Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Breaking Down the Scottish Labour Mythology

During the recent election, the local Labour candidate came to my parents’ door and introduced himself. My father later told me what happened, sounding quietly honoured that someone like an MP would come to his little corner of the world and knock on his front door.

This was how he described the conversation:
‘Can I count on your vote in the Election?’
‘Oh, aye. We’re Labour folk fae way back.’
‘Aye. Mining stock. Baith sides ’o the faimily.’
‘Really? Whar fae?”
‘Motherwell and Kilmarnock.’
‘That’s marvelous. It’s aye nice tae meet people wha ken whar they’re fae. Ken whit ah mean? People wha can mind the auld days.’
‘Oh, aye. Different times noo, though.’
‘Aye. And there’ll be big changes again if they Tories get back in.’
‘Aye, you’re no’ wrang.’
‘Will ye be needing a lift tae the polling station?’
‘Ach, no. Wur getting oan, but we can still get aboot. A freen's geein us a lift.’
‘That’s the spirit! Still soldiering oan, eh? It’s been a real pleasure tae meet ye. Cheerio, now.’

The hypocrisy of this exchange gave me bile. My father retired a couple of years ago and was disgusted to find that the pension he had contributed to all his life was almost worthless. I tried at the time to explain that it was Gordon Brown’s scrapping of tax relief on pension fund dividends that had destroyed his pension, but to no avail. That was one argument.

He often tells me about confrontations with local junkie neds, whose cheek he claims to find amusing, in an I-can-still-take-it, razor gang chic kind of way. He told me the story of the junkie asking for flavoured methadone from a terrified young chemist assistant and was bemused when I didn’t find it hysterical.

When pushed, he thinks we need a war to bring back some respect for authority. This is where I try to explain that we’re already in a war, that the lads who are dying in Afghanistan are just normal kids, and that these wasters would not be the type to join up anyway. And besides, what difference would a war make? After all, he hadn’t been a soldier himself – that was not where he had got his values from. That was another argument we had.

My mother was sick last year. She got the best of treatment in a hospital about two hours away. He visited her every day for a month, leaving the car for free in the car park, sometimes for hours at a time. I explained this was an SNP idea. ‘Aye but they stole the idea off Labour. And the free tolls on the Forth was just populist nonsense. Just a bunch of bloody Tartan Tories.’ Straight from the Daily Record songsheet.

He spent a small fortune on fuel on these trips, and grumbled at the time about the price of petrol. He was getting to the stage where he couldn’t even afford to run his car. The idea that we should be one of the richest countries in the world with cheap petrol is a fantasy he refuses to even contemplate. ‘If Norway is so bloody great, why don’t you bugger off and live there,’ he says.

The inconvenient truth for the SNP is that supporting Labour in the West of Scotland is part of Scottish workers’ identity – whether or not they still work. This is what the SNP are up against. The mainstream Scottish media have nurtured this identity for years. They feed Glasgow and the South West a steady stream of Old Firm rivalry, Scotland’s salt of the earth industrial toughness, and myths about her former glorious role in Empire, alongside the same celebrity tat that’s served up around the world. Not to mention any chance they get to make the Scottish Government look either incompetent or useless. And the central westies lap it up.

The tragedy is that Scottish working men and women are utterly unaware of the complete disconnect between the Labour Party of old and the slick PR operation of today. My father used to tell me when I was younger that I should get down on my knees and thank Harold Wilson for giving me my free university education, and, while I was at it, Clement Atlee for the NHS. To a certain extent, I agree. But these things were achieved decades ago. New Labour and old Labour are not the same thing.

To my father, the idea that the Labour Party has become a self-serving power structure that might actually have a stake in men like him staying poor is incomprehensible. He could never even begin to understand that Labour and the Tories need each other at Westminster, that they are both deeply conservative parties committed to the status quo, and that they must appear to be enemies to create problems for the other to fix up every fifteen years or so. Thirty years of Labour would be just as destructive as thirty years of the Tories. It is an oscillatory system of elected absolute power, periodically delivering up heroes and villains to satisfy everyone, and giving each side a bite of the cherry. Like an old German clock, rolling out different puppets every hour, both waving the British flag.

To be perfectly honest, I have no idea how to change my father’s mind about Scottish independence.

Perhaps all politics are local after all, and the answer lies in delivering high profile health, social and transport programs that are clearly seen to be SNP policies. If so, continuing the battle to control the councils must remain core SNP policy. Fortunately, this is a war of attrition the SNP is winning.

The SNP must also learn to counter the non-stop scare-mongering in the Scottish unionist press, of the type ‘SNP denies plan to hand out free heroine to children.’ This is serious stuff. If Joseph Goebels proved anything it was that in absence of any dissenting voice, any intelligent, literate society starved of real news can be made to believe almost anything. The owners of the Daily Record know this. Scottish Government and SNP press releases on their pretty web sites are simply not getting through. This is a media war that Labour is winning.

Something has to give.

My father lost his licence this year because of his health, and can no longer drive himself to the fishing. Luckily, he’s well liked and one of the younger lads will often drive him up to his favourite loch when he feels the need to drop a line in the water. He might not get the place to himself anymore, but he’s still catching fish, and it puts a smile on his face.

I once asked him how the Scottish Government could help him.
'Change the law about Sunday salmon fishing,' he replied. 'The working man has aye been denied fishing for salmon on Sundays, so the toffs dinnae hae their rivers over-fished by the workers.'

Perhaps he is right. This might win a few over. It sounds like a good idea, even though, dare I say, a tad populist. But how would this help lift the people in Glasgow out of poverty? And, just as importantly, how many would be persuaded by this measure to stop voting to stay in poverty? Not too many, I would think.

My mother doesn’t answer the door when politicians call. And like me, she’s learnt not to debate politics with my father. She knows he doesn’t like her voting differently to him and that he considers it a wasted vote if she does. She did it one year and told him, and he was furious.

Today, as far as my father is aware, she votes Labour too, and there are no arguments on polling day. But my mother and I always have the last laugh.

Mum votes SNP.

Union poll shows majority in favour of independence


Lallands Peat Worrier said...

A highly enjoyable and pertinent read, I must say. I recently composed a long piece on some of the internal politics of nationalism, trying to give a fair account of how various groups understand the "progress" or "process" towards nationalism respectively and the problems and perils involved.

Bugger quite fairly and quite rightly suggests that my neglect of this very subject was to ignore the "elephant in the room" - the collective mindset of West of Scotland Labour voters and what this means for nationalist politics.

We can add me to the list of those in the party who do not have an intimate understanding of this phenomenon. I've seen the voting behaviour of course, am familiar with the broad theoretical account of it, have occasionally chatted to one or two folk who clearly hold such a mindset. However, in my family, I've nothing to compare it to.

To the best of my knowledge, my great-great grandfather was supporting the SNP in the 1930s. That dynastic inheritance has come down to me - but as a result is something one ought to be suspicious about, question closely, doubt and reconsider old parental and grand-parental truths before holding to them. Such should be the weighty responsibility of all new generations.

Exceedingly interesting, then, to read your very concrete, illuminating family experience. I can't help but wonder, what do you think made your mother change her mind?

Anonymous said...

OK, good post Power et al.

My tuppenceworth

I was born in Glasgow, inner Bearsden as I prefer to call it but it is more widely known as Maryhill.

My father was a City Corporation worker and we lived in a cooncil hoose.

My father, who had been in the War, in Europe and Africa as a skilled artisan engineer in the RAF (lied about his age to volunteer and ended off scrambling out of France at the start of the War), hated the politicians, with whom he rubbed shoulders but, with his job came the hoose and, his criticism was restricted to within the hoose.

He was born in Govan or to be ore precise Plantation in the Docks area. He knew Benny Lynch and Jimmy Logan!! A number of his friends went to Spain to fight against Franco but he was too young.The primary school he attended fed the kids bananas and oranges looted from ships by the dockers. I believe the school was also that of John McLean but, I am not sure.

During the War he was in a troopship torpedoed off N Africa and found that the emergency rations had been looted, he said, by the same people who gave him the oranges and bananas.

He later told me that the dockers and the politicians were the same self-serving thieving bastards and the romance about Red Clydeside was keich.

There was a need for real Trade Unionism in his youth but, he told me, never to conflate that with socialism. The TUs, especially the shop Stewards were always thieving out of the poor box. Not a lot changes.

Here you have it.

The TU movement in WC Scotland is inexorably linked with the Labour Party as a bulwark against the worst excesses of capitalism; tanks in George Square etc. It is in the blood.

In Ireland they still talk of Oliver Cromwell as though he had be laying waste to the Bogside last week.

My Dad never ventured into the TU movement except to pay his dues and attend the meetings. The hoose depended on it.

He gave me the chance to be educated and flit the place he equally loved, yet hated. He hated really not the place but the vermin, his words, who infested it.

The SNP have a snowball's chance in Hell of making any real sustainable inroads in WC Scotland, despite the fact of really first class local grafters (in the working sense). The SNP is just not set up to understand that mindset and really address it.

What Bellgrove Belle and John Mason et al do is advance the cause one vote at a time. Each person they help could stay with the SNP but it is a bit like the evolution of humanity, from Mesopotamia though Greece into the Balkans, then lower Northern Europe, back into N Spain during the Ice Age (not this one, the last one) and then by boat to Scotland, maybe via Ireland.

Step by step, but not in my lifetime, unless the Labour mould in WC Scotland can be broken from within?

It is about time this debate was opened up and the SNP gingered up.

Any volunteers?

Conan the Librarian™ said...

Excellent stuff gents.
I'm an East coaster who until the eighties voted Labour without fail, was an active shop steward until made redundant and had a rather naive belief in international socialism.

But I'm all better now...

Anonymous said...


It doesn't hurt anymore?

Conan the Librarian™ said...

Only when I picket a scab Bugger...

Anonymous said...


I help administer the Newsnet Scotland site and would like to publish the above in our Speakers' Corner section.

If the poster called 'bugger' would agree we would also like to feature their comment.

We can be contacted on or simply visit the site and click on the 'contact us' link.

Kind Regards and Good luck
Newsnet Scotland

Thanks for including a link to our site.

Anonymous said...

If you picket, it never gets better.

Your may never told you that?

Anonymous said...

crap m key

mammy not may

OutLander said...


Re: Publishing on Newsnet Scotland's Speakers' Corner site.

Be my guest. The more people thinking about this problem the better.


OutLander said...

Greetings, LPW,

It was the old divide and rule tactic.

The trick is waiting till they disagree on something and getting my mum on her own. I then suggest that she doesn't have to do everything he says, and that voting her own way would be a real sign of her personal independence.

"He'd never know, you know."

Hee hee.

Vote Labour said...

Stop bleating vote Labour you moron. It seems only your parents have the right idea of how evil the Tories are, but that's because they remember only too well themselves.

OutLander said...

Good points, Bugger.

You said "The SNP have a snowball's chance in Hell of making any real sustainable inroads in WC Scotland"

I disagree.

I think the SNP have to learn from what Tommy Sheridan and John Mason achieved.

People in the central west don't live in suburbs, they live in communities. You only have to go to the big housing estates and knock on doors to see that they all know each other. It's a very different feel to a lot of other big cities. And there's nothing wrong with this. It's what gives Glasgow its vitality and warmth.

And the only time parts of Glasgow don't vote Labour is when a local hero appears, someone they all know as "yin o' oor ain folk."

This is a huge part of why Tommy Sheridan and John Mason did so well. People in Glasgow don't vote for parties, they vote for people. Their own people. Things like accents and addresses are important.

This isn't taking away from what Tommy and John achieved - they are impressive candidates. And people saw this. But they had to be seen as locals to win. It's why Tommy has had difficulty exporting his ideas to other areas - it's impossible for one man/woman to be local everywhere.

And when there isn't a local hero available, they vote Labour, because they assume that the faeces-smearing chimp on the posters is probably from the area. And that a local faeces-smearing chimp is better than an imported Tory, even a tartan one, which is probably how they saw David Kerr.

Labour play on this insularity beautifully. When they haven't got any policies, they stoke the siege mentality of these communities with a 'Tartan Tories are coming to get you' line. The SNP-anti-Glasgow nonsense from Labour doesn’t have to be true – it plays to their fears, and without a local hero to counter it, it is believed. Glasgow is nothing if not a collection of communities, with a long history of hardship.

You don't attack this by explaining to Glaswegians what Labour really represent. What Labour has become is utterly beyond their comprehension.

Nor is it enough to ask folk to vote for a local champion, just because he promises to be one. You need known local heroes to build a track record of fighting for these communities door-by-door, street-by-street, tower-by-tower, scheme-by-scheme. And getting results.

And then you tell the people of these communities what they did. Over and over again.

OutLander said...

Hi Vote Labour,

Funny, we were just talking about faeces-smearing chimps.

Is it ok to call you Jim, or do you prefer Mr Murphy?

How's the wilderness treating you?

OutLander said...

Hi Conan,

Do you still get flashbacks?

Anonymous said...


John Mason's demise makes my point.

Despite being an excellent local candidate, well known and respected for his work, it all came to nothing in the GE.

He was abandoned as the group siege mentality took over, stoked by the fear factor from Labour.

I have a feeling, no ore than that, if John Mason stands for Holyrood in 2011, in he self same seat, he would walk it.

Now I have to reconcile this with the siege mentality I have mentioned. Perhaps it is all to do the perception that Holyrood is just a bigger City Chambers and we hear about the SNP in Holyrood but nothing about them in Westminster so there is a disconnect in the voters mind.

Useful in Edinburgh (maybe effective) but a waste of space and time at Westminster.

OutLander said...


John Mason was a casualty of tactical voting for a parliament he shouldn't be running for.

The SNP has a strange relationship with Westminster. Some of its best talent is there (Hosie, Robertson) but this GE was their last chance to be relevant. If it proved anything it proved that the British Establishment (BE) will do anything to keep them out of power.

You are right. John should forget Westminster and run only for Holyrood, as should Stuart and Angus, as indeed should every SNP candidate.

I predict this happening. If it happens this year, the SNP will win every Holyrood seat in which they stand. Alex Salmond has shown the way.

Westminster illustrates perfectly the different motives of the SNP and Labour. For Labour it's a big fat sow with hundreds of little teats to suck on, but for the SNP it's just another battleground.

Just look at the Scottish Labour MSPs looking to make the switch to MPs. Truly nauseating.

The smart move for the BE would be to abolish the Scottish Secretary role and replace it with a committee of reps from the Scottish Government. Then at least it would meet the writing on the packet. It would create a climate of co-operation, and maybe even slow down independence.

Anonymous said...


I am enjoying this and feel that the Scottish News Network, if it picks up on this, it should open the debate further.

I see SubR has lifted your blogpiece, with tips of the petals, and again the debate may gain a few other participants.

Carry on.

RantinRab said...

An excellent post.

ratzo said...

What makes the post interesting is its picture of inflexible Scottish patriarchy - the tradition of the little domestic tyrant who is otherwise powerless and somewhat pathetic.

I wonder to what extent this image may be generalised to households across WC Scotland.

There's evidence that patriarchal attitudes have endured far longer in Scotland on account of larger families and lower wages (factors that served to enforce small c conservatism).

OutLander said...

Cheers, Rab.

OutLander said...

Greetings, Ratzo,

"the little domestic tyrant who is otherwise powerless and somewhat pathetic"

I think I said something along those lines to him when I was 17. It was around that time that he threw me out. Maybe that's were we went wrong.

"I wonder to what extent this image may be generalised to households across WC Scotland."

Hard to say. Much of WC Scotland appears middle class, but they still vote Labour. It's certainly not cloth cap country. That said, parts of Glasgow are full of single parents, unemployed and pretty grim. Not in a violent way, there's just a bleakness to folk's existence, the way their lives have come down to drink, fags, and the bookies, and simply turning to the back page to read the sport. You're more likely to see baseball caps and hoodies than cloth caps.

These are places that my parents would find soul destroying. They live in a small town, with lots of countryside. My father has never been unemployed in his life. He was just raised on his grandfather's knee with stories of Red Clydeside, and Burns sense of honest poverty, and dignity of the working man.

"There's evidence that patriarchal attitudes have endured far longer in Scotland on account of larger families and lower wages "

These patriarchal attitudes were in place in the early 1900s, when west central Scotland had the highest standard of living in the UK. Before Scots voted Labour, they voted Liberal. En masse. It's not about poverty, it's about identity, and voting for the party of fair play with strong social values.

The tragedy is that WC Scots still think that this is what Labour represents.

ratzo said...

Outlander - I meant to commend the post and added that I recognise the phenomenon from my own extended family.

With reference to your point about the 1900s, it may have been true, but the vote shifted to Labour by 1918, mass emigration of those that could afford it took care of the liberal individualist tendency, while patriarchal attitudes remained and were consolidated by a low wage structure that was fixed in stone for the entire 20th century (apart from a couple of years on the 1990s).

That aside, I think as a general characterisation it is in fact applicable beyond WCS, for example to Fife & Lothian etc., as elections at Glenrothes etc possibly have shown. It isn't confined to the cloth cap, as such - if I recall correctly the otherwise deeply unimpressive Lindsay Roy seemed to project himself both as a headmaster and also as an autochthonous manifestation of some eternal Kirkcaldy. So I think it's true about the politics of identity: it's seems to be a form of conspicuous social conservatism that paradoxically sees itself as radical (e.g. possibly sometimes republican) and almost religiously pure.

Anonymous said...

It is a the heritage of heavy industry

Anonymous said...

and the necessity of trades unions to protect the, mainly, unskilled male workers.

Conan the Librarian™ said...

Flashback OL? I've no used a welding torch in years...

Probably a flashpoint in my life.

Anonymous said...

It's the media wot dunnit, the Daily Retard,The Sun, The Herald the Scotsman and the BBC won the election for Labour. Every Labour failure was turned into a positive. Every SNP utterance was from the mouths of fools.
For the SNP to succeed the British State Defendiing Machine, ie the scottish media has to be overcome.

Anonymous said...

I had a Norwegian mam, and that didn´t get me the privelege of living there.

Loved the story. But I don´t know how to give Scotland the independence it votes for when even voting Labour delivers a Tory government.

At the same time as understanding the Scottish desire for complete independence, I´d like to see the UK split up into auntonomous regions. I could never see what economic interests the English Midlands, where I was born, shared with the parasitical Southeast.

But hang on lads, when we look at the long list of British PMs, how many are there with Scots names? ´Never had it so good´ Mac, Douglas-Home, Wilson (bit of a cheat there, but it is the most common Scottish surname) Blair, and that´s just the tip of the iceberg. Oh, no! horror of horrors Cameron! The list is endless. And that´s just the PMs, when you look at leaders of the Layabout Party it gets even worse!

Why do you always export your Tories south of the border? I know the answer, ´cos they´d never get anywhere north of it.

OutLander said...


You said: For the SNP to succeed...the scottish media has to be overcome

Never a truer word.

OutLander said...


You said: I´d like to see the UK split up into auntonomous regions. I could never see what economic interests the English Midlands, where I was born, shared with the parasitical Southeast.

As a foreigner, I'm not in any position to tell England how it must govern itself. As a Scot, I'd like to see an independent England, shorn of Britishness, to wake up to its own English identity. But once we go, it will be for the English to decide how they are ruled/governed/dictated to.

Anonymous said...

Just a few thoughts I would like to put down in a bullet point style:

1) A destruction of the Labour mythology. It is unhealthy for a democracy for one party to have such an effect on a society as witnessed in the eighties where we Scots constantly voted Labour and had no effect on the democratic situation we faced and Labour were absolutely hopeless in doing anything. There needs to be non-partisan campaign to attack the Labour myths, not the individual Labour politicians although that doesn't mean their hypocrisies should be used to gnaw away at these myths.

2) Campaigns that does not have independence as it's outcome although will indirectly contribute to it should be supported. The previous post is an example but another example could be of campaigning against the biased media although it shouldn't focus on independence in order to gain more widespread support.

3) More co-operation between Scottish, Welsh and yes English nationalists. The Scots and Welsh nationalist movements are quite mature and effective but judging by comments of the net, the English nationalist movement is at the level of whinging and 'sweaty Jock' bigotry. Help, ideas and support needs to be given to them. I can't see Scottish independence happening without at least the political will of the English population so we need to help them gain that will. I haven't mentioned Irish nationalists because although I'm sympathetic to that cause I don't believe it is wise to get involved due to the devise nature of Irish politics has in the mainland.

4)A bit controversial but there needs to be a realisation that independence isn't going to happen waiting for a SNP landslide and a massive yes vote to an independence referendum. There needs to be a grassroots movement to push independence up the political agenda so that all parties including Labour needs to take notice. As mentioned in previous post, Independence isn't going to happen without co-operation on a British level and in Scotland it isn't going to happen without cross party co-operation.

5) Bypassing the MSN with the power of the internet through blogs and the emerging smartphones with downloadable apps like the Google Android and Nokia Meego handsets which will become popular. Both are based on open-source technology so creating apps shouldn't be too hard although getting content for these apps will be a bit harder as it will need creative talent and imagination to get the message across.

6)Supporting independence doesn't need to a big thing. Something as simple as Saltire sticker or radio antenna flag on your car to make Scottish identity more visible is just as important as political campaigning. We can all do our bit no matter how big or small.

7) Lastly no matter how bleak it seems at times, keep positive. Remember the story of the Bruce and the Spider.