An Open Letter To My Friends In Labour

Indy-Ref-Bus-Rutherglen-2-June-2014JPGHello my friends. Some of you will know me, but most of you won’t. That’s alright. That’s not important.

All you have to know right now is that I am just like you.

We may well be on different sides in this referendum race – I am on Team Yes – but believe me when I say it. We are the same.

I come from a working class family, in a working class area of Glasgow. My father worked for Glasgow City Council, in the Parks department, and I followed him there and spent seven years out cutting grass, planting flowers, picking up litter and raking leaves in the rain.

I joined the Labour Party when I was 17, and was a trade union activist a year later. I was a local branch chair at 21, and I was proud to have worked alongside the team at Keir Hardie House to deliver a Labour government in 1997. The Labour Party was my second home.

In 2001 I decided to go to university, so I signed up for night school and for a year I went religiously, doing three subjects a week on top of my job. I passed them all and chose Stirling, where I quickly became involved in student union politics. In my first campaign for an executive post I was tagged one of “Blair’s Poodles”. I wore my party colours on my sleeve.

But friends, I already had deep misgivings about where we were headed as a party. I was tribally loyal despite them, but they came to a head in 2002, when the Parliament at Westminster, with a Labour Prime Minister at the lead, chose to send our soldiers to invade a country that had done us no harm, to overthrow its government in contravention of international law, after a fear and smear campaign many of us knew was based on lies.

It was one step too far. I could not stomach it any longer. The disconnect between the things I believed in and the things the party appeared to care about was just too great. I gave up political activity, tore up my membership card and I have not gone back since.

I considered returning when Ed Miliband became leader. I believed he reflected my values and shared my ambitions for what a Labour government should do. He also apologised for Iraq, something neither Blair nor Brown had ever done.

Circumstances since have made me glad I did not do it.

I am a keen student of politics and political campaigns. I am astounded at the way this referendum has galvanised people across the country. Nearly a million who have never voted before – an entire section of our society which has been disenfranchised – have found their voices. If the polling is correct, a large number, a large majority of them, intend to vote Yes.

I understand why. This campaign has sparked something magical. The same awakening that has happened with them has brought me home. Not back to your ranks, the ranks of Labour, but to politics itself, to engagement, after twelve long years outside.

I came to the Yes side late. I never expected to be campaigning with members of the SNP, for Scotland’s independence. It was an issue that had never resonated with me, something I would have voted against myself, but I am content that I’ve done it after much thought and I know the decision is right. It chimes with everything I believe in, and care about.

I’ve heard many arguments as to why Labour members and voters should stand on the side of the No campaign. This is the time to put those arguments to bed. Think through what you are being told, about what you’re really doing … take the next day or two and consider whether or not you are fighting for the right things … and on the right side.

I consider all of you my brothers and sisters. I consider the Movement one big family, and it is painful to see the splits in that family as we head into the home straight.

As a part of the family, I think I can tell you some hard truths without it upsetting you too much.

I am on the Yes side because I believe the things we want cannot be realised as part of the Westminster system. The social justice and fairness agenda will not be pursued by the next Labour government, whenever that is, because the political system as it stands at this moment is incapable of delivering real change, unless it is to divert more power towards those who already have too much of that already. Demographics, electoral math, over dependence on the south, even the structures of the party itself … even if the will existed at the top of the party to pursue the kind of politics we care about, the present political system isn’t built for it.

No Labour Party that wanted those things could have them unless it was prepared to march into the guns and face down a wholly hostile media, and big business interests that would rather democracy itself was a thing of the past, all the better to let them pursue profits. Do you believe we have such a Labour Party today? Do you believe men like Jim Murphy, the man who fled the streets because of a single protester throwing a single egg, will march into those guns?

You can admit this to me. We’re family. We know it’s never going to happen.

From almost the day I joined the Labour Party I was being told that the utopia was just around the corner, and in spite of everything I saw, as the party moved further and further away from that ideal I stuck with it. I swallowed my doubts long past the point of reason, suspending disbelief like a cartoon character who’s walking across a canyon protected only as long as he doesn’t look down. Eventually, eventually brothers and sisters, everybody looks down.

You know this because you’ve had to swallow your own doubts. You know this because you, too, have struggled with your conscience. Don’t be scared to admit it.

There’s a moment in From Dusk Till Dawn, one of my favourite pieces of pop culture cinema, when Harvey Keitel talks about the conflict that pulls at the heart of every man or woman who ever chose to take up the service of God, and the truth of it resonates way beyond some clever writing, and a fine piece of acting. Keitel’s pastor is talking to his daughter, and he tells her; “Many, many times during your life you will look at your reflection in a mirror and ask yourself: am I a fool?”

How many times have you asked yourself that question? Was it over single parent benefits? Was it when Mandelson talked to a room of business moguls and told them the party had no problem with people who wanted to get “filthy rich”? Was it when we took money from a Formula One boss in exchange for giving them an exemption from the ban on tobacco advertising, and thus put the soul of our entire party up for sale? Was it when Derek Draper and others boasted of a “circle” of influence, and offered access to it for cold, hard cash? Was it our failure to give the unions better rights or when we fixed minimum wage legislation so young people were paid a lesser rate? Was it over PFI or when we gave interest rates to the Bank of England? Did you finally snap over the sight of our Parliamentarians trooping into the Commons to vote for an illegal war? Was it with Brown’s scrapping the 10p tax rate, in a bribe to Middle England? Was it during his elevation to the leadership without a debate on our future direction, or during his term as Prime Minister when all the promise he’d once shown was squandered in a run to the middle of the road?

You must have swallowed your doubts since Ed Miliband became leader too, as one after the other, some of our most progressive ideas have been buried under a mound of garbage. You must have winced as we shifted from being opposed to the speed of austerity to the point we’re at now where we are engaged in a competition with the Tories about much more to cut. You must have shivered at a Labour Shadow Minister boasting to the media that we would be “tougher on welfare than the Tories.” You must be shaking your head with every ramping up of the rhetoric against immigrants.

You surely must have harboured misgivings over the way they handled the Falkirk affair and the way the right wing of the party used it to finally sever our historic link with the unions.

And I know you must have blanched, and felt physically sick, I know it because I’m not a member and it made me physically sick, when Ed Miliband and the party high command decisively shifted us away from supporting the principles of the universal welfare state, abandoning the last vestige of our party’s moral conscience in a gutter grab for the approval of Daily Mail readers.

Through all of it, I remained steadfastly loyal to at least the idea of voting Labour. I’m afraid, my friends, I am through with that too.

Short of a massive clear out of the party, from top to bottom, I will never vote Labour again. It’s really that simple, and my reasons for it are many, but here are the highlights.

I cannot conceive of voting for a party who’s shadow chancellor told an entire country of people getting ready to make the biggest decision of their lives that Labour’s response to that would be to deny them the assets of the state they paid into and helped build.

I cannot conceive of voting for a party who’s Scottish leader appears completely consumed by hatred every time she has to speak the name of the man the people of this country elected as its First Minister. I am not asking her to respect Alex Salmond, but her total disrespect for the title he holds is beneath contempt and hard to stomach.

I cannot conceive of voting for a party who has, as one of its “leading lights” a man such as Jim Murphy, who sucks off the public tit, fiddles expenses and then has the temerity to stand on a soap box as if he were the moral voice of the nation. I cannot conceive of supporting a party which would have such a man as a member, a man who has made a career of slander, smear and lies, and who, during this campaign, has libelled a sizeable part of the population.

I cannot conceive of voting for a party whose London office believes Scotland is irrelevant, a nation of scroungers and single mothers, who think trying to bribe us with “more money for and control over welfare spending” is not a gross slap in our face.

Many of you have given your lives to the Labour Movement. For Gods sakes, seriously, is this what you did it for? Because, I tell you, this is how you will be remembered.

Did you join the Labour movement for this?

Take a minute and think!

Today you are on the side of the big corporations you know full well are one of the main obstacles to our progress as a country. In this campaign they have resorted to every scare tactic they’ve used to cow the Labour Movement over the years of your personal and political struggle. Threats to move capital. Threats to cut jobs. They are holding a gun to the heads of every person in this country, in an effort to prevent us coming to an informed democratic decision … just as they did before every general election where Labour wanted to change things.

Only this time, you are standing with them.

Today you are on the side of the right wing media, waging war on people’s aspirations and hopes, abrogating its responsibility to educate and inform and acting as the mouthpiece for political and business interests which are diametrically opposed to the interests of millions of our citizens. They are spreading lies, half truths, scare stories and smears, all of it designed to whip up every negative emotion in an electorate that needs facts and information like never before. They have done this to Labour each and every time your party has made a progressive move, and the result is that they’ve cut off any dissent, stifled any independent thought and strangled at birth any progressive idea. You know all this, you’ve mourned their awful influence and the devastating impact it has on our political discourse many, many, many times. You know many of them are professional liars, spinning on behalf of other professional liars.

Only this time, you are standing with them.

Today you are part of a coalition including the Tories, the yellow-bellied bed hopping utterly untrustworthy Liberal Democrats and every assorted lunatic and nutjob from the gutters and sewers of the far-right. These are the people you have spent your life campaigning against, fighting to defeat and trying to marginalise and destroy. You point to the ranks of the Yes campaign, and you try to smear it as being the creature of Alex Salmond, but never once have you turned to the people beside you and asked yourself “How did I end up here?” The system you are trying to save is the one the BNP, Britain First, UKIP, Combat 18 and others call home. It is the one supported and defended by the Order and the Lodge. You can say all you like that they’re version of Britain is different from yours, but this is a campaign where the party of which you are a member and supporter has bent to those interests time and time again. It’s your leader who talked about “guards on the border”, to keep the immigrants out, and your shadow chancellor who said it was inevitable. Westminster’s elite, in a campaign with the far right, talking its language and appealing to its supporters.

Only this time, you are standing with them.

Is this what you joined the Movement for? So that during the most important campaign you will ever be part of, you were on the same side as the enemy, mouthing its slogans, using its tactics, preying on the fears of the weak and the uninformed, dividing people, using every nasty scare your side could conceive? This is not about party politics as much as it’s about your personal political beliefs. Is this what you signed up for? To slither through the slime not just with the Tories but alongside the enemies of democracy itself? Is this what you want to look back on in years to come?

Imagine how you will feel on the day David Cameron marches back into Downing Street, and he and his party, with their UKIP inspired majority, begin the task of dismantling what’s left of the apparatus of the state. How are you going to look in the mirror? How are you going to look yourself in the eye?

For God sake, the time is now … the time to wake up … the time to understand just what it is you are involved in here. You are snatching away hope from people who’ve not had it in years, the people your party was supposed to represent, the folk it was meant to serve.

How can you do it? How can you get up every morning and do it?

When did you sacrifice hope and ambition and passion to retreat behind the sofa? When did your politics become so soulless that you can peddle outright lies to your countrymen at the moment when millions of them are again finding their voice?

You know the offer being stitched together to buy us off is a despicable fraud. How can you endorse that, knowingly, willingly? You know that for every penny the Parliament can raise in taxes it will lose from the Barnett Formula. Scotland gains nothing from this deal at all, and you cannot not be aware of that. Deep down, let’s not kid ourselves, we know what that “offer “ is really all about. It will force the Scottish Parliament to make ever more horrible choices, to hack away bits of the public services, to make draconian and savage cuts across the board. It is about political positioning, forcing the SNP to choose from a list of bad options, and you know it will end in forcing the Scottish Government in Edinburgh to cut away at the progressive gains that have got the country here in the first place. Some of those were things we should have been supporting from the beginning.

Free education. Gone. Personal care for the elderly. Gone. The council tax freeze. Gone. Tens of thousands of Scot’s will be forced into deeper poverty as a result of the “deal” we are being offered.

You cannot be unaware of that, and yet here you are trying to sell it.

What the fuck are you doing?

Did you join the Movement for this?

You cannot not be aware that even if this offer was legitimate and in the bests interests of the people you are supposed to be fighting for, it is only good after 2015, and that next year there will be no appetite to make good on it during a general election when bribing English voters, who’ve seen Scotland offered change, albeit worthless, will be the only way a Labour government gets elected to enact them. Those changes will be watered down even more, stripped of any meaning they might have had, and we will be weaker as a result of it.

And whilst you are pondering on that, ponder on this.

Yours has been the story of the Long Defeat. I joined the party in 1993, when John Smith was its leader. A year after that we had Tony Blair. I am 37 years old. Some of you are much older and have seen far more, and your Long Defeat makes mine look positively pale.

You’ve fought the good fight, in the hope that your work would bring about lasting changes, and in some areas they have. But it’s been a series of defeats nonetheless.

When some of you joined the Labour Party it supported the universal welfare state. It was anti-nuclear. It supported free education. Banking was still tightly regulated and our party was in favour of that because we knew London could not be turned into a casino. We had trade unions worthy of the name, with full rights and full recognition in law, and they had real balls and were not just PR arms for Labour and the British state. They didn’t just exist outside party politics, they served their members and communities far beyond it, and they founded the party itself. We had affordable housing and a commitment to full employment. We had nationalised utilities and you even had something called Clause 4.

It was a good fight you fought, and in all the above respects it was a complete failure. Now we have foodbanks and corporate bail-outs. We have unions which are emasculated. We have a media that’s out of control. We have multinational companies creating zero hour contracts. We have private utilities forcing people to choose between heating and eating. Now we’re pro-nuclear, including the weapons and we’re looking for places to bomb.

All of it was created under the current system you are defending, and supported by the party who’s encouraging you to vote No. To vote against a change that cuts Westminster adrift at last, that transforms our national life, that gives us a legitimate chance at utilising our strengths and talents and building a country that not only restores democracy and hope to its citizens but one that can serve as a beacon of light to those across the border who feel disengaged and cut loose.

Is this what you joined the Movement for?

Are you really going to spend the next seven days – the most important of your life – campaigning along with the enemy, scaring people, crushing optimism and hope for the future, to sell a bill of goods you know is faulty, in an act of emotional self-harm which will haunt your soul until the day you die?

Or do you want something better? Something more? Something that honours everything you believe in and everything you’ve done.

There’s a week left to go. It isn’t too late to make it all worthwhile.

The choice is yours, and no-one will ever get you off the hook by presenting an alibi for that. This will be won and lost by Labour voters. The power is in your hands.

How are you going to use it? How do you want to remember this?

How do you want to be remembered?

This is what you got involved in politics to do. Change not just for your lifetime but for all time.

Decide now. Who’s side are you really on?

Step back from the brink, friends. Support real change. Believe in something again. No more fears and no more doubts. Embrace hope. Let it into your hearts and your politics once more, and stop peddling fear and smear.

Stand with your people and not on the side of those who would silence their voices … speak for them. Speak to them … and speak with them.

Say it loud and say it with pride. “Yes, we can.”

(The author is a full-time writer from Glasgow. You can support his work, if you like what he does, by sharing this article on social media. Additionally, if you really like it, you can help by making a donation to the upkeep of the site, either at the top or bottom of the screen depending on your device. Thanks in advance for your support.)

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24 comments on “An Open Letter To My Friends In Labour
  1. I have read this very heartfelt blog and I,m with you one hundred percent ….I thank you for this effort to reach the socialist heart in the labour movement that seems to be putting some misplaced loyalty to party before country …if I were one of them I don’t believe your letter wouldn’t effect me ….again I thank you and look forward to realizing our hopes of a Scotland with social justice as one of it,s corner stones ..

  2. Well, James, you’ve written some good stuff in your time
    but I doubt that any of it will be as important as this.
    The Labour movement in Scotland is at a cliff edge.
    I hope that many of it’s members and supporters
    will heed your words
    and step back from oblivion
    and discover a new proud future
    as the Labour Party in an Independent socially responsible Scotland.

  3. James, that is truly fantastic. You have articulated my own feelings perfectly. I will print this and give it to my father who is currently a No despite over fifty years as a member of the movement. Thank you.

  4. Absolutely magnificent articulation of the core problem facing those at the crossroads between Party loyalty/the future good of Scotland. Let’s make no bones about it: England is on a different & dangerous course than Scotland- we need Independence to fulfill our center left ambitions. Unfortunately far too many people are sleepwalking into that voting booth- unable or unwilling to recognize the consequences of voting no. For gods sake man we could have a re-energized & authentic workers party, in the vein of Real Labour, in an Independent Scotland. Tory free forever. We need to get our helmets on & brave the storm of propaganda bombing that is coming our way in the next week- hopefully this great piece can wake up more than a few ambivalent don’t know Labour voters.

  5. James,

    A wonderful and honest put down of the modern Labour Party, or should that in reality be the post 1985 Labour Party – yes my age is showing as I have as much contempt for Neil Kinnock, whom I first heard speak in 1981, as I have for Tony Blair and the post John Smith Party.

    Unlike you, I did not leave the fold until after the 2010 Labour wipeout, and did so as it became obvious during the post-Election leadership contest that the Party I’d supported since a child no longer represented anything I believed in when I joined it when Michael Foot was still its leader.

    So, one is galvanised and captivated by what is happening in Scotland and saddened that sentimentalist attachment to Old Labour and tribalism is preventing many of a true leftwing persuasion from doing the right and moral thing by supporting a social democratic independent Scottish nation free of Westminster interference.

    As a Welsh nationalist, regrettably my own independence party, Plaid Cymru, seems to ape its Westminster counterparts and discourages free and open democratic dialogue within its ranks, for this reason I have drifted into the orbit of the Green movement and will vote with a conscious at all subsequent elections, be they local, Welsh, National or European. One thing is for sure, without radical change and a return to its historic roots, I shall never ever vote Labour again.

    If I want a Tory as an MP or a Tory government I can vote Tory, that I desire social justice, a more egalitarian society, and a better environment for my daughter means its essential I avoid Labour, for in all reality it is little more than the Conservative Party draped in red cloth.

    So if any Scots Labour Party members or lifelong voters are reading this, I urge you to vote Yes come September 18, if not for yourselves, then at least for our youth and offspring who deserve so much more than what’s on offer by Westminster and its puppet masters in the City of London.

  6. I actually had a tear in ma ‘een..
    thanks for that.

    my dad was a trade unionist….sadly gone.sorely missed.
    But I wish I he had been here to vote.
    he’d have been aye. labour and scottish.

    labour ………………….dear god what have you done. ??

    last chance to redeem yourself.
    do the right thing…. even if its a …” aww …..fk it vote ” when you get in that ballot box.

    jist vote yes…..

    rebuild scotland.

  7. I fully understand all the sentiments, but independence will never deliver a fairer more just society. A currency union will see spending and borrowing limited by London, and the power to change the public/private sector ratio. There won’t be borders because the Scottish govt will not deviate greatly from uk immigration policy (like Ireland). The Snp will govern and their white paper offers no redistributive measures except a cut in corporation taxes. All the emphasis will be on competing for business with England , driving down wages and rejecting extra costs to employers from tax or better conditions. Perhaps you believe the Snp will be defeated in elections in an independent scotland – it won’t. When you get into bed with nationalists you will be betrayed by them. The SSP had six MSPs – and now have none. Not a good basis to make hopes for democratic socialism in an independent scotland. Staggering nativity will see austerity, capitalism and no advance for social justice in an indy scotland . Look at what happened to the left that fought for independence in Ireland – they are no where. I’ll be voting NO.

    • The SNP will not govern Scotland by right. If they do it will be by consent. It’s the Scottish people who will make that call, and the SNP manifesto will be what the Scottish people want it to be.

      The Scottish people favour social justice. When we have demonstrated our desire, and willingness, and capability, to take power into our own hands, I fully expect that we’ll get that too.

      • like you James i have voted labour all my life. i am 56 years of age with 33 years in the NHS and i have never read a piece so inspiring as this. like you i would never have dreamed of siding with the nationalists especially on the subject of independence. but in the last week i have gone from no to yes. I am disgusted at the media bias from the BBC and the “bullying” tactics from the no campaign. How Ed Milliband can share an opinion never mind a platform with the likes of Cameron and Farage beggars belief. Ed Milliband had a great chance to back independence and be elected at the next Scottish election and give us the labour party we crave and deserve. I am also from a working class family from the east end of Glasgow so i understand your pride and your pain. i am on a few Facebook pages and will ensure this is shared. it has been a pleasure
        jimmy

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