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.

What Went Wrong?

A lot can and has been said about living in Ayrshire. In our own articles we have pointed out a struggling population with some of the highest rates of unemployment, mental health issues and drug related incidences.

Ayrshire is just one county in a country in which these issues are seemingly becoming better managed. There was a time when Ayrshire boasted important shipbuilding harbours such as Irvine with its Ayrshire Dockyard Company and Troon with the Ailsa Shipbuilding Yard. Some of the most important trade from Ireland and the Americas would pass through this county first. Sunny Saltcoats used to be one of the most popular holiday destinations in the country!

So, what happened?

Where did it all go wrong?

It seems the biggest problem with Ayrshire is the same problem with a lot of smaller counties in the country; it’s a place where industry used to be. The biggest industry that used to be in Ayrshire was the coal mining. Even today, mentioned within ear shot of the right people, talking about the miners strike that started Friday March 9th, 1984 will warrant a response of bitterness and anger. The dispute would last around a year and the result was a community all but torn apart. The miners argued that the government were going to cause mass unemployment by destroying an industry that the area so relied upon and some accused Thatcher of doing it to spite the communities that didn’t support her. The government would claim that it was simply a dying industry that was running at a loss, so it needed to be stopped.

The plan proposed by the National Coal Board that would cause the miners’ union president Arthur Scargill to call for a national strike meant the closure of 20 pits. This would mean the loss of around 20,000 jobs with the next steps being to open ‘super pits’ that would produce more coal with less workers. The only pits that would benefit from this plan would be one in Yorkshire and one in Nottinghamshire.

The ensuing strike would see the best and worst of the community come out. Hunterston power station became a large target for picketing with men being driven there in buses. Although the strike would start out peacefully enough as it went on there started to be some ugly fighting. Strikers would clash with the police as well as ‘scab’ workers (workers that crossed the picket line). Thatcher was well prepared for a response like this and had stockpiled coal from Australia, South Africa and Poland ensuring that the dispute would be a long and arduous one.

The men on strike were accused in the papers of bringing the communities to the brink by being so stubborn and preventing coal supplies going to those in need. In response strikers would go into the hills themselves to dig coal for the more vulnerable members of the community. In spite of the struggle many people would give their last in solidarity with the strikers.

As the strike dragged on through the year it slowly became evident that it couldn’t last. The support from Strathclyde council, although welcome, couldn’t sustain them. The pressure of trying to live on only £15 a week was too much for a lot of families. It all came to an end March 5th, 1985 almost a year since the strike began. Then came the job losses.

Everywhere in Ayrshire there are sad reminders of the industry of the past. Open pit mining has even continued in the area but suffers from similar job loss issues to this day.

It may be a bitter pill to swallow but there was right and wrong on both sides of the picket line in ‘84. Coal mining really was a finite industry and couldn’t sustain itself long term, however the worry that a lot of the coal miners went on strike for was also true. They could see that if Ayrshire lost its biggest industry it would lose its sense of pride and see years of hardship and unemployment. This prediction has come true. The Ayrshire of today is not completely devoid of all industry, the booming electronics industry has a foothold in the area and there is hope yet for the tourism sector. The problem is that nothing has ever filled the hole left by the closure of all the industry that used to be in the area.

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