I’ve voted SNP for 14 years. Here’s why I’m thinking about returning to Labour – Aidan Smith

Like many voters, Aidan Smith wants to hear the case for a new way of running the country – even if he may not become a 'card-carrying’ Labour supporter

I’ve been away. Hung out with a different crowd, tried a new thing. But now I’m wondering if I should be doing something I haven’t done in a while: vote Labour. Not to build up my part too much but I suppose I’m a voter of special interest: a one-time Labour man the party are currently trying to seduce and return to the fold.

Labour were the party of my father so they became mine. By the time I was old enough to vote, I was a cub reporter on the Dalkeith Advertiser covering the election count at Woodburn Community Centre. Counts could be entrusted to the likes of me because in Midlothian they were the surest, most predictable thing that even spotty twerps with shaky Pitman shorthand couldn’t get wrong – a majority for Labour as big as a coal bing, thanks to the votes of the miners.

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Labour didn’t have to do much to win in Midlothian or Scotland as a whole. And by the time we got our own parliament, it seemed like they complacently weren’t. Jack McConnell thought he could don the plaid and take to the world stage without bothering to check in the mirror that he’d in fact picked up one of Lulu’s mini-kilts and so resembled a camp prancer from The White Heather Club.

With rolled-up sleeves, Keir Starmer gets down to the job of unveiling his election pledges, a look and a move which drew comparisons with Tony Blair (Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images)With rolled-up sleeves, Keir Starmer gets down to the job of unveiling his election pledges, a look and a move which drew comparisons with Tony Blair (Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images)
With rolled-up sleeves, Keir Starmer gets down to the job of unveiling his election pledges, a look and a move which drew comparisons with Tony Blair (Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images)
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So in 2007 I, along with many others, decided to give the SNP a shot. If they blew their chance I could take my vote back, but Alex Salmond would speak up for Scotland and do it with brio, which he duly did. Independence? Let’s just see how this goes. And the nats didn’t mess up, at least not right away.

I think Gordon Brown got my vote nationally in 2010 but since then, for Westminster, Holyrood and council elections, it’s been SNP unless they’ve looked a bit too mad on the leaflets, when the Lib Dems and, once, the Greens got lucky (I know, what a tart). But never back to Labour until, just maybe, this time…

So if I’m someone Keir Starmer needs to woo, what’s in it for me? The other day he launched his election campaign. Not in as many words or as many policies, perhaps, given that in a 2020 pledge there were ten promises and now there are just six, but at least that’s one more than last year’s manifesto-which-wasn’t-a-manifesto.

And interestingly, they come in card form. Handy size, fits in a pocket or handbag, presumably for ease of access for the “undecided”, in the hope they might occasionally break off from watching cat videos on their smartphones to give serious contemplation. Next to Boris Johnson driving diggers through walls and Ed Davey smashing into them with tractors and vans emblazoned with “Tory Removals”, political messages in card form are certainly subtle and also quite quaint.

Nowadays wallets are tumescent with cards but there was a time when no one needed them. Small boys didn’t need cards to remember their mothers’ store numbers for the co-op dividend – 102134, I’ve never forgotten – and only a mysterious few individuals would be identified by them, eg: “See Jimmy over there, drinking by himself? He’s a card-carrying communist.”

Those store numbers would never be given up, not even during spotlight-and-thumbscrews interrogations, and in recognition of their espionage-grade bravery these small boys might have been invited to join The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Fan Club, thereby taking ownership of their very first cards.

Then came my card for David Bowie’s appreciation society, then my first bank card, followed by a credit card and a press card, by which stage every organisation, no matter how small-time, insisted on card entry, sometimes grading them, so that platinum was suddenly rated plebeian next to glistening, snobby black.

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Labour are not operating a strict door policy. Presumably the cards will soon be everywhere, though they’re not a new wheeze. Tony Blair came up with something similar, and on the day of Starmer’s launch former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith produced a handful of the 1997 vintage for breakfast TV which had been decomposing in a car glove compartment.

“Blair without the flair,” jeered Nigel Farage, referring to Starmer’s card trick and his rolled-up sleeves. That must irk, but not as much as the jibes which have been near-constant about no one claiming to know what the Labour leader is about. The card is an attempt to hammer home some, but not all, of the important stuff so it was a pity that, when Laura Kuenssberg challenged Wes Streeting to name all six pledges, the Shadow Health Secretary could only remember five. And maybe it’s unfortunate they’re billed as “My First Steps”, as if Mothercare is the sponsor, and, if he gets to No 10, there will be a baby book to chronicle “My first economic upturn” like a smile or a tooth or a “Da Da”.

He’s not there yet, he’s not got my vote yet. The man loves precision. The precision of those sleeves, his hair, how he speaks and I find myself singing The Damned’s anthem “Neat Neat Neat” whenever he comes on the TV. I don’t need him to be more punk, just, well, look at the tone of these headlines: “Starmer has no choice but to go bold… Time to be bolder… Starmer has a huge opportunity but he must be bolder… Starmer needs a bolder vision – being the grown-up in the room isn’t enough.” And most recently: “Starmer thinks he can win without bold policies.”

Maybe he can but it’s a risk. If he doorsteps me I don’t want him to come across, in a crisp white shirt, as flogging a soap powder called Bold, rather the real thing. Voters are ready – desperate – to hear the case for a new way of running the country. I’ll take his calling card but he must accept there’s no way it’ll stick like “102134”.



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