Dissonant Notes

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Labour's Love Lost - The Victory Celebration That Turned Into A Wake




Winners aren’t supposed to be this bitter. When the No vote triumphed in the recent referendum regarding Scottish independence, it looked like a vindication for the Scottish Labour Party. As the dust began to settle, however, Labour was suddenly faced with the realisation that 1.6 million people had voted for independence, and many of those people had been die-hard Labour voters just a few weeks before the 18th of September. Worse still, instead of treating the referendum like a cup final, many Yes voters decided that their conversion to a supporter of an independent Scotland was not a passing thing but was now somewhat of an entrenched belief. It turns out that many Labour voters felt a wave of disenchantment at the idea of Labour holding hands with the Conservative Party to protect the Union. Suddenly the policies of the two major British political parties seemed almost interchangeable, give or take some window-dressing. Instead of settling the independence question, it now looked like the referendum had actually created a greater drive for independence. How has Labour dealt with these recalcitrant voters who, contrary to New Labour procedure, refuse to drop their beliefs when faced with a defeat at the ballot box? The answer, as numerous clickbaits promise, may surprise you.


The cheers and laughter that erupted from the mouths of Labour-supporting No voters when the results were announced were gradually replaced by a conceited, bragging defiance that took to taunting Yes voters, reminding them that they had lost. Instead of reaching out and trying to understand why lifelong Labour voters had decided to ignore the party line and vote Yes, the twitter feeds of Labour/No supporters filled up with “We won”, “You lost”, and “zoomers”. Grown men took to reposting the poetry of idealistic young Yes voters in order to snigger and guffaw, and the worst outbursts from Yes voters were passed around as if to signify a moral superiority on the part of No supporters. All the while, however, an emptiness was lurking behind every guffaw as many began to point to a very disturbing truth for Labour: as SNP and Scottish Green membership flourished, Labour’s prospects in the next General Election began to look very grim. Labour’s response? Fingers very firmly in ears and a cry of “Zoomers”. The independence campaign was even referred to as a zombie movement in an article on a Labour website. Labour seems unwilling to understand Yes voters, preferring instead to insult and laugh. As a vote-winning tactic, it seems short-sighted to say the least. When 1.6 million people vote Yes, it stands to reason that Labour will need many of these same people to vote for them in the 2015 General Election if they are to triumph.


Labour’s problem is that, ultimately, it has nothing to brag about. Instead of holding firm to core beliefs, Labour policies in Scotland, and in the UK as a whole, have drifted further and further to the right. The party is incapable of showing itself to be the moral opponent of the Conservative Party precisely because, politically, it is merely the liberal wing of the Conservative Party. Outside of proclaiming “We’re not quite as bad as the Tories”, it’s hard to gauge exactly what the Labour Party stands for, with leader Ed Miliband even engaging in some UKIP-esque rhetoric in a desperate attempt to not appear soft on immigration. Labour ends up wherever the political winds blow, and as such it makes it difficult to discern exactly what the party will do that differs from the Conservatives. The SNP and Yes voters make for a more convenient target in Scotland merely because Labour really are a Unionist party, so their opposition is sincere. When it comes to the Tories, their opposition is only based on a power struggle: Labour would prefer to be in charge as it indicates a superficial level of success for them as a political party. After 18 years out of office, Tony Blair transformed Labour from the eternal party of opposition to the party of government by abandoning everything they stood for, but his Faustian pact with the British right-wing media meant Labour could never again return to their core values and as such they have creeped further to the right ever since. True believers have held on in England merely because the Conservative Party have consistently managed to be more repellant. In Scotland, however, the Conservative Party has been reduced to a whisper, so Labour must demonise the independence voter, failing to recognise that these very people were once proud Labour supporters. Unable to demonise the Tories, and with no core beliefs to point to, Labour have painted themselves into a corner by pointing at Yes voters and saying “Look at those zoomers”. No wonder many Labour supporters are panicking.


Scottish Labour should be riding the crest of a wave right now but, like all of their recent triumphs, their victory has come at a price, the price being their Scottish identity and their Scottish voter base. At the Labour banquet, the spirit of independence lingers like Banquo’s ghost, producing either angry bursts of “You lost” or mocking laughter. Scottish Labour may have won the referendum thanks to the three witches (Cameron, Miliband, and Clegg), but their identity crisis has deepened. Desperately trying to paint themselves as the sensible middle ground and the SNP and independence supporters as half-mad extremists, Labour have nothing to offer but contrast in place of substance. The General Election of 2015 has suddenly taken on seismic proportions, with a Conservative victory possibly destroying the fragile Union between Scotland and England, and the union between the UK and Continental Europe. If Labour loses the General Election in the UK their failure will be complete, leaving them with no choice but to move to the right once again. If Labour loses a substantial number of seats in Scotland, Scottish politics will be irrevocably changed, with only parties that advocate for independence providing any hope of escape from Britain’s right-wing political creep. In this atmosphere, Scottish independence will look even more like a solution to British political chicanery, as opposed to the nationalist extremism which Labour continually tries to paint it as. Labour’s failure to hold its ground in the face of the Conservative’s (and now the UKIP’s) populist right-wing appeals will have devastating effects for the UK in general, and Labour’s Scottish demise will force them to court voters in England’s Conservative heartland to make up the numbers for lost Scottish Labour voters. As victories go, Pyrrhic doesn’t even sum it up. The centre cannot hold, and Labour’s loss will be the SNP’s gain, leaving the rest of the UK looking like a neo-con’s idea of paradise. “We won” is sounding more and more empty as each day goes by.


Postscript


Just as the finishing touches were being put to this essay, Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont stepped down, a move that took almost nobody by surprise, making it seem like Lamont was the last to know about her upcoming resignation. Lamont left with a parting shot at Labour’s London power-base with the implication being that London would be dictating the actions of the Scottish Labour Party. Opinion polls of late have shown that Labour’s strong lead in the UK has whittled away, sending a shiver through the opposition benches that has failed to find a spine to run up. Miliband appears to have wet his finger and stuck it into the air to see which way the vote-wind blows and as such has pulled rank on Scottish Labour in an effort to ensure a General Election victory in 2015. Time will tell if this is a wise move but all of the signs appear to be pointing to a disaster for Labour in Scotland in 2015.

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