Ryan McMullan is an equality activist who voted Yes in 2014 and will be voting Labour tomorrow. Here he tells us why.
Back in 2012, I turned 30. I had been pretty much been unemployed for two years and my mental health wasn’t great. I have a speech impairment that makes people treat me differently and I was becoming detached, isolated and frustrated. In 2010 Mr Cameron came to power, I lost my job – I saw a connection. My whole existence and sense of self-worth was constantly under scrutiny and I grabbed onto the idea that independence would actually change something.
Now I look back and I see the naivety and absolute false hope I was clinging onto at that point. This is something that I should not dismiss – up and down the country many disabled people were similarly angry, scared and felt unvalued and ignored. Many still feel this way, myself included.
Just before the referendum, I got lucky. I was awarded an internship place with Labour’s Rhoda Grant MSP, one of the fairest, most socially aware and hardest working politicians in Scotland. Rhoda and her team saw beyond my disability. They treated me with the respect and understanding which I needed to get me out of my lull.
I still voted ‘Yes’ because, at that time, I believed that the SNP were the anti-austerity party. During my internship, when I wrote about my disappointment that independence was not achieved, Rhoda didn’t care because she saw I was still a socialist just like her, and I wasn’t censored like my fellow interns in other political parties.
For Labour a united front is difficult to achieve and, being liberals, it is not in our nature to follow the party line. Our intentions are from a good place but they can be seen as being divisive. No-one wants to vote for a divided party. Nevertheless, whether it’s between parties or between party members, argument and debate is the key to making our democracy stronger.
I believe there is something wholly unnatural about the SNP’s united front. Their ultimate goal remains to create an independent country, and it is a wonder that everyone on that spectrum is in agreement on everything else. The SNP do believe in universalism – free prescriptions for all, free tuition fees for all first time Scottish students and most recently the Baby Boxes.
Studies may have found that universalism does increase equality. But those affected most by inequality are losing out.
The disabled fall into this category, as services that increase their equality are being cut due to the council tax freezes. Councils are struggling to cope with this burden. They have been placed an a position where they have to charge the most vulnerable in our society for the services they rely on for self-respect and a decent place in our communities.
The Care Tax, as it’s dubbed, is a prime example of the SNP’s ignorance. To practice universalism fairly you must put up taxes so those who need that extra bit of support are on a more level footing with those who are non-disabled.
Let’s face it, people don’t like paying their taxes, and this is a primary reason why conservatism will never die in our society. Recently more and more evidence has surfaced exposing the lengths both individuals and businesses will go to in order to sidestep their tax dues. Labour has struggled tirelessly for decades to try and illustrate to the electorate why they should pay fair taxes. Honestly, I know if people knew what it was like to be from a disadvantaged background and see the services we could provide to stop the awful affects of inequality then more people would be happy to pay that little bit more.
The SNP, who are supposedly the only credible Scottish anti-austerity party, refuse to use the powers they have to stop the devastating cuts they are inflicting on vulnerable people. They are even claiming that high earners will flee from the country if income taxes are raised, a policy in the past that Mrs Sturgeon has always argued in favour of. This dismays me.
The referendum energised Scotland; it was exciting. How can anyone deny the historic importance of the moment when a country gets to decide its own sovereignty? I was disappointed with the result; I may have said things in the aftermath that I now regret. As I got more involved in the political scene, I realised my views on society had been around for centuries, and that they will never go away. Yes, I might be a lefty – personally I don’t believe in capitalism and I believe taxes should be much higher to provide better services for the vulnerable and disabled. Though I also see that it is vital that the left appeal to the centre, Labour are criticised constantly for being too left or not left enough. If we are not in power then we are useless and those who need our help the most are ignored and neglected, and inequality will cruelly continue.
Labour’s reasoning and voice got lost in the Better Together group. A Tory unionist presence was what everyone saw – which was hugely offensive to many middle class and liberal Scots. Labour did not get their message across that, should we achieve independence from the UK, it would be the most vulnerable that would lose out because in the White Paper the SNP were not prepared to raise taxes to pay for decent social security and welfare. This was disappointing and it broke many of their hearts, and they are still unfairly being accused of being traitors and self-absorbed, which is ludicrous.
I am impatient for equality – it is a slow process when change is rarely achieved, a bit like politics. But I realised that going over and over the issue of independence was only holding back my goal. I also recognised that 55% of the population did not agree that Scotland should be independent and it was time for me to accept it, move on and work with the system.
On reflection it was immature and dangerous for me to cling onto nationalism because I had a grudge against Mr Cameron. I have gotten to know many decent, honest, forward-thinking and hard-working people in the Labour Party. All have same basic goal of achieving a fairer society in terms of education, health, employment, justice and transport – all issues that disabled people need that bit more support in. They all may disagree a wee bit from time to time but they have all come to the conclusion that to make a change you must pay for it and, unlike the SNP who give everyone sweets with their blanket universalism, Scottish Labour are prepared to ask people to pay that bit more to try and achieve true equality.
I admit I come from a middle class background and most of my friends are middle class liberals, and this blog will be highly unpopular and many patronising and unfavourable comments will be written as I have come to expect from those in the ‘national’ party; perhaps I will even be lucky enough to get a reactionary blog written. However, I say to those people that we are lucky. Not everyone voting for the SNP is after Utopia. Politics is unsophisticated and the SNP has brilliantly capitalised on the bullying ‘us versus them’ mentality.
From my experience, and my hope for the future I will proudly be giving my both votes to Labour on Thursday, as it is the right thing to do to help achieve equality for all.