Chris Davison is an active campaigner in Edinburgh Western CLP. He says we must fight to ensure Scottish politics is not entirely consumed by the national question.
I grew up in Northern Ireland, where your politics was defined by a border. Outside of the Nationalist and Unionist parties there was little by way of an alternative on the ballot paper, making every vote a border poll.
Recently Aiden Kerr, of STV, was lambasted in some quarters for suggesting that Scottish politics was undergoing Ulsterisation. Although not under the shadow of a gunman and without the deep sectarian context, Scottish politics is in danger of being entirely consumed by the national question, rather than a debate of social and economic ideas, whereby every vote from here on out is about the Scottish border.
In my own constituency, I saw first hand the effect of tactical unionist voting as the victorious Lib Dems squeezed the Labour vote hard. Their successful campaign was based in part on a message that a Labour vote was a wasted vote in the battle against the SNP, backed by almost weekly mailings stating this message and a doorstep campaign that focused heavily on the tactical voting. This resonated with many Labour supporters who ended up sharing their constituency vote with the Lib Dems, while giving us their support on the list.
I am not suggesting that in a straight fight this May we could have beaten the Lib Dems; Edinburgh Western has a long Lib Dem tradition and Alex Cole-Hamilton was a fine candidate. However, I do believe that the electoral battle in Edinburgh Western boiled largely down to Unionist versus National sentiment.
For me, this was profoundly depressing, but I am not without hope. I would like to see us work hard together in the following three ways to combat this trend:
- Kezia fought hard to move the debate forward from the constitution to a debate about taxation, investment and social policy. She dragged the other parties into that ground and the SNP and Tories were found wanting in all the debates. We can and must show that the fairer society that many Yes/SNP voters want can be achieved by our Parliament now using the extensive powers at our disposal.
We have started that conversation and we must redouble efforts to shift the narrative of Scottish politics forward in that direction. From engaging more actively in our local communities to amplifying our message online, we should demonstrate how we can make our positive and radical vision for a fairer Scotland come alive and dominate the political debate with our progressive politics.
- We must stop apologising for standing up for the Union. Many of us voted No because of our Labour values, not in spite of them. I am certain that no member of Labour voted No in the referendum because they wanted Tory rule. Rather, they voted No to protect the most vulnerable in society; to protect education and our NHS from an economic case that was flawed in the extreme; and because we did not want to leave our family in the rest of the UK behind in the fight for a fairer society.
We should never apologise for making that case for union, and as the SNP launch their summer campaign for independence we should combine that pragmatic case with our vision for a better, fairer society in Scotland.
- We should be shouting loudly about the achievements of past Labour governments. Labour’s achievements have been largely drowned out by our opponents’chant sheet including, but not limited to, ‘an illegal war in Iraq’, ‘shoulder to shoulder with the Tories in Better Together’ and ‘Voting for £30bn of austerity cuts.’ We have allowed our opponents to dictate the discussion because of political errors of the past.
However, almost all social progress in the UK over the last century has been a direct result of Labour governments, and we should not let our opponents or the electorate forget about our achievements which vastly outweigh our mistakes. From the NHS and the welfare state, to the minimum wage and the Child Poverty Act, every Labour Government has moved society forward and we should not hide that fact.
If we unite around Kez, and come out fighting with our heads held high, remembering our past achievements and expressing our bold vision for the future, we can hope for better times ahead.