The Election and Ayrshire.

The results from the general election are in, and I’d be lying if I said I was anything other than disappointed. England has turned almost completely blue, and while Scotland itself has turned away from its flirt with Toryism, its not turned to the left. We’re going to take a look at the results in Ayrshire, the UK as a whole and what this could mean for the future.

Unlike last time I won’t go through each of the four constituencies in Ayrshire as they all tell a similar story. The whole of Ayrshire is now represented in Westminster by the SNP, with the Tories coming in second and losing their seat in Ayr, Carrick & Cumnock. In every seat Labour lost a voting share of around 10 to 14 percent, and are no longer the second party in Kilmarnock and Loudoun. While this loss has largely been the SNP’s gain- their voting share went up by around 8 to 10 percent in each seat- we can’t know if this has been a shifting of party preference or tactical voting from Labour supporters hoping to keep the Tories out. It does at least look like Labour weren’t losing voters to the Tory party here. With former mining towns in Yorkshire and elsewhere in England turning blue, this might not be as absurd a fear as once thought. Indeed, Kensington- the constituency where the Grenfell tower fire happened- also voted Tory. At least we can take some solace in the fact that there’s no longer a Tory MP in Ayrshire.

 

Across Scotland the SNP made massive gains, even managing to unseat the standing Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson. A Lib Dem leader losing their seat is becoming something of a tradition now. The SNP are already pushing for these results as a mandate for a second referendum, and with protests in Glasgow the day after the election against Boris as PM there is clearly some visible groundswell behind this idea. My concern however, is two fold: firstly, that while the SNP have gained a sizeable share of the vote, some or even most of this could have been tactical voting by supporters of other, unionist parties that were worried about Brexit and Boris. Scotland voted overwhelmingly against Brexit, and now the SNP will have to position independence as a question of remaining in the UK or the EU. Will this be enough to convince the unionist remainers to still support the SNP? How many will go back to supporting the union when asked to put an X next to a Yes or No ballot?  My second concern for the SNP is that despite positioning themselves further to the right than in 2017, they didn’t manage to gain many Conservative voters, instead taking a big share of Labours voter base. The SNP may therefore see fit to move further to the left, as they could be able to secure these gains from the Labour electorate long term. However, my concern is that they might see this as a battle already won- the Labour party in Scotland is in the worst state it has been in living memory-and instead double down on trying to secure the sizable part of the Scottish vote that is to the right.

A protest in Glasgow against the election results.

As a whole the UK has been washed over with a tide of blue. As mentioned before, even mining towns in Yorkshire and Wales, once hit the hardest by Thatcher, are now Tory seats, and the language of the party’s supporters is already transforming into something resembling an English nationalist party, with figures like Tommy Robinson openly supporting the party and even joining its membership. The Tory party is taking on a more nationalistic, jingoist, Britain First rhetoric rather than the traditional and bland pro business and small c conserative slogans they tended to advocate for. With new found working class support the Tories find themselves in the unique position of competing with the Brexit Party for votes that were once securely Labour. What changes this might force the party through is uncertain, but with as big a personality as Boris in the PM chair the role of Prime Minister is increasingly taking on a more presidential shape and image.

While the mainland has had significant upsets Northern Ireland is not any less interesting, with the nation set to join Scotland as another country of the union in which separatist parties are gaining ground. For the first time in history Sinn Fein has won the seat of North Belfast, and in another first shock Unionist MPs are now outnumbered by Republicans. With the SNP in Scotland and the DUP losing in Northern Ireland, it seems the Tory victory in England and Wales might have come with the cost of a disunited United Kingdom.

 

Labours results have been nothing short of devastating. There are a myriad of factors contributing to this- I do not believe the blame lies solely at Corbyn’s feet, or with his socialist policies. He had been leader in 2017 with similar positions and saw an increase in voter share larger than Brown or Milliband, who were firmly to the right of Corbyn’s labour. Two factors were different this election, the first being Brexit. Labour conceded ground to the centrist, middle class part of their voter base to argue for a second referendum, and here we see their downfall. Corbyn himself had embraced the leave vote the day after the referendum but quickly took a party position of trying to reconcile the working class leaver and middle class remainers within the voter base and Labour found itself pulled apart by two opposing forces, resulting in hamstrung fence sitting about the biggest question of this election. Unable to reconcile these two diametrically opposed views Labour lost a big part of its voting share to the Tories. It’s clear that playing a middle ground, centrist position doesn’t work, evidenced doubly in how badly the Lib Dem’s fared, and that the centrist Labour defectors lost all of their seats.

Boris was mocked for constantly repeating “Get Brexit Done”, but this is what a large part of the electorate wanted to hear. Labour’s inability to provide a clear position was something the Tories could hammer into again and again.

The second major issue for Labour this elections was the media. Losing a lot of its subtlety the Murdock papers slammed Corbyn and McDonnel as if they were a red menace with Bolshivik loyalties and the BBC found itself ill equipped and unmotivated to counter these claims or give Labour a fair trial. We saw accusations of racism levelled at Corbyn, a man who had spent his life as an anti racist campaigner, at a time when the Tory government is supporting antisemetic governments like Hungary and Suadi Arabia, openly threatening traveler communities in its manifesto and has been caught deporting black citizens in the Windrush Scandal. This isn’t to say that The Labour Party doesn’t have a problem with antisemitism, or that Jeremy Corbyn has done enough to address the issue. But clearly the media have decided to hold Labour to a higher level of scrutiny, while the Conservative government have embraced racism and antisemitism as party policy.

Instead of holding to task the powers that be, various senior media figures were having daily meetings with the PM and trying to both sides issues on which the evidence clearly showed the Tories were in the wrong. It’s not a coincidence that Corbyn was the only leader this election whose approval rating went up the more people engaged with him or that Liverpool, a city that has banned Murdock propaganda, is the only city that remained firmly red. Boris meanwhile, found himself avoiding Andrew Neil and literally hiding from reporters in a fridge. You have to question the integrity of a media landscape where one man is acknowledged as the sole journalist that will hold leaders to task, and simply avoiding an interview with him means avoiding all significant scrutiny.

The years ahead for Labour will be difficult, and many within Scotland are already arguing that Scottish Labour should embrace independence, another issue which might split the party.

What does this mean for Ayrshire? The next few years are going to be difficult, Brexit looms over us all and Ayrshire stands to lose more than most. The SNP might have a mandate to pursue independence, or at least a second referendum, but there is no legal apparatus to push for this if the Prime Minister does not give his blessing – which Boris has repeatedly said he will not do. The rise of republicanism in Northern Ireland might not lead to separatism and a united Ireland, but could still lead to trouble in Ayrshire, as we have always been more involved in the politics of our Celtic brothers across the sea and have our own troubled history with sectarianism. Vital services might also be under threat soon, as the day after the election Damian Green, a Tory MP, openly said that the nation will need to move to an insurance based healthcare system. All the while climate change is creeping up on us, and the time we have left to do anything about it is slipping through our fingers. What stands before us is an era of uncertainty, unrest and austerity, one in which Ayrshire, while not at the centre of many of these issues stands to be one of the hardest hit regions in the UK, as it has been in the past by political and social turmoil.

In times like these communities need to come together and support one another. Join your union at work; if you don’t have one this is the time to make one. Talk to your neighbours, friends and family and be sure to support the vulnerable. If you are so inclined, go out and protest, make sure people know how you feel about what’s happening. Go to your local food bank to see what you can do to help out. With the Tories in power all we can expect for the most disenfranchised in our society is more of the same neglect and disdain. A better world is possible, but it’s up to us to make it happen, together.

Connecting Communities: Poland to Ayrshire

One thing that seemed to have been made clear by the EU referendum was that in general Scotland has a more open and relaxed attitude when it comes to immigration. The reality, however, is something a bit more jarring. The frequency of xenophobic attacks are on the rise and it seems the lies about immigrants being lavished with tax payer money and given houses and cars for nothing (yes this is an actual claim that I have heard made before) are never ending, with more and more poor people in this country being convinced that their problems stem from poor people from other countries.

Scotland and Poland have always had a strong connection. Ever since Polish divisions were stationed here during the Second World war there has always been some kind of Polish community present in Scotland. There is even a 50m x 40m 3D outdoor scale model of Scotland on the grounds of Barony castle that was built there by a Polish WW2 veteran as well as a small group of Polish workers and exchange students. A testament to the country that had provided Jan Tomasik with his wife and a career as a hotelier in the years after the war.

With this in mind I thought it would be interesting to ask a few questions of some of the Polish people in our community and find out what life is like for people who came here with the hopes of a better life.

JamesSo what made you decide to leave Poland? What brought you to Ayrshire?

Ewelina – I left Poland in 2007. In June that year I finished college and decided to study at Jagiellonian University (in Kraków). At the time I was basically a single parent, my partner at the time had been recruited for a job in Kilmarnock from a Polish work agency. I must add, at the time in Poland the economic situation was very bad. Most people, including my family, lived on the edge of poverty and there was no welfare system. In few words, it was hard. My partner suggested that I joined him along with my son and that’s how we came to be in Ayrshire.

Monika – I left Poland 10 years ago, for economic reasons mostly, but I always wanted to live in the UK. At the time, as a single mother in Poland I struggled to support myself and my daughter, even though I worked full time and had family helping with childcare, etc. My dad was already living in Ayrshire so I chose to come and stay with him.

Magdalena – The economic situation in Poland, difficulties in finding a job and a lack of prospects for the future is why I decided to leave. My husbands parents had been living in Ayrshire already so we decided to join them.

James – Has life been any easier for you since you moved to Ayrshire?

Ewelina – I thought living in Scotland would be a dream come true but it was really hard in the beginning. For some reason Polish people were seen only as cheap labour. We would be hired to do work that people here didn’t want to do and in general we’d be paid less to do it. Despite this I still earned more than a bookkeeper in Poland by washing dishes in a restaurant so in a way life was better! I had to go to college again in Ayrshire to gain some qualifications and learn new skills and now I have a better job.

Monika – Life is easier in Scotland for us. As a single mother I’m able to support us and even save a little, which I wasn’t able to do in Poland.

Magdalena – A little bit yes, but it’s not as good as we expected it to be.

James – Has it been easy to make friends here or do you tend to gravitate more towards other Polish people?

Ewelina – Scottish people are very friendly (most of them!) and open. In my opinion it is easy to make friends here as long as you’re fair and treat people how you would like to be treated, with respect and understanding. I’ve got roughly the same amount of Polish and Scottish friends, I like them all!

Monika – I have family here who I spend most of my time with and a few friends/ colleagues that are both Polish and Scottish. Language is not a barrier for me though, so I think it’s a little easier for me.

Magdalena – Due to the hobby that I have (Dog training) I’ve met quite a few people and made friends with a couple but generally we just keep to ourselves. I only have a few Polish friends but I’m not looking for more.

James – Have you encountered any prejudice during your time here?

Ewelina – Unfortunately yes. Usually in my places of work with random people who would ask me questions like “why don’t you want to go back home?” or say things like “your country must be empty as so many of you left!”. Also my children were bullied for being Polish so we had to change schools. Now we don’t have problems. I know that behind behaviour like that are parents who live in a world of illusions. They believe any lies they are told.

Monika – I have… In real day to day life not very often and nothing major. Just people expressing their opinions on immigration but it’s mostly on TV, online or in the papers. My daughter has witnessed incidents on the playground at school where Polish or Muslim kids were bullied for being foreign.

Magdalena – Luckily, No

James – Has Brexit affected how you view this country?

Ewelina – “BREXIT” that big scary word that everyone wants to run from! Yes, I’m scared, distracted and just tired. I have everything here, family, friends, my job… Life! It doesn’t seem fair that you can just come and tell people “OK! It was nice having you here but now is your time to leave.” It’s unfair. I’ve paid for permission to live and work in Scotland, paid all of my taxes and now if I’m denied settlement status I have to go! Just like that. It is sad that the British/ Polish people have been deceived in this way. Now everyone will be affected.

Monika – It has. I felt at home here and now I don’t. It changed everything. Before the referendum we never even considered going back to Poland. Home was Scotland, but now it’s more than a possibility. My daughter considered herself Scottish – now she wants to go back to Poland. We’re tired of it all, this governments rhetoric on immigration most of all. They aren’t giving us any assurances and we don’t trust anything that they say. The settled status is a sham. When we came here 10 years ago I had to pay (a lot) for my right to work. A year later they scrapped it. Now they want us to register again. And the scheme doesn’t guarantee anything because the Home Office can revoke your settled status at any moment – that’s if you even get it in the first place. They’re not exactly known for their competence either. How can anyone live like that? And what would a no deal Brexit mean for us? Do we just become illegal overnight? It’s been so stressful, but it’s not as easy as just packing our suitcases and leaving. We’ve built our lives here. We have responsibilities, friends and family.

Magdalena – Yes as it’s a lot of uncertainty now. We don’t know what to expect and how our life will be afterwards.

I would like to thank Ewelina, Monika and Magdalena for the insights they have provided and I hope that whether leave or remain, we can take note of the chaos this situation has caused in the lives of fellow working people who have brought more to this country than they are given credit for, in spite of what some would have you believe when they talk about the “dangers” of immigration.