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Labour has lost sight of what it stands for

The realisation by the Yes campaign that the key to success may lie with traditional Labour voters struck a chord with me. However, a declaration of interest may be in order. I come from a long line of socialists whose politics, like those of Jimmy Reid, were a blend of study and first-hand experience of heavy industry.

The realisation by the Yes campaign that the key to success may lie with traditional Labour voters struck a chord with me. However, a declaration of interest may be in order. I come from a long line of socialists whose politics, like those of Jimmy Reid, were a blend of study and first-hand experience of heavy industry.

Some suffered for their politics. An uncle, blacklisted following the General Strike of 1926, had to leave home, never to return. My father didn't progress much beyond the shop floor, partly because of his campaigns to prise sick pay from employers for workmates who had fallen on hard times.

Their tales of social, political and industrial injustice were hugely influential on my emerging values and beliefs. I appreciated my formative years were immeasurably better than theirs. Perhaps simplistically, I attributed much of that to the Labour movement, in particular the post-war Attlee government.

The post-war consensus on social responsibility and security provided me with health, education and even a roof over my head. I suppose I was among the first beneficiaries of what the leader of Scottish Labour has decried as the "something for nothing society".

Unsurprisingly, I cast my first vote for Labour and, generally, have continued to do so, although I confess to a tactical flirtation in 2010 with the Liberal Democrats. I know,

I know, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

However, something has happened that would have seemed impossible only a few years ago. I can't see me voting Labour again any time soon. I can't put my finger on the reason, but neither can I find an answer to the question: what is Labour for?

Scotland is an irregular blip on Labour's radar at Westminster. Only recently did the penny seem to drop that a Yes vote in September would mean eviction for Labour's Scottish placemen and the likelihood of a permanent Tory majority. What other explanation can there be for the shadow chancellor and many Scottish peers and Labour MPs joining the school bullies to push our heads down the toilet?

In Scotland the situation is little better. Labour leaders demonstrate an imperfect understanding of the history and purpose of their movement. The leadership appears immune to irony when talking about a "something for nothing society." From within Holyrood, they possibly know more than most about something for nothing.

Increasingly, we Labour supporters and activists feel our views count for nothing. Our values are watered down as the national party attempts to shadow or even outflank the Coalition on the right in its attempt to win the floating vote in the English marginals.

On the independence issue, Scottish Labour has made common cause with traditional opponents of working people

to corrode our already fragile national

self-confidence. We are too wee, too poor and too daft to go it alone.

As an antidote, I recently visited the National Portrait Gallery. The first portraits, busts and statues I came across were those of Burns, Scott and Stevenson. Upstairs were images of scientific and technological pioneers including Professor Peter Higgs. Just as well they were undaunted by potential difficulty and setback.

Labour in Scotland fails to appreciate the divergence in values north and south of the Border. We don't dislike English people or think we are better or worse than them. We simply believe our collective experiences and values are not those of recent UK governments. Many Labour supporters, like me, who have never voted SNP in our lives, see the forthcoming referendum as possibly the last opportunity to break out of the current downward spiral into unfairness and inequality.

Labour has missed an opportunity to stand up for the very people whom it came into existence to protect. A No vote in September would leave Scots exposed to even greater marginalisation. Around Europe we will be seen as the team that had players more intent in putting the ball in their own net than scoring at the other end.

Doug Marr is an educationist and commentator

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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