1980s >> >> no-994-june-1987

Boredom in the Highlands

Bored with the election? Up in Scotland the campaign has been pepped up with an additional exciting element, the subject that is on everyone’s lips, local government expenditure and rate reform. The Tories are getting into hysterics over their proposals for a “Community Charge”, for which Scotland has the privilege of being the guinea-pig. Not to be outdone, the Labour Party in Scotland, lacking any positive alternative to the Tory version of capitalism, have produced something equally irrelevant called the Doomsday Scenario. It’s an exciting-sounding term for a dreary idea — that a majority of voters in Scotland would vote Labour but be stuck with Thatcher at Number Ten.

There’s only one scenario that could be worse for the average Scottish Labour MP (and let’s face it, they’re all pretty average). That is that their bluff would be called, they’d be elected, and would have to try and fulfill all those fine-sounding election promises. And what would the Labour-controlled councils do without “that woman” to blame when things went wrong?

It’s not true though, to say there’s no difference between Tory and Labour. Since Edinburgh switched from Tory to Labour control a couple of years ago, the changes have been obvious: recently there have been big yellow posters boasting about “Defending Services. Creating Jobs”. What Edinburgh’s “socialism” in reality amounts to is little more than the fact that children whose library books are overdue won’t get fined. And you won’t get big yellow posters advertising the fact that a few months ago the Labour council — with full support from Tory councillors — broke a strike by public employees by using Tory anti-union legislation.

On the other coast, it’s the same story, if under a different slogan: “Glasgow’s Miles Better”, says a big yellow Mr Man on every bin in Glasgow. Nice to know if you’re living in one of the ten thousand houses in Glasgow that don’t have a bath. However, for those who are wondering what Glasgow is supposed by be miles better than, then you have to travel up to Dundee.

One of Dundee’s two MPs (the other one is only heard from when he’s tabling motions in the House of Commons congratulating Dundee United FC on their victories abroad), is Gordon Wilson of the Scottish National Party. Recently he was on Channel 4’s Comment spot (reserved for minority interests) talking about the “North-South Divide”. Before I could turn the TV over he mentioned how all this fuss about North and South was not accurate — it was actually an England-Scotland divide. The implication was that the reason most Scottish workers live in poverty is because of all the rich English workers. The only people, it would appear, that go on the dole in the north of England are Tory MPs out for a bit of publicity. And as for London — what do you mean, the streets aren’t paved with gold?

Of course the reality is that when young Scottish workers are forced — by the boredom of the Highlands, or the poverty of unemployment — to go south, it isn’t quite as it appears in the Daily Record or the Sun, where popstars and princesses, models and millionaires get drunk and disorderly in Stringfellows. The London they find is that of the benefit office and a bed and breakfast, no penthouse or palace. If they do get a job it’s shovelling Wimpy burgers down a thousand throats for £1.30 an hour.

“It’s Scotland’s Oil!” is one slogan we are being spared at this election, now that the price of oil has tumbled dramatically. Regardless of its price of course, oil remains in the hands of the oil companies and those few who own them. They can be Siberian, Scottish or South African, but they’re in a different world from the vast majority of us.

Instead the SNP recently latched onto the Caterpillar occupation which ended last April. As soon as an English or American-owned company pulls out, there’s the SNP bleating on about Scotland being exploited. They’re not in such a hurry when it’s some homegrown local parasite that is doing all the exploiting.

The election in Scotland, then, will be the same as everywhere else but different: different because of the added confusion of nationalism, but the same posturing and the same promises as usual.

This time round, there are no socialist candidates in Scotland. We’ll be writing “World Socialism” across our ballot papers (and a lot more besides if we get the time). If you feel that what is on offer on your ballot paper gives you no choice except a different leader telling you what is good for you, then give the bored ballot counter at the Town Hall something to read. But do more than that. Make the effort to make contact with your local branch or group of the Socialist Party, and help to ensure that next time round you won’t need to waste your vote.

Brian Gardner