Scott Nicholson is Scottish Labour’s candidate for MSP in Perthshire South and Kinross-shire. He says Labour can beat the SNP by standing up for working people.
Despite what you may think, it is an exciting time to be a Scottish Labour prospective parliamentary candidate. Kezia Dugdale is hugely positive about how we could use the new powers coming to the Scottish Parliament, and the Scottish Labour Party is looking to renew its offer to the Scottish people.
Our leadership is doing a fantastic job of taking this forward by explaining Labour’s principles and values to the voters who read newspapers and watch the evening news. However, in May 2015 when I asked voters what they liked about the SNP and their policies, very rarely could they name the candidate or a policy (other than independence). And outside of Scotland, last week Gloria De Piero MP was talking to a group of women about politics and while they all knew that David Cameron was Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party, not one of them had heard of Jeremy Corbyn.
It is my belief that Scottish Labour candidates and activists, acting locally, can multiply the impact of the party’s work nationally by incorporating a sense of identity for voters.
Economist George Akerlof won a Nobel prize for his work on identity economics, in which Akerlof formulated the idea that every piece of music someone buys, the football team they choose to watch, and a range of other choices they make, all boil down to an attempt to match their perceived identity or an identity that they aspire to achieve.
Within Scotland it is not hard to miss that occupations that were considered as being typically working class, such as working in manufacturing or mining, no longer exist. Perhaps with this loss Scots now have a weaker identity with a working class and no longer require a political party that stands up for working class interests? The build-up to the 2014 independence referendum very clearly whipped up a strong sense of Scottish identity, and it is no surprise that, at the polling station, people chose to vote for the party they felt stands up for Scots.
The implications for Scottish Labour are obvious. If identity shapes voting decisions, then the Labour Party strategy should encourage voters to tune in to an identity that inspires a Scottish Labour vote. Labour will never beat the SNP in a Scottishness contest, but we definitely win in contest of who can best stand up for and deliver schools, hospitals and jobs for everyday working people.
Apart from telling me for how many years they used to vote Labour, before switching to the SNP, the most common statement I hear from Perthshire voters is “I want to vote for Labour… but a better Labour”. I think what they mean is a traditional Labour Party that they know would represent the working man or woman.
If the Scottish Labour Party did not exist, it would be necessary to create it, as the SNP’s refusal to use Holyrood’s new tax raising powers to tackle austerity highlights that our party is the only vehicle to deliver social and economic justice for everyday Scots. But if the Labour Party was founded today it would perhaps be different.
Rather than three social classes, research from the London School of Economics shows Britain is now divided into seven social classes. These classes are graded upon their economic, cultural and social engagement, with an elite and established middle class at first and second, with the traditional working class, fifth. But there is a large group at the bottom who, unlike the traditional working class, are scandalously unengaged in society and uninterested in politics. Above them are a group of “emergent service workers” who, while still being scandalously poor, are more engaged in society. I would say that if Scottish Labour were founded today, it would be these bottom three runs of our social ladder, whose interests we would seek to represent.
We should remember also that identity is fluid. Philip Zimbardo’s famous Stanford Prison Experiment showed that social identities can be created almost at the drop of a hat. University students who were assigned as guard or prisoner took to their roles with such gusto that the experiment needed to be rapidly halted, for fear of serious harm to participants.
I believe to win in Scotland, Scottish Labour candidates and activists locally must incorporate a sense of “if you go to work; you vote Labour” into their conversations and leaflets; because the Scots who will most benefit most from a Labour government are scandalously unengaged in our society and will not read about our values in the Scotsman, Daily Mail or Daily Record, or hear about them on the STV News.