Thursday, 5 February 2015

Glasgow's rejection of Labour has been a long time coming: and deserved

It might surprise some people to realise that, despite my youthful good looks, I was in secondary school at the age of 13 when the 1997 General Election took place.

I was a child of Thatcher, born a little over two years after her invasion of the Malvinas. I was born seven months after she won her second term as prime minister. It was the most emphatic election victory since Labour swept the war criminal Churchill out of office in 1945. 

My early life coincided almost exactly with the course of the Miners' Strike - it began less than six weeks into my life. My childhood - in a working-class family in which my father was a chimney sweep and my mother, before my arrival, worked in a factory - was one which was lived through a soundtrack every night of the news bulletins announcing another 'modernisation' of an industry. For 'modernisation', read 'closure'. My earliest political-ish memory is of my father and grandfather coming back from the Scottish Cup Final when I was four and a half carrying the red cards, distributed by NHS Scotland nurses outside the old National Stadium, and proudly telling how Celtic and Dundee United fans, together, waved the red cards at the British prime minister and booed her off the park, never to return to Glasgow. 

We weren't in any way a political family. As far as I'm aware, I'm the first person in my immediate family to have belonged to a political party, but we were political in the way that all Glasgow working-class families were at that time. Every time the prime minister appeared on the television, it was to disapproval. Not just from my parents, but from everyone: neighbours, aunts, uncles and grandparents. I grew up with the British government behaving towards Scotland like a conqueror, with plummy-voiced Scottish Tories telling us that what they were doing was good for us. And watching families thrown out of their homes, their possessions sold on the streets in front of them as they were evicted, for being unable to pay the Poll Tax which Thatcher imposed and Labour demanded we pay. 

When you're a kid, you don't see shades of grey. You see black and white. And in my world, and in those of my teachers, my family, my contemporaries, the Tories were bad. And if the Tories were bad, then the opposition - Labour - must surely be good. 

It's hard to explain to people who weren't alive then the joy that was felt in Scotland when in 1997, Labour vanquished the Tories. On election day, my uncle was visiting from London, and had foolishly failed to avail himself of a postal vote. He was soundly upbraided by my mother, telling him 'if the Tories get back in by one vote, we're blaming you'. In the end of course, if everyone my family knew, even remotely,had failed to vote, it should still have been a landslide defeat from the evil Tories.

I can't remember whether I hadn't the permission or the inclination to stay up for the election results - this was in a time before children had televisions in bedrooms, a time before home internet, and a time before smartphones - but I woke up to the happy news in the morning that the bastards had been thrown out. 

Every single Tory MP in Scotland was gone. They, who'd told us it was necessary to deprive our communities of jobs and hope, found that we'd deprived them of their jobs and their hope. We - Scotland - had eviscerated the Conservative Party, never to return. 

When I was woken up to get ready for school on May 2nd, the first thing I said to my mother was - and I'll always remember this - 'did we win?'. We. And my mother, who would no sooner join a political party than she would have joined the Moonies, or a circus troupe, and who'd voted SNP, said 'we did'. 

Because the Labour Party was viewed as 'us'. That wasn't just a view in my family in the south side of Glasgow - it was an almost universal view. There was a buzz around the classes that morning. The teachers could barely contain - and sometimes didn't bother to try to contain - their joy. 

So it's through that prism that people have to try and understand the extent of the betrayal working-class people in Scotland feel. 

We didn't care that Gordon Brown had promised to stick to the Tory spending plans: Malcolm Rifkind was gone. We didn't care that Tony Blair was a greasy, insincere wank: Iain Lang had been sacked. The Tories had systematically and deliberately destroyed Scotland and Labour would make it better. 

Except, they didn't. It was more of the same. Sure, they introduced a woefully-inadequate minimum wage. But they didn't do anything about bringing the buses back under public control, so none of my mates could ever afford to go anywhere. They didn't renationalise a single industry, so jobs were few, and my school friends drifted out of school at 15 and 16 and into unemployment.

The one use they had for working-class Glaswegian kids was to enlist us in an army half of us hated and send us to kill, and sometimes die, for money and power. Not for us, for them. Sure, some lucky ones got jobs or went onto higher education, but for most, it was a life of gangs, violence, the dole, the British army, the scrapheap. No better for us than when the Tories were in charge in any substantive way. An escape route would be university: but they even tried to ban working-class kids from that, imposing tuition fees no family could afford. It was a couple of grand, but it would be as well have been a couple of billion, for all anyone could pay it. 

We might have been free of Conservative government, but we still had the shadow of its destruction hanging over our shattered communities. 

Glasgow wasn't a nice place to grow up in the 1990s. There was rampant young gang territorialism. I don't think there was a year in my school where someone wasn't killed or seriously injured in gang fights. It was a direct result of us being a lost generation, thrown on the scrapheap by the Tories, and not helped up by Labour. People lived in damp, high-rise flats with no amenities, nothing to do but drink and fight. Or in condemned tenements, with three kids of different genders sleeping in the same bedroom. Did Labour embark on a massive house-building programme? No. They privatised council houses. 

Unable to afford decent food, people ate junk. People became obese, and suffered associated health problems. There's a perception that junk food is the lazy option: but it's not - it's simply much cheaper to feed a family on ready meals than it is to buy fruit and vegetables and meat on a single parent's minimum wage, or on the pathetically-small unemployment benefit pay. 

All through this, Labour took Glasgow working class for granted, that we'd vote for them always, because we literally had nowhere else to go. Or nowhere else credible: in my constituency at the 1997 general election, the SNP won less than 18% of the vote - and still came in second.

Working class communities watched Labour the Tories on the Miners' Strike. We watched them collaborating with the Tories on the Poll Tax, condemning it with their mouths but collecting it with their hands; and we flashed our red cards at Thatcher. We watched their catastrophic failure to build desperately-needed social housing.  We watched their wars, although they never directly affected us. 

And still we forgave them, because they weren't the Tories, and we wanted something better. And there was nowhere else to go.

And then we had the chance to have something better. We had the chance to never again have a Tory government imposed on us from another country who denied us the support we so desperately needed to pull our communities up from the penury and distress they'd put us into. There was somewhere better to go: a Scotland for the millions, not the millionaires. As Scotland where never again could the democratic will of the Scottish people be thwarted by a handful of rich swing-voters in another country.

And Labour turned their faces against the working-class people of Scotland and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the Tories against us. Sure, they got the narrowest of victories, but my, what a Pyrrhic one it was. Mere minutes after the result, they sat open-mouthed in shock as they realised that they - the betrayers of the Scottish working class - had, too, been betrayed by their Tory colleagues. English Votes for English Laws is the Conservative Party doing their erstwhile partners up like a kipper. 

We forgave Labour, grudgingly, because we had nowhere else to go. We're not forgiving them now. The opinion polls show Labour suffering a 1997 Tory-style wipeout. They richly deserve it.

There are other places to go now. There's a competent, if hardly inspiring, National party government. There's a Green Party booming in membership and flowering with ideas. And there's a Socialist Party which is fighting tooth and nail for the working class, which led the campaign against the Bedroom Tax - a campaign Labour ought to have been leading - and is leading the campaign against the odious zero-hours contracts and the scandal of in-work poverty pay. These are campaigns that a community led Labour Party should be front and centre on, but on which they are largely silent. 

The betrayal of the working class is why I'm gloating at what now appears to be nothing less than the death of the Scottish Labour Party. They've done very well out of us - many of them millionaire career politicians - whilst leaving most of us in poverty, without hope. They have accepted the Thatcherite ideal that one's ambition ought to be to "escape" the working class rather than striving to rise us up as one, improving our living standards, acting collectively to ensure decent working conditions and pay. 

A Labour MP likened their Great Betrayal to one's partner having an affair. It was worse than that. For a child of the 1990s, what Labour did to us felt like being in a car slowly sinking into a river, and Superman appearing. Then having a look and saying 'sorry, pal, I've got an important dinner tonight, don't want to get the spandex wet'.

When that happens, you realise Superman's a prick. And you revel in his destruction. And so it is with Labour. 

In every single election since 2005, the Scottish Labour Party has died a little bit more. Their few remaining activists that little bit more demotivated, slipping away from active involvement. 

I'm loving every moment of it. And when I look at parts of Glasgow that have loyally voted Labour for half a century and been rewarded with child poverty above 50% and life expectancy lower than the actual fucking Gaza Strip, that's why I'll be laughing in the faces of every Labour MP who took us for granted and loses their seat in 90 days time. 

It'll be jelly and ice-cream when Labour dies.

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