I have struggled with holding my Labour Party membership ever since the Glasgow East by-election. To be confronted with the destitution I saw only five miles away from where I used to live while canvassing and leafleting shocked me to my core.
Maybe I’m just a naïve, privileged stupid girl, or perhaps I’m just a normal person, rightfully horrified by walking into a close with shit and graffiti smeared all over the walls and kids playing next to methadone tumblers and needles.
It was only one close, because the two activists and I decided to jettison our leaflet run after that, but it’s horrified me ever since.
Whenever I have campaigned for the Labour Party I have been able to justify seeing the more unpleasant parts of lots of places in Britain by truly believing the candidate I was working for and the wider cause were both doing good, or were going to do better, albeit perhaps slower than I would want to see. But in Glasgow East, a seat I knew Labour had held forever anon, I couldn’t in good faith console myself that this was an acceptable place which my party had abandoned people and children to live, within an hour’s walking distance of the contrast of my comfortable life surrounded by my university and West End lifestyle.
But I stayed in the party. I was able to pass off a sight that I still have nightmares about as an aberration, something the cause I was dedicated to would eventually solve.
I believe the Labour Party is still the best vehicle to solve poverty in Britain, but it’s not a journey I can take any longer. The children I witnessed in that close in Easterhouse that day were not there because immigrants had taken their parents’ jobs, but because a Thatcherite government strangled funds to a Labour-led council that had no hope to even begin to address those children’s needs.
I cancelled my Labour Party direct debit on Friday, because Ed Miliband’s intervention on immigration is to me the single, worst, most crappy-William Hague-era thing I have ever heard a Labour leader say. At a time of economic austerity, to even subtly posit that low wages, poor housing and lack of opportunities are caused by ‘them’, a foreign other, coming across from somewhere else, when the root of poverty in Britain is the fault of the political and economic system we continue to inhabit, is just the cheapest political posturing, and I cannot endorse it.
It is the final straw in a lapse that has been a long time coming. But it does come down to the simplest things.
I spent this weekend at the STUC’s youth conference, where policy for Scotland’s young trade unionists is debated and agreed for the year ahead. On behalf of the STUC’s youth committee I moved the motion for debate on the independence referendum, dedicating the STUC to convening events and debates for young trade union members to fully explore the pros and cons of independence, to receive input from both the Yes Scotland and Better Together campaigns, and to make their own minds up about what will almost certainly be the most decisive vote my generation will take part in.
I remain undecided about independence. I look at the Yes Scotland launch and am left cold by the unrepresentative panel and the clear SNP-only organization. But then I look at the Better Together launch on Monday and I’m left even colder.
It’s a simple thing, to believe an organization you value and even love, will value your own views back. Too simple, perhaps.
Independence, whatever your views, is too important an issue to be left to the politicians to decide. It’s certainly far too important a decision for us on the left to trust to a coalition between Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, who have already decided for us that the UK is the best possible political and economic system we can possibly have.
I’m a big fan of British democracy, but a walk around the east end of Glasgow a few years ago was enough to convince me that it wasn’t the best of all possible worlds.
It wasn’t enough for Labour to only consult with members on the timing, the number of questions, the electorate and the governance of an independence referendum.
As the party who delivered devolution for Scotland I’m angry that Labour have not seriously consulted party members on attitudes towards independence, or the devolution of further powers, and translated those attitudes into a less strident, pro-UK-as-it-is campaign. Sure, the attitudes of a party and activists who know they rely on a Scottish bloc vote to hold the balance of power in Westminster will be skewed. But I don’t believe there is mutual exclusivity in wanting every child in the UK to be lifted out of poverty, and in wanting economic powers to be closer to the communities they are meant to serve.
Until now I have always been able to stick with Labour because I believed my efforts served a greater cause. I know there are many, many Labour representatives who know this, and strive and work towards it every day. I’ve been incredibly privileged to know and work with a few of them, and I hope to continue to support them whenever I can. There is certainly no other political party I would consider joining.
But when Labour decides to blame immigrants, however subtly with one speech, and chooses to side with those whose economic policies cause the social ills we witness, by just deciding that there isn’t an alternative to the current system, it becomes a cause which no effort of mine can hope to change.