The campaign is over – the Tories are back. Scottish Labour is a ghost. It’s fair to say even the most wildly optimistic Tory couldn’t have anticipated the utter meltdown of Labour in Scotland and their total failure to connect with their voters in England in even the most marginal seats. Totemic figures of UK Labour have been washed away – Ed Balls, Jim Murphy, Douglas Alexander- all gone.
Above all, it was utterly imperative that we got rid of the Conservatives. Not just for the sake of the sick, the disabled, and the working poor, but because I don’t want independence to happen just because the Conservatives made life so miserable for people it became their only choice. Nor do I want it to happen because the Tories stoked so intensely the flames of English nationalism and anti-Scots sentiment that the Union fell apart at the seams because of hatred. If independence ever is to happen I want it to happen amicably and such that it is in the interests of working class people across these Isles. If that is not the case, I will not support it.
I wasn’t prepared to countenance five more years of the Tories on the hopes of winning a second referendum Yes vote. I wasn’t willing to hope England veered to the right so far that centre-left civic Scotland could stand smugly by as Virgin Ambulance Service sends bills to cancer patients in Bradford as we enjoy free prescriptions and use that to justify independence from our “backwards right-wing neighbours”. That isn’t what my politics is about.
Allow me to elaborate. In 2010 I joined Unite the Union, shortly after the Coalition came to power. My first political march was with fellow trade unionists in Edinburgh against cuts, where I got the only saltire I’ve ever owned- long lost (along with a St George’s flag and Yorkshire Lily) to a flat in Morrison St in Edinburgh. I joined in with Occupy Edinburgh in a moment of early-20s madness. I was even (very briefly) in the Scottish Socialist Party in 2010. In 2013, as austerity began to bite, I decided to join the Scottish National Party as a means to oppose those cuts which Labour were so feebly opposing. In all those years I flirted with independence (as you may have noticed), and, to this day, my relationship with the idea is still contingent. With all things in life, I am open to being proven wrong. When the facts and circumstances change, a man has to change with them.
Over the years I’ve gradually realised that what my opposition to is not simply “Westminster” as an amalgamated beast of right wing badness, but to the Conservatives, to unscrupulous employers, to tax avoiders, to unelected privilege, and to antidemocratic institutions. I did not want Labour in Scotland to be “destroyed”. I do not hate the “Red Tories”. I am not religiously dedicated to the hatred of the party that is supposed to represent the will of the trade unions- I just didn’t want them to have an overall majority in the House of Commons. The reason I voted SNP is because I want to keep the Conservatives out of the Downing street, but I don’t want Labour to govern unchecked. Minority Government and consensus democracy is not something to be feared, but something to be embraced.
Talk of Scotland “letting in the Tories” by not meekly and habitually voting Labour betrayed a stark sense of entitlement and reveals exactly why Labour suffered utter devastation in Scotland. Scotland is less than 10% of the UK’s population – Labour failed to muster enough support in the rest of the UK to prevent the Tories returning to Downing St. They cannot solely blame the SNP, but their own failure to win the backing of the rest of the United Kingdom despite one of the most brutal Tory Governments in decades. Of course, if nobody could form a Government and democratic reform was forced upon Westminster, that’s a whole new ball game.
Instead, the worst of all possible scenarios played out. The Tories won an outright majority. The Human Rights Act, labour rights, democratic reform, our membership of the EU – all now fully at the whim of the most right wing Government in a generation. The Tories stoked the flames of anti-SNP sentiment and fears of Scots coming south to steal all their money and it worked – oh how it worked. Scotland voted for anti-austerity, anti-Tory, centre-leftism. England voted for anti-SNP, right wing, austerity politics. You can lay the blame at the feet on an utterly incompetent Labour campaign, or on fears of suburban England of the SNP pulling the pursestrings of a weak Labour Government, on a weak leader, or just credit the sheer brutal efficiency of the Tory campaign machine.
English Liberal Democrat votes, fearing weak governance from Ed Milliband, and perhaps the influence of the SNP, fled to the Tories in droves. It is not simply the Tory victory itself which has placed the Union in jeopardy, but the manner. Because Scotland was going to choose to vote one way, the legitimacy of any Government was called into question should that manifest as “Scottish” influence on the UK Government itself. England went Tory, Scotland went SNP. There can be no denial of the divergence in how people North and South of the border manifest their political choices, even by the most ardent of Unionists.
Labour faces an identity crisis that has implications for the very existence of the United Kingdom. Do they veer back to the centre-right to win power, or go further left? Do Labour stay the course and hope to find a strong leader who can more ably articulate their vision for the United Kingdom? Any veer right may well fracture the strained ties between Labour and the Unions and vindicate the Yes-voters’ rhetoric of “they’re all the same”. Labour figures will fear that a veer left will make them even more unelectable.
In Scotland, we should do well to remember that the threat to the poor, the vulnerable and to working people does not come from the rump Labour Party, but from Cameron’s government. There lies the battle. The Conservatives, whose Scottish party boasts the word ‘Unionist’ in its name, may be the ones to destroy the Union. This is a Pyrrhic victory and the cost may be the very existence of the state they wish to govern.