchestrated by the voting ambitions and actions of the Scottish electorate.

We cannot be telt, we cannot be put in a corner, we cannot be intimidated.  Those days when Labour ruled our land, our houses, our job aspirations, our business ambitions are long gone. Labour has only scattered remnants of  power over communities and families it once ruled with an iron fist.

Labour didn’t used to bother identifying the vote in many parts of Scotland.  It did little in the way of door knocking in the run up to elections. Instead, it would just wait for polling day and then, whole teams would appear, made up of trade unionists, community activists, MPs, MSPs, councillors,  They’d simply knock on every door and every biddable person would come out and vote.  I’ve seen it in action.

But they cannot do it in this referendum.  For one thing, Labour cannot rely on its former trade union allies – many national and local trade union leaders, activists and members are voting Yes. Community activists have gotten used to life under a different regime and many of them like it.  Little help to be garnered from there either, then.  And even the stalwarts, the old Labour grandees who knew everyone and whom everyone knew?  Some of them are at least diffident, others have already decided where the future lies for the communities they belong to and love.

As for the areas they once called heartlands?  Well in many parts of Scotland, Labour has abandoned these in this referendum campaign in order to seek No votes in the better off parts of towns and cities.  It might have resulted in an easy hit in terms of big sackfuls of early No intentions.  But here’s the thing:  the more information some of these aspirational voters receive, the more they doubt staying put and the more they are considering change.

The late foray into classic Labour territory to supposedly hoover up undecideds hasn’t worked because the Yes campaign has been working these areas for months, in some cases years.  And people in this referendum want to vote for who and what they trust.

They are no longer sure they have the votes to win fairly. And they sure as heck don’t have the teams on the ground to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.  Hence, why they are running feart to the heidie to prevent the Get out the Vote operation they know Yes can and will put into action.  In communities they once ruled with impunity.

Oh yes, I smell fear.  And I also smell shite.

It gives me yet another wee spring in my step.  Because we are winning.  We are winning the hearts and minds of the people of Scotland to choose a different future and to dump these dinosaurs into the dustbin of history.

What they are trying to do won’t work.  How do I know this?

Way back in the 1997 UK election campaign, I made sure in my patch that we worked the poorest communities assiduously.  We visited them regularly, we engaged them, we listened to them.  They too wanted change back then.  And they got that in order to dump the Tories, they had to vote SNP.  A Labour vote was a wasted vote in that constituency.  Folk began taking posters and car stickers.  But they kept disappearing.  Eventually, one told me what had been going on.  Every house with an SNP poster had been visited by one of the local Labour worthies. A wee nyaff who treated this community like his kingdom.  He’d fill himself with drink and go up and batter their doors.  He’d shout and swear through their letterboxes.  He’d threaten to get them evicted, that they’d never get the house they wanted, that their boy would get in bother with the police, that he’d report them to the social, that if they dared to support the SNP, he’d personally bring about retribution.

So they took their posters down.  And after some more strong arm tactics, Labour posters started appearing on all these same windows across the scheme.

But here’s the thing.  They didn’t vote Labour, they voted SNP.  They put on a charade of falling into line, knowing that once their vote was cast, there was little that could be done about it. They talked among themselves – they formed a secret SNP voting society.  If they all did it, it would be harder for the Labour henchman to exact retribution.  I watched some of them coming out of the polling stations that day, tipping us a wink or a shy wee smile, looking as though a load had been lifted, a black cloud dissipated.

These communities are about to do something similar again.  And Murphy and Darling and all the rest of them know it.  They thought they’d be welcomed back like prodigal sons.  They thought the people of Scotland were malleable, could be fed lies and misinformation and fear mongering and would do as they were telt.  They did not reckon on a populace getting close to decision time, giving a final glance over their wares and finding them wanting.  They did not think that the people of Scotland would ever, really believe that this is their chance to change things.  Forever.  For future generations.  That this really is their one opportunity.

The mistake they have made is that they thought they knew us and knew how to push our buttons.  Well, they ken noo.






We need to talk about Labour

If you’ve not read Euan McColm’s piece in today’s Scotland on Sunday, I’d recommend that you do.  Though you might want to grab a mug of strong coffee and a pen and paper first.

That’s because he sets out the intricacies of the tangled web of Scottish Labour politics.  And how it really is all about them and not about us.

Euan explores Labour’s current inability to get its story across. He concludes that the party needs a new storyteller, one who can not only craft a narrative the electorate will buy, but also sell that narrative to voters coherently and convincingly: “Scottish Labour’s is a tired old story which meanders along, punctured by moments of pathos and unintentional comedy. Anyone who believes that Johann Lamont is going to change that now (after three years in charge) is either mad or deluded. Or both.”

He lays bare the extent and scale of Labour’s problem but fails to highlight the glaringly obvious; that Labour in Scotland is so focused on its own machinations that it cannot see the extent of its problems. The very fact that all this internal manoeuvring and calculating is going on during the most important debate in Scotland’s history shows how far Labour has drifted from its founding principles, values and purpose.

People like Jim Murphy – and even Douglas Alexander and a few others besides – are weighing up the ifs, buts and maybes of outcomes from not only the referendum, but also the 2015 UK election.  For Labour it is all about power for individuals and the party: the fate and the future of Scotland and her people are but pawns on the chessboard.

I’ve listened to a fair number of very decent Labour folk try to articulate why Scotland should vote no in September. They sing yesterday’s song, harking to the past and what was achieved particularly in the postwar years.  Which is fine and I agree with much of what they say.  But this debate isn’t about the past, it’s about the future, Scotland’s future.  And on that, their cupboard is largely bare.  They have a string of soundbites which sound plausible but which go nowhere.  Their arguments fail to frame their opposition to what the independence offer means for families and communities.  Let them talk long enough and they disagree with themselves, ending up far from where they began. I’m not even sure they believe what they are saying half the time.

When their devolution-plus proposals are more timid and offer fewer powers being transferred from Westminster to Scotland than the Conservatives, then the game’s a bogey.  Their Devolution Commission final report offered less than was touted because it was a shoddy compromise, finalised within a framework of hoping to win the UK election in 2015.  What that means is that if Labour is in charge of the UK in the next five years, they’ll be putting precious little Scotland’s way in terms of further devolution.  Because if they’re in power, they don’t want to be handing it over to us.  It really is that simple.

And if they lose, then MPs hoping for UK Ministerial office start to look elsewhere. After years of ignoring Scotland’s wee pretendy parliament and playing with the big boys, some of them might set their sights on Scottish leadership and the possibility of First Ministerial or other Ministerial office in Scotland.  I’m sorry but if Jim Murphy is the answer, then someone, somewhere is asking the wrong question.

Already Labour is working towards winning in 2016: that’s why it has selected most of its parliamentary candidates to run already. Forget the referendum, that’s just a sideshow: the real focus is on regaining what they see as their rightful place in Scottish politics. In power, in control and in charge.

Which is not to say that there are not good and decent Labour people whose hearts and minds are much less calculating than that. Some of them really do believe in the Union. Some of them do believe that what they offer is best for Scotland and her people – the best of both worlds is more than a slogan. I – and many others I know – share common values on fairness and equality in particular.  It’s just that those core beliefs are being obscured by naked ambition, particularly at leadership level.  And yes, I agree that power is needed to put into effect the policies you believe will change people’s lives.

But what are these exactly?  Scotland will get control over housing benefit, the rest will stay at Westminster.  It will get all income tax levers but not the ability to cut tax, only raise it. A UK Labour government will stick to the Tory public spending plans – that’s familiar.  So the £5 billion cut to Scotland’s block grant, putting at risk key public services will go ahead in the next two years.  The freeze on energy prices is good but takes no account of the disproportionate impact of high costs on rural Scotland. Worse, freezing bills for a limited time gives the energy companies a continued opt-out on investing in providing outlying areas with greater choice of cheaper energy. It’s a short term fix.

And in the absence of a positive offer to stay in the Union beyond the notion of family and a shared past and the hint of a Labour government to come, Labour is resorting to the scaremongering tactics so expertly practised by their Tory counterparts in the Better Together coalition. You might not put border controls up but we will, cries Ed Miliband.  Thus, he would treat us differently from a completely foreign, neighbouring country across the water.  I’ll resign if the Treasury allows a currency union, whines Ed Balls.  Who cares, shrugs most of Scotland.

The very fact that Labour is selecting candidates not just for the 2015 UK election but also the 2016 Scottish election tells its own story.  The fact that it is having these internal conversations in dark corners about who is best placed to lead the party in Scotland tells us all we need to know about where the party’s priorities lie.  And it ain’t with the people of Scotland.

It’s why more and more Labour party members and supporters are not just moving from no to yes but also getting involved in the Yes campaign.  They want to talk about the future of us all, not just their party.  They want to be part of this exciting, big conversation that individuals, families and communities are having about their future and their country’s future.  They want to talk about how best to end child poverty, to protect and nurture our NHS, to raise incomes, to create a fairer society for all.

And that’s a narrative we can all get behind.