Standing up for Scotland
It is a curiously liberating experience to set out an argument one is entirely sure has already been lost.
We are still in the period where politicos feel duty bound to restrict our comments to the fact that there’s only one poll that counts, that we’re working all the way until 10pm on Thursday, and that we believe our message is the right one. Indeed all of those things are true.
But something else is true also, and it is a grim reality: this election in Scotland is not being fought over policies in manifestos. Nor is it – for the most part – being fought over the respective parties’ records in government. It isn’t even, with the odd exception, being fought over the traditional ground of the personalities of our politicians.
This election in Scotland is being fought over a sense of aggrieved and guilty nationhood in the aftermath of a polarising referendum; over the idea that UK politics is suffering a systemic failure which is curable only by breaking it apart; and, most surreal of all, over an arithmetic of brinkmanship that blithely recalculates permutations of parties that could deliver a government without ever stopping to think about what that government might do.
The SNP leaflet greeting me on the mat when I got home last night asked me to vote for “a stronger voice for Scotland”. Even on the face of it this is a plainly stupid notion – Scotland had 59 MPs in the last parliament, and it will have 59 MPs in the next parliament. The voice of Scotland will be of precisely the same strength whoever we elect.
But their argument, of course, is that the SNP will dedicate all of their time in Westminster to “standing up for Scotland” whereas, it is implied, representatives from other parties like Labour will not. Guess what? They’re right.
We send MPs to Westminster to represent our values, not our geography.
Look around the House of Commons. Do members sit in geographical groupings? Of course not. They sit in political groupings. Labour members from Birmingham sit next to Labour members from Edinburgh. Tories from Kent sit next to Tories from Cheshire. The parties of government sit opposite the parties of opposition.
I’m sorry, I don’t want my representative in parliament to “stand up for Scotland”. I want them to stand up for social justice.
I want them to stand up for social housing tenants facing the bedroom tax all across the UK. I want them to stand up for disabled people, victims of crime, people being exploited by their landlord or their employer. I want them to stand up for fair pay, fair working conditions and fair taxes. And I don’t give two hoots which side of the Scottish border they live on.
That’s the whole bloody point of Westminster – it’s where representatives of constituencies all over the UK come together and set aside their geography to deliver a government for all of the people. It’s a good thing.
It’s more than a good thing – it’s something to be treasured. And it is beyond me why so many of my fellow Scots see it as a negative. What is it that they think so radically changes as the east coast train crosses the Tweed at Berwick – other than the cynically calculated front page of The Sun?
I’m proud that Labour is standing up for the pooling and sharing of resources across the UK, and simply baffled that the SNP wants to cut off our nose to spite our FFA face. I’m proud that we’d tax the rich in the south east of England and spend the money on our NHS across the whole UK, including in Scotland. I’m baffled that anyone’s nationalist sentiment would deem that an unreasonable thing to so.
And I am more than baffled, indeed I am angered, when people tell me that Labour’s mistake, the reason we are suffering in the polls today, was our decision to fight for a No vote. They say we’d be doing fine now if we’d chosen instead to back a Yes. They say we allied with the Tories and Scots will never forgive us.
What we did was fought for our principles. We fought for solidarity. We fought for the best outcome for the most people. And we didn’t change our principles when we found ourselves on the same side as the Tories. We defined our position by who we are, not by who we are not, and for me that is a source of pride, not shame.
Politicians should work together when they agree. It gets things done. Ironically Nicola argues that today as it suits her purposes, but conveniently turns her face from the reality of it during the referendum.
Labour are fighting this election with a proud record of government, not that anyone ever seems prepared to listen to it. Labour created the NHS, and then rescued it from Tory ruin in 1997, doubling investment in real terms and building hundreds of new hospitals. Labour delivered the National Minimum Wage, working families tax credits, SureStart and the New Deal, all of which worked to help lift millions out of poverty across the UK. Labour delivered the Human Rights Act and LGBT equality, fought discrimination against the disabled, and wrote off Third World debt.
And Ed Miliband’s programme for government is ambitious and impressive. Taxes on the wealthiest to improve things for those worst off. “Make work pay” contracts to encourage more Living Wage employers. Stopping employers undercutting wages with migrant labour. A boost to student grants. Abolition of non-doms and a crackdown on tax avoidance. A million homes to be built and fair rents for those in the private rental sector.
As I write, yet another poll is published confirming that few people in Scotland are listening to any of this. The question they are hearing is “who will stand up for Scotland” and the answer they like is: the SNP.
I want a Westminster where MPs set aside geography and come together to deliver a positive programme of government for the UK. Instead we look set for one in which a bloc of SNP MPs will spend five years arguing grudge and grievance with a nationalism that – like their central policy of Full Fiscal Autonomy – puts flags above facts, and would happily make people poorer in the name of a line on a map.
I’ll be continuing to fight, up to 10pm Thursday and then every day thereafter, for social and economic justice, for solidarity, and for a party that considers these fundamentals to be far more important than nationalism. We will fight knowing that many people are not listening, and that the likelihood is that we will lose the argument this time.
We may not persuade the people by Thursday, but we’ll be damn proud to have tried. We stand for values, not geography. Who’s with us?