Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

No End to Labour Shrink in Caledonia

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

No End to Labour Shrink in Caledonia

Article excerpt

"I've seen this happen so many times before," JL a veteran left-wing activist told me in the early hours of 19 September, as we stood in the lobby of the Emirates Arena in Glasgow. "The Labour vote descends like a mist from nowhere and disperses just as quickly."

In the end, it was only one section of the Labour vote--the public-sector "salatariat"--that turned out for the Union. The poorest parts of Scotland, those areas where Westminster's failure is most conspicuous, went with the nationalists. Disastrously for Labour, the Yes campaign took every one of Glasgow's eight main Holyrood constituencies.

These victories wouldn't have been possible without the emergence, over the past two years, of a new coalition in Scottish politics. It is a coalition of young, well-educated leftists, progressive nationalists and the "forgotten fifth" of Scots who have felt the rough edge of Westminster's free-market restructuring.

Organisationally, it depends on a relatively small number of people, Cat Boyd, Jonathon Shafi and Liam O'Hare of the Radical Independence Campaign and Robin McAlpine of Common Weal foremost among them. But its message--"Britain is for the rich. Scotland can be ours"--has resonated with a large, dispossessed chunk of society. As austerity intensifies and the debate over Scotland's constitutional status thunders on (and trust me, it will), this coalition has the potential to transform Scottish political life.

Yet there is no disguising that the No campaign won on 18 September, and by a more substantial margin than many had predicted. Middle and professional Scotland came out in force. The failure to bring a greater number of affluent Scots on board raises questions about the SNP's "de-risking" strategy. Did it go too far, or not far enough? Should the nationalists have dropped the centre-left rhetoric over welfare, wages and defence? …

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