I’m not a politically active person normally. I didn’t start this blog with any particular stump to thump. Despite my long-standing cynicism about politics and politicians, the referendum on Scottish independence made me think. And, in the time-honoured tradition of people wanting to air their thoughts on a subject, I’ve written an open letter.
To the Labour Party:
I’m not going to begin this by introducing myself and explaining about me. It doesn’t really matter who I am, or what my background is, or what I do, or what particular issue I have close to my heart at present. All that’s relevant is that I care about what happens in this country, politically. And I would like you to do the same.
For the last four and a half years you’ve been cajoled and cudgelled into following the prevailing ‘austerity agenda’ by various groups. The fall-out of the Scottish referendum gives you one opportunity to shake yourselves free of your apparent compulsion to pander to those who drive that agenda. To assume that the independence referendum in Scotland is purely about the amount of power transferred away from Westminster is to have paid little attention to the debate over the past two years. The ‘Yes’ campaign was so strong because it recognised that people think politicians have stopped listening to them, stopped representing them. Time and time again, ‘Yes’ campaigners highlighted the issues that they care about deeply: poverty, social justice, the privatisation of the NHS, to name a few. Issues that affect the people they know, people they see about them. Not the issues that Westminster politicians assume are important and need to be ‘sold’ to the electorate. Don’t assume that every ’No’ voter feels differently from the ‘Yes’ lobby about those issues. The fear of the fiscal consequences of independence was very powerful.
England doesn’t have a nationalist party in the way that Scotland has in the SNP, or an equivalent of Plaid Cymru in Wales. Nationalism in England means those ragtag alliances of groups displaying barely concealed bigotry, and have little or no real interest in policies other than those that look to shape a society which only conforms to their prejudices. Any organisation in England labelling itself as nationalist is not one I wish to be associated with. It’s too late to attempt to begin a new, socially just political movement from scratch in time to make a difference in the next general election. In my opinion, there’s only one shot at stopping the UK’s inexorable slide into becoming a country where people matter less than money. That’s you. Or, at least, it’s the thought of what you could be.
Do NOT waste the next eight months on arguments over the “West Lothian question” or the possibility of an “English parliament”. These are potential black holes into which precious time and energy will get pulled while the real issues that affect people on a daily basis are ignored. You’re being watched and judged, not only by Scottish voters – who may well prevent you from ever reaching Government again – but by those of us who stood outside the debate for Scottish independence but agree with the ‘Yes’ campaign’s assertion that politicians don’t seem to want to fight for the kind of country they want to see. To accept that even one food bank is tolerable is wrong. To do nothing while people suffer, even die, as a result of sustained cuts to services is wrong. To allow the health service that belongs to every single citizen to wither and be sold for private profit is wrong. This slice of realism written by Linda Tirado gives some insight into the dystopian future awaiting the UK in the event of another Government like the one we’ve endured for the last five years. Or a more conservative one, whether a coalition or a single, governing party.
YOU are the only political organisation that has a realistic opportunity to return a sense of social justice to this country in 2015. Otherwise, the chance will be lost in a frenzy of fragmentation; both in terms of disaffection among voters who will desert you for parties who they feel represent them better, and of potential devolution of government – which would lead to the dilution of any cohesive effort to avoid a future that looks like that set out in Ms Tirado’s book extract, if not for the whole of the UK then at least for part of it.
While ultimately unsuccessful, the ‘Yes’ campaign was as strong as it was because it was able to take people with it. It gave people something to believe in. The passion with which its supporters showed their support and galvanised others left me feeling envious. I envied their belief. I want a political party I can believe in. Not one with empty promises. Not one that betrays its principles and uses political expediency as an excuse for doing so.
If you should lay down a set of socially just principles to which you’re committed. If you give people like me something to believe in, a reason to inspire and energise a real groundswell of support, any attempt to ridicule or obstruct you can only be in vain. But it’s up to you. It’s up to you to decide how important people are to you, and what you want to stand for and be remembered for. Time is running out. Please don’t disappoint me.