Kitchen-gate

In truth, it wasn’t the magenta bus that bothered me. I might not have chosen to sally forth in an emblazoned, bright pink people carrier, but actually, Labour’s initiative to engage woman-o to woman-o in the general election isn’t the worst idea they’ve ever had. After all, they pinched it from Women for Independence.

Getting out and engaging women in spaces they feel comfortable in is something Women for Indy’s thousands of female supporters did to considerable effect during the referendum campaign. Here in Edinburgh, we did school gates, drop-ins in cafes, at homes, wee socials and my favourite, outside bingo halls (with Yes bingo dabbers, no less) because we went to where women were, rather than expect them to come to us.

My problem with the wheeze was it being styled as the “kitchen table” tour. Why? According to Lucy Powell, one of its shiny, bright young things in its election team, Labour was taking its message [to] women voters because “they wanted to have a conversation about the kitchen table, around the kitchen table” rather than “having an economy that just reaches the boardroom”. Shades of eat your cereal all round.

Suddenly, those shots of Ed and Justine in their kitchen make sense.

Ed and Justine in the “kitchen”

Except as we now know, it wasn’t their kitchen.  It was the second kitchen, the one off the living room where tea and snacks are prepared. But take a close look.  Does this look like any kitchen or even, snack-preparation-area you know?  Where’s the clutter?  The personality?  The photos of family, the letters from school, the fruit bowl?  There’s not even a half-full laundry basket, never mind an actual kitchen table.

As an attempt to portray Ed as just a regular family guy, it fails miserably. He looks like he’d rather be anywhere else. He looks like he never even knew the room existed (as it might not).  And who has two kitchens in their house anyway?

That’ll be a man who lives in a great big pile in a des res part of London, far from where his constituency is, incidentally, in scandal-laden Doncaster (one of the increasing number of longstanding Labour councils up north with serious issues in terms of its track record on protecting children).

I read the big, glossy interview with Ed in that week’s Guardian, where he was shadowed by a reporter around the country.  I read it twice, in fact, keen to glean details that might bring me to like the man.  I left disliking him more than ever.

And the only conclusion I can reach is that the man is a phoney.  A professional politician who has spent all his adult life in the Westminster bubble preparing for power. All that empathising with the audience, using first names?  A longstanding technique which can be learned. It’s well documented that his brother did so. He posited soundbites – I worry about not seeing my kids enough (who were otherwise largely absent from the piece); stamina being a challenge, but with twisted logic, relishing the 16 hour days – and if it was all to make him seem human, well, bits did, but the overall impression was of a team crafting a set piece for the delectation of the intellectual Left. I found it curious that the tour didn’t bother to call in on his constituency: does he go there at all, or is it just a place to weigh the votes?

But I got no sense of a man with a plan, other than to get to Number 10. He may be willing to stand up to vested interests. In fact, I applaud him for doing so, but will he as a Prime Minister un-vest them?  I think not.  The Milibands’ wee turn on the inheritance of the family home might not be tax avoidance on the scale that attracts headlines, but it still smacks of the entitled few entitling themselves in a way the rest of us can’t.

No, Ed Miliband is establishment Labour personified.  And if voters elsewhere aren’t turned off by the prospect of him and his party leading us, then here in Scotland, the electorate is making clear what it thinks.  They are turning away in their droves, because they have a better, more grounded, more real alternative to vote for.

Kitchen-gate speaks to all of this and exposes the “kitchen table” tour in all its condescending gory.  As our own First Minister is demonstrating, women are more than capable of dealing with the economy as an issue at boardroom level.  They are not just concerned with economics as they affect what they put on their kitchen table, but with how the state of our nation’s finances impact on everyone’s prospects, especially future generations.

What these gimmicks suggest is that Labour is the modern day equivalent of the Wizard of Oz.  For sure, there is a man behind the curtain, pulling levers, wowing the headline writers and the news makers – think Jim Murphy here – but take a peek and the charade is exposed.  There is no substance.  No one knows what Labour stands for, as I have written ad nauseum on this blog for years now.

The Labour President of COSLA, Councillor David O’Neill, tries to resurrect Johann Lamont’s “something for nothing” narrative which castigates universalism, only to be slapped down almost before he’s finished his speech by Jim Murphy, who restates Scottish Labour’s recent re-conversion to many of the policies it introduced while in government in the first place.

Rachel Reeves, Labour’s work and pensions spokesperson, gets herself in a total fankle trying to explain what Labour would do about the rise of foodbanks if in power. “Labour are a party of working people, formed by and for working people”. Helpfully, Kate Green MP took to Twitter to interpret her remarks, differently from how John McTernan, now installed in Jim Murphy’s team, did so.

If Labour doesn’t know what it stands for, how can the rest of us?  If Labour doesn’t say what it means clearly, or mean what it say, why should voters believe it and trust it with their votes? Meaningless gestures like “kitchen table” tours and toe-curling photo opps in empty, colourless rooms pretending to be the heart of the home expose all of Labour woes.

Whether it’s a kitchen, dining or coffee table, Labour has nothing to put on it but gloss.

 

 

Scotland’s quiet revolution needs you

Today’s wee greet came early.  With the morning cup of industrial strength coffee which is needed to make me barely human at the moment.

Sitting in the quiet of the back garden, contemplating yesterday’s events.  An amazing day in Muirhouse and Drylaw.  I’d made up nearly 200 supporter packs for people to take away with them to decorate their windows, their cars and themselves – all gone.  Materials disappearing off our four street stalls like the proverbial snaw aff a dyke. A cavalcade by Women for Independence with over 30 women in it, at least 10 cars leading Elaine C Smith across the city through working class areas, between two speaking engagements with undecided women voters.  Over 50 local activists out chapping doors at various points through the day.

WFI cavalcade photo

And our wee extravaganza was repeated all over the city, studiously avoiding and ignoring the less happy events going on in the centre.  Our day was spent celebrating hope, empowering people to believe that yes, they can.  I’m not quite sure what the point of the other shebang was. Oh, don’t get me wrong – in a free society that values freedom of expression, they absolutely had a right to march, to bus in their brethren from all over the UK to make their point, to openly state their beliefs.  But the images tell their own story.  Marching in file, formally dressed, overwhelmingly male, pale and stale.  Starchy, organised, stilted. The difference could not be more stark.  They represent the old Scotland: the outpourings, organised by social media and word of mouth and some of it spontaneous, in cities and towns all over Scotland, represents the new.  Colourful, joyous, vibrant, with our rich tapestry of nationhood – young, old, male, female, white, black and every colour in between.

Yes supporters filled Buchanan Street in Glasgow from top to bottom.  They massed in Inverness.  In Aberdeen and even in douce Perth.  And still there were enough to allow the work of engaging voters on their doorsteps and in their communities to continue – in far more numbers than the No campaign could muster.

Yesterday, across Scotland we painted a rainbow of hope, of belief and of confidence.

And it wasn’t just here at home.  A mass Yes rally in Cardiff.  The Saltire being woven through the gathering of 1.8 million in Barcelona to support Catalan aspirations for independence.  There’s nothing narrow or insular about any of this outpouring of international solidarity.  Even writing it all down makes the tears flow again.  Because putting it down here and out there crystallises the enormity of what Scotland is engaged in.  The world is indeed watching.

Last week, what appeared to be news was 100 politicians getting on a train and heading for Scotland to save the Union.  That’s MPs paid for by taxpayers the length and breadth of the land to represent the interests of their constituents.  The housing, benefit and planning issues in communities down south must be all solved then, if the most important thing these folk could find to do in a day was to come up here and speak to Scottish voters.  I hope they don’t have the audacity to claim their train tickets on expenses.

The comparison the gulf in approach between the two campaigns.  As the political scientists have discerned, this is pyramid versus swarm.  Twentieth century versus twenty first.  But it’s deeper than that.

All over Scotland and indeed, around the world, people are coming out to support this quiet revolution.  Despite the forces of the establishment throwing everything they have in their arsenal at us, still the referendum is on a knife edge.  And boy is it being flung: all manner of threats and bluster, misusing the powers of the offices of state to twist arms and lean heavily on old allies to do the dirty.  All the while, aided and abetted by media outlets – 100 MPs head north to save the Union! – suppressing and misreporting and misrepresenting the scale of what is going on here.

But only the UK and Scottish ones.  Scotland’s quiet revolution has attracted the attention of international media.  On Friday, I collected a bewildered Brazilian journalist from my cafe focus group of women in Muirhouse – “haw Yes hen – this wan’s looking for you” – and took her to join the rest of the campaign team for lunch.  Yesterday, we had the Berlin correspondent from the New York Times, filming and interviewing “what was going on on the ground”.  I’ve done interviews with and pieces to camera for journalists of at least a dozen nationalities now, some of them regional press, others national, and many international agencies commissioned by broadcasters all around the world to file packages.

They don’t go to the staged media conferences, like the one that John Harris called out.  They come and find us.  What is of interest to them is not what the politicians have to say about what is going on in Scotland but what is actually going on, on the ground in Scotland.  Why are we in these communities?  What are we doing?  They are interested in the real story, not the narrative the No campaign want people to be reading.

The UK, and the Scottish media (with a few honourable exceptions like Peter Ross and Paul Mason) should be ashamed of themselves.  For years, I’ve defended them here on this blog – many of them I know personally and I know how tough their environment is right now.  But few of them have bothered to leave the safety of the official news agenda to write the story of this referendum.  Fifty per cent of the population – give or take the odd percentage point in recent polls – is pledging to vote Yes on Thursday, to vote for change, to dissolve a political union of over 300 years’ standing.  To overthrow the British establishment and the British state, actually.  To claim power and control for themselves.  To say no to always having people make decisions for them, to say no to the wealth of their country and their people being squandered by others, to say no to never being allowed a say or a stake.  They are intending to vote to take responsibility for themselves, their families, their communities and their future.

And the reaction of the fourth estate in this land?  “Whatever”.

There is a quiet revolution going on under their very noses and they are oblivious.  Or worse, pretending it isn’t happening.

Well, the world is documenting it.  And keen to observe it unfold.  And in certain quarters, showing solidarity and supporting it.

But if we are to complete the pass, we need more people.  These last five days of the campaign are vital.  The momentum is all with a Yes vote but those with their hands currently holding power are doing their damnedest to stem the flow, to slow down the shift, to prevent it crossing the finishing line.

We have no money and no mouthpieces.  We have ourselves, our resilience and our shoe leather.

Every person extra who turns out to campaign means more of those crucial undecided voters reached.  It means we can visit more of the soft no’s.  It means we can make sure those who were nudging towards voting Yes – the Yes but’s – get there in the end.

If you live here, there and indeed, anywhere and support Scotland’s right to self-determination, or want to see the quiet revolution take hold here so you can create one in your own backyard, then come.

Come to Scotland in these last five days of the campaign.  Get on a train or a bus and come.  We can’t pay you (unlike the No campaign), but you will be welcomed with open arms.  We’ll find you somewhere to stay and feed you and entertain you and walk the legs off you.  Email me at scotlandneedsyou@gmail.com and I will put you in touch with a campaign team that can involve and include you. If you’re a Yes group and want more volunteers, email me at the same address.

And if you are an ex-pat Scot and wish you could have been here to vote Yes, do the next best thing and help those who can vote Yes, get out there and vote.  Book a bed or a floor at your relatives or friends and come.  And if you are involved in this Yes campaign and know you have friends and relatives elsewhere on these islands – or even further afield – who support us, contact them and ask them to come.

This one’s going to the wire.  On Thursday, we could change not just Scotland, not just the UK, but the world.  But we need your help to do so.

It’s people versus politicians.  Bottom up as opposed to top down.  A new dawn versus the old guard.

Scotland’s quiet revolution needs you.  Come.

 

(Image by Robb Mccrae)