An Open Letter to Labour Voters

In a scene replicated in many Scottish workplaces I’m sure, I was recently party to a lunchtime conversation on voting intention. One colleague stated that they would always “vote for the red rose, my family always has”. I thought this beautifully stated a very popular position, and that it would be interesting to explore why.

Scottish Labour stands on the great egalitarian tradition of the Labour movement, with their website evoking Keir Hardie’s “new and radical force in Scottish politics” and remembering the first Labour Government in 1924 “legislating for the first major programme of municipal house building”.

It records that Labour administrations “changed the face of Scotland and Britain, introducing the National Insurance Act and the National Health Service Act in 1946; the Town and Country Planning Act in 1947; the Children Act in 1948, establishing a comprehensive childcare service, reforming services providing care to deprived and orphaned children; the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act in 1949; extended the minimum school-leaving age from 14 to 15; and oversaw British withdrawal from India.” In the 1960’s Labour “liberalised the laws on censorship, abortion, divorce, and homosexuality, outlawed capital punishment and created the Open University.”

This is a proud and progressive record for a party which governed for only around a third of the relevant half-century. What is remarkable is that from the early 1970’s until the present day, the only thing that Scottish Labour even lays claim to as progress is devolution. And its support for devolution has been intermittent and essentially reactionary – Labour effectively blocked it in 1979 with the unprecedented and unrepeated ‘40% of Electorate’ qualifier, and it openly only supported devolution in 1997 to “kill nationalism stone dead”. It seems instructive that having painstakingly recorded Labour’s progressive achievements in government in the 50 years up until the 1970’s, the Scottish Labour website lists none since.

When Labour came to power in 1997 it had the pure good fortune to find itself at the beginning of global phenomenon that economists have retrospectively dubbed ‘The N.I.C.E. (Non-Inflationary Constant Expansion) Decade. Essentially, it was boom time – the coffers were full, and Labour had the opportunity to make serious investment for the long-term benefit of Britain, or indeed to build up a substantial rainy-day fund for leaner times to come. So what did Labour, our great hope for a progressive Britain, for prosperity with responsibility, achieve with this unprecedented bounty?

Rather than spending public money on public works, Labour hugely expanded the PFI system of funding public projects initially used in the latter years of the Conservative government. Labour bears responsibility for the vast majority of these 717 completed projects, and for the bills being paid by ordinary taxpayers for them over the next 30 years or so. The capital cost of these projects was £54.7 billion, but they will earn the companies who carried them out more than £300 billion in public money.

It is true that during the good times Labour increased spending on the NHS, but much of this actually went on the huge swathes of the service which Labour sub-contracted out to private firms, much more so than the Conservatives ever felt they could get away with. When Labour is in power, there’s no-one in opposition to cry foul. Labour ‘NHS spending’ includes the £12.7 billion it gave to the private sector to fail to computerise personal health records, and the fees of the management consultancies Labour called in, which were running at £300 million per year.

Labour of course also dragged the country into an illegal and ill-conceived war in Iraq, costing £8.4 billion by conservative estimates, and up to £30 billion by some more inclusive measures. (Before anyone takes exception to the “illegal” description, it is simply a fact in international law. If you think that the invasion of Iraq was justified, that is your right. Your opinion does not make it a legal war.) The human cost is even more staggering, with the figure almost 5,000 coalition forces casualties (including almost 200 UK troops) dwarfed by around 120,000 Iraqi CIVILIAN casualties, just from direct coalition attacks. Estimates of total deaths caused by the conflict range from 500,000 to over 1 million. Justified at the time to us by Labour as necessary to eliminate “chemical and biological…weapons of mass destruction…which could be activated within 45 minutes”, it is only a revisionist history (created in the inevitable absence of made-up WMD) which says we waged this war to remove Saddam Hussein. That false history is repeated constantly, including recently by Johann Lamont, in direct contradiction to her statements from the time.

Unfortunately, this is in keeping with the complete lack of differentiation between Westminster Labour and its counterpart in Scotland. From Peter Mandelson being “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”, through Jack McConnell taking ermine as Baron McConnell of Glenscorrodale, to Lamont’s horribly divisive and judgemental “something for nothing culture” speech, Labour have long been busily proving the truth in David Cameron’s statement in reference to the political class, that “we are all Thatcherites now”. As the recent slap-down of Johann Lamont by Labour HQ in London over the mere suggestion of further devolution proves, even if Scottish Labour wanted to be progressive it is completely dependent on the will of Westminster Labour, and powerless to effect change without their agreement.

The gap between richest and poorest grew on Labour’s watch, with those in the bottom 20% seeing their incomes stay broadly flat, while the top 20% benefited from an increase of fully one-third. The top 1% could celebrate their incomes almost doubling. These gaps grew faster under Tony Blair than they had under either Margaret Thatcher or John Major. Then Gordon Brown arrived and bailed out the banks in the biggest transfer of money from public to private hands in our history, much of which we will never see again. The banking crisis itself was a direct result of Labour continuing the Conservative’s ‘light touch’ attitude to the banks and financial markets – ask no questions, hear no lies, jobs for the boys and champagne all round.

The UK’s Gini coefficient (the commonly used measure of inequality of income) rose consistently under Labour, to the point where only Mexico, Chile, the United States and Italy among OECD countries have more unequal societies. In the same period, studies consistently found the UK to be have among the worst, or the worst, social mobility of any developed economy, finding that 50% of a British child’s chances of success in life were determined by the income of their parents, compared with less than 20% in countries such as Denmark, Finland and Norway.

What I want to ask of Labour voters is, are you happy with what has been done in your name? What do you hope for when you vote? Is your vote for a progressive society, social mobility, and true equality of opportunity? Has ‘New Labour’ represented your hopes?

Inevitably, there will be a sensible, progressive choice of government in an Independent Scotland. Probably, there will be a few parties offering this, as the political spectrum settles along the norms of Scottish society. So if you usually vote Labour, these are your options: stay in the UK and get the same governments we have had for the best part of 40 years or, become independent and elect a succession of governments which are everything Westminster administrations are not: progressive, what you voted for, and surely even now, not too far removed from Keir Hardie’s vision “to dethrone the brute god Mammon and to lift humanity into its place”.

Incidentally, my colleague who had mentioned that they would always “vote for the red rose” clarified that they would be voting ‘Yes’ in the referendum, and then vote Labour in the “actual elections” thereafter. Her reasoning was simple; she didn’t hold much for the news, but when she listened to the arguments from the parties she thought that it would be better for the people of Scotland to decide Scotland’s governance. Also, Independence would mean that she would probably get broadly what she hoped for when she voted, which she felt didn’t happen at Westminster.

It’s my opinion that only Independence will force Labour in Scotland to reinvent itself (or perhaps to re-find itself) and become a Scottish Labour which is actually progressive, rather than the defensive, conservative shell of a party we see today. But I don’t vote Labour, so it’s not my party to change. Comments are open – what’s your opinion?

Rob Connell
National Collective 

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About Rob Connell

Rob Connell is from Barrhead, lives and works in Edinburgh and has nearly succeeded in the fields of law, tourism, construction and energy. His words appearing here are in direct contradiction of a previously longstanding rule: “I don’t write. I talk.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.williamson.710 John Williamson

    labour adopted the Red Rose in 1979, previously it was the red flag. It has been downhill ever since. Your colleague was wrong to say her family had always voted for the rose. Incidentally the red rose has a very English significance, war of the roses etc, and when they adopted it as there emblem it was clear that any claim to internationalism was gone and that their mind set was englandcentric.

  • Paul

    Lovely piece and conveys my thoughts about Labour also, coming from a “we always vote Labour” family.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CharliePM Charles Patrick O’Brien

    The red rose another insidious conquest perhaps,seed the mind and the rest will follow.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Eric.macl Erik McLean

    Sadly, there are Scots who are ‘traditional and hereditary’ voters… There are many who will vote for the Scottish Labour Dinosaur, simply because they fear change and don’t know how to change. Others will vote for Labour because its a badge, a label, a brand against conservative. And they will vote without considering what the ‘Labour Product’ does anymore.

    And as you point out in your article. It no longer ‘Does what it says on the original tin’.

    As John says, the Red Rose was intended for middle England, I think after Blair realised that as long as Labour were slightly to the left of Tory… they would still get the votes. Scotland fell for this trick and is still being sucker punched by SLAB.

    This is the deep shame of a country that has produced so many great thinkers over the years.

    I shudder to think what happened to the Scottish spirit, was it finally vanquished in one of the battles in the ‘War of Thatcher’?

    Have a look at Radical Glasgow.
    http://www.gcu.ac.uk/radicalglasgow/chapters/rebellion.html

    We used to be a nation that understood when we were being subjugated by a hegemonic government.

    Wake up Scotland. Labour are no longer on your side, they have too many voters in the South to consider.

  • http://www.facebook.com/GeeveeceeDave David McCann

    September 13th 2007, Gordon Brown has Margaret Thatcher to Number 10 for tea. Just about sums up how the Labour party have ditched their socialist principles.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Richard-Lewis/100003310756277 Richard Lewis

    Labour wanted to “kill nationalism stone dead”…………..but the UK state is a nationalist construct

    The hypocrisy hurts my brain

  • thom cross

    As Gordon Brown shared high-school with me I have been reluctant to speak disparagingly about a failed ex-PM. But without doubt he failed his party, he failed his class and he failed to deal with the banksters who almost ruined our economy.
    But his biggest failure was his unequivocal support for Tony Blair in his waging that corrupt illegal war in Iraq. Why did Brown with his manse-made social-conscious support Blair in the unjust war against the people of Iraq? Did he barter his support for the promise of residence in Number 10?

    Now he he is failing the people of kirkcaldy again by supporting the No campaign The people of Kirkcaldy demonstrated their political intentions by voting for an SNP MSP just recently.
    Scottish Labour (sic) are selling-out the people of Scotland in order to give Ed Milliband some seats ; seats he is unable to win in the South of England.

    Once again Gordon Brown is making the wrong decision for the wrong reasons and failing his conscience, his class and his country.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Eric.macl Erik McLean

    The annoying thing is the repeated attempts by Unionists to tar SNP (Scottish Nationalism) with the same brush as the BNP and UKIP and Labour have jumped on the bandwagon.

    Scottish Nationalism is and always was about being a nation again.

    English Nationalism is a recent result of changing demographics, population density and a poor infrastructure to cope.

    Gordon’s phoney rhetoric fails to recognise that there are massive structural differences between our countries now.. and the SNP can claim a little credit for starting to take Scotland in a more positive direction and cushioning us against Westminster.

    In truth, Westminster has neglected and abused the remaining regions of the UK in favour of the City of London, and now its coming back to haunt them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.dman.king John King

    I tried to post this comment on newsnet but their bizarre policy prevents any real response to a story if it contains more than a bloody sentence,

    but it was about Labour (assuming) loyalty from the working class of Scotland while moving their appeal towards the english middle class

    reminded me of the very first time I voted and the political activists were still allowed to ask how the punters will/did vote,

    when I existed the polls feeling very worthy and proud I had made my mark for the very first time, was accosted by a local labour cooncellor who asked my if I had put my mark against the labour candidate (assuming of course the answer was yes) I replied no I voted for the SNP man (1974) and the look of stunned horror on his face disturbed me (did I do something wrong)he responded by saying your the son of a miner you would do well to remember that,

    this comment left me completely nonplussed because I could not imaging what my background had to do with my political leanings, he then said you’ve just wasted your vote of course, what will those (tartan tories)do for you or your likes?

    You can see from the TT comment the confusion in the labour camp remains to this day,

    He then went over to a gaggle of labour activists and (obviously )told them what I said and all of them turned to look at me and laughed, I felt my cheeks sting with humiliation but vowed if that was labour, no matter what,

    I will NEVER vote for them as long as I live and so far have never changed my mind on this if anything my determination is even stronger now than it was when that stupid old man humiliated me,

    “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they come to fight you, and then you win.” (M.K. Gandhi)

  • richardgibbons

    Gordon Brown has only one task, to help Labour win the next General Election in 2015. To do that he wants to ensure that Scotland will continue to vote Labour. It’s all about power, how to gain it and then retain it. There is nothing else or nothing more with this man.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CharliePM Charles Patrick O’Brien

    I wrote this letter for several newspapers,I know they no longer print my letters but it is good for me;Sir,I read that a lot of people have the wish to leave the EU,and they
    have a variety of “reasons/excuses” Now we have an impasse,when this EU
    referendum arrives,and the votes say all out,but if they are divided
    into the component parts of the UK,and “just supposing” that the
    majority in Scotland say stay in,the majority in Wales say stay in,and
    the majority in Northern Ireland say stay in,but the majority in England
    say out.We will have one part taking all parts down this isolationist
    path,not a very healthy way to say we are equal.Yours
    faithfully,Mr.Charles

  • http://www.facebook.com/jimmonaghan63 Jim Monaghan

    As a pro-independence Labour voter I am appalled by this letter, it is just anti-Labour propaganda, when will the yes campaign get off the party political horse, it is really dragging the campaign down.

    • Rob Connell

      Hi Jim,

      First of all thank you for reading and commenting on the article, as a Labour voter you are indeed the intended audience and I’m saddened to hear that you are “appalled” by it.

      I’ll reflect on your idea that criticising Labour’s record at Westminster is unhelpful to the campaign, as of course that’s the last thing I intended. I think that it’s healthy (and inevitable) for there to be differences of political opinion on the Yes side – after all, we’ll have to debate our governance forever after Independence too!

      However the “propaganda”’ charge seems unfounded to me, unless you are challenging the substance of the piece on Labour’s record as being untrue – and please do if this is the case: let’s examine the facts if
      they are in dispute.

      I do appreciate the feedback, and you would help me if you could give me your thoughts, as a Labour voter, on the questions posed. I honestly didn’t write the article just to have a go at Labour and get nods of approval from people like me – I genuinely hoped to stimulate debate among Labour supporters about whether they feel Labour adequately represents them. Are you happy with Labour’s record since the 70’s? If you could, would you change Labour? Do you think Independence would have a positive or negative impact on the policies of Labour in Scotland?

      Thanks again, Rob.

  • Rod Mackenzie

    The only political party I have voted for, apart from the SNP, is the Labour Party. This article covers pretty well why I will not be voting Labour again – unless it does re-discover its soul!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Elliott-Steven/100002291304669 Elliott Steven

    Good summary – I would like to add that the new party doesn’t have to be called ‘Labour’ – It can be called Real Labour or the Scottish Social Democratic Party, or whatever. Maybe it should be a complete break with the current corruption that manifests itself as a political party. Best to bin it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/enid.blyton.391 Enid Blyton

    Never voted in my life and never will. Been around for 60 years now and seen the Gubbment change from Tory to Labour over and over. The Cameron/Clegg liaison (lesion?) honeymoon type thing is faltering. Who’s gonna woo Nick next election time? The Tories always do wonders financially and as you said, Rob, left a great set of books for Cheries’ husband to go at it like a lottery winner eventually bankrupting himself even though his best friend was called Prudence. Cherie has an account in the Caymans along with Osbornes’ lot. Tax avoidance? Nah. That old familiar term “It’s within the rules” rears its ugly warty head yet again. I see since the expenses scandal the H’s of P have kept their heads down. Back with a vengeance though this year. £200-£400 a week increase in salary. Wow! Some peeps don’t even get £10k a year and they want that as a weekly increase. Is duck food getting pricier?