I HAVE been a member of the Labour Party for more than 30 years, at first by inheritance, later by conviction, and since the invasion of Iraq, from sheer bloody-mindedness.
Both my grandfathers were miners, my maternal grandmother’s parents counted Keir Hardie amongst their friends, and as a child I believed that the framed portrait of him which had pride of place in her living room was my great grandfather.
As I grew up, I learned with pride that I had English, Cornish and Irish forebears as well as Scots and that I was Scottish, British and working class; and with prejudice that the Labour Party was the people’s party, born in Scotland of “Keir Hardie socialism”, which believed in home rule for Scotland, Ireland and Wales. I loved the story that when a heckler shouted, “What about home rule for Hell?” Hardie replied, “Certainly. Every man to his own country”.
The Labour Party, which believes in equality, solidarity, public ownership for the common good, the power of the many against the control by the few, and which is committed to the principle of “From each according to his/her ability, to each according to his/her need” is the Labour Party to which I am deeply committed. It is not just a political conviction. It is an emotional immersion.
My sense of a political and social identity and of belonging to the Labour Party runs very deep – much deeper than my sense of national identity. I feel very at home with socialists anywhere in the world. Culturally, I am a European in my musical and literary tastes, and I am much more comfortable at a gathering of English trades unionists than I am at a conference of Scottish entrepreneurs.
When Alex Salmond announced there would be a referendum on Scottish independence, I was clear that even if national independence is possible in a world dominated by the hegemony of transglobal corporations in a virtually free market, it was not attractive to me. Neither, however, was the continuance of a partially devolved United Kingdom, with powers heavily centralised in London and in Edinburgh, and increasingly determined and controlled by fewer and fewer of the many as hundreds of thousands were too disillusioned to vote. I was disappointed when a Devo Max question was ruled out, but retreated to a comfort zone of voting No, and waiting for the return of a UK Labour government to expand devolution.
The centralising policies and anti-Labour nationalism made it difficult for me to reflect objectively on any positive opportunities which a Yes vote might deliver, and the debate between politicians degenerated into a tit-for-tattery I found insulting. But not so insulting, not so offensive, as I found my own party joining forces in Better Together with the parties who were taking a wrecking hammer to the NHS in England, demonising the people whom their policies had left without work, perpetuating the myth of strivers and scroungers, and unpicking the fabric of the welfare state until there is no such thing as social security.
On 19 March 2013, 40 Labour MPs voted against retrospective legislation to overturn the outcome of a court of appeal judgment and ensure the government would not be forced to pay £130 million in benefit rebates to about a quarter of a million jobseekers. The remaining 218 obeyed the party whip, and abstained. That night, I tossed and turned, and slept fitfully. I remembered the Drumchapel school children hauled off to Dungavel in the grey dawn from the only home they knew, in a devolved Scotland, with a Labour administration at Holyrood, and under a Labour government at Westminster.
I remembered the trades union legislation which Margaret Thatcher introduced, and which Labour failed to repeal, which keeps workers divided. I pondered a Labour Party which had failed to highlight the bedroom tax at earlier stages of the Welfare Reform Bill, a Labour government which had pledged to renew a redundant nuclear deterrent. And I went to sleep wondering if the Labour Party socialism by which part of my identity is defined was beyond redemption.
On the 20 March, I awoke with a sense of hope, and with new resolve.
A resolve to vote Yes in the referendum for Scottish independence. It won’t deliver Utopia. But it will deliver the chance for socialists to help shape a Scotland which reflects the identity of its people. «
Mary Lockhart is chair of the Scottish Co-operative Party, but writes here in a personal capacity