In Floating Voters Week we are presenting views from teachers who didn’t vote Labour at one, or both, of the last two general elections. This is by Kenny Pieper, an English Teacher in a Secondary School in East Kilbride, just outside Glasgow. He was brought up in Labour household but voted SNP and ‘Yes’ in the Referendum.
In the aftermath of the General Election result, wallowing in the afterglow of a massive cultural shift in Scotland, I was knocked sideways after a short conversation with my mother. In her seventies, she has spent most of that time as a card-carrying, campaigning, doorstepping Labour Party member but, while she, like half the population of Scotland, had voted for the SNP, she couldn’t help but feeling a huge personal sadness, tinged with anger. For she was seeing the death throes of more than fifty years of her life as a political animal as Scottish Labour had finally been held to account and found embarrassingly wanting. ‘We might be delighted at the changes, Kenny. But if that’s the case, I will never see another Labour Government.’
And I suddenly realised what had just happened in Scotland; how much we’d had to change in order to see change. Growing up in the seventies, I have vivid memories of marching through Glasgow with Mum and Gran, campaigning for the unions, CND, whatever. I recall sticking leaflets through letterboxes I could barely reach. I sang ‘Maggie, Maggie, Maggie. Out, Out Out’ alongside friends and family members as we stood together against injustice and inequality in Scotland. Mum joined the Labour party in the fifties; spent more time than she’d care to admit at meetings, protests, marches and raised her children by socialist principles and the importance of caring for those less fortunate. It was part of who she was, who we were.
Things began to change in the nineties. Labour were so strong in Scotland that it was a waste of time to stand anyone against them. Massive majorities and poor turnouts suggested that voters saw no point. Mum became more involved and stood for local government where she was elected as a councillor. She regretted it; immediately faced with the bullying, braying, misogynistic tactics of middle-aged men, unopposed for years, she was marginalised when she refused to play the game. She lasted one term and was asked to leave the Party; the party of which she had been a member for forty years. Still, she remained a Socialist.
The Blair years did not change Labour in Scotland but cemented an arrogant assumption that they did not need to try very hard. My Mum is a perfect example of how they took voters for granted. As we became more politically aware in Scotland, culminating in the huge transformation caused by the Referendum – I still don’t think people outside Scotland understand how much of a change it brought – Labour voters began to look for something else. Nothing was changing; poverty is a massive problem; literacy on the slide. And while the SNP have to be held to account for that just as much, they have a better chance of tackling those issues.
Labour in Scotland need to start again. They need to genuinely engage with traditional voters rather than just echoing a series of soundbites. We saw the SNP as the best way to bring about some kind of change. Within that context we want to see Labour getting their act together, focusing on the needs of the people who made them. And while my Mum might never see a Labour Government again, they owe it to the generations of her and people like her; people who gave their lives to the Labour movement. We stand behind the SNP for now but it is not a team sport. We need a voice which will represent us. Can Labour ever be that again?