Glasgow is a key battleground in May’s general election. Recent polls show that Labour could lose all but one of its seven MPs there to the Scottish National Party (SNP).
Support for Labour has plummeted since last year’s independence referendum, when the party officially backed a No vote. The Yes vote mirrored the map of poverty across Scotland as people looked for change. And almost a third of Scotland’s most deprived areas are in Glasgow.
Now, sick of years of Labour agreeing in principle with Tory austerity, many once loyal Labour supporters want a new political home.
Unison union member Chrissie works for Glasgow Association for Mental Health (GamH). She told Socialist Worker, “I thought I would always be a Labour voter.
“I’m not anymore because of what I’ve seen happening in Glasgow. I just can’t vote for that anymore.”
Chrissie was referring to a recent budget meeting of Labour-run Glasgow City Council that voted through £29 million of cuts. This included a 40 percent cut to GamH.
Battles against cuts to social care have been at the forefront of resistance in Glasgow.
Almost a fifth of the city’s working age population receive incapacity benefit—more than any other city in Britain. And half of claimants have mental health problems.
Marion is co-secretary of the Glasgow Care Crisis group. She told Socialist Worker, “The council has cut social care budgets by millions in the past few years.
“It has shut learning disability centres and mental health drop in centres. It has cut elderly, addiction, homelessness and mental health services.
“It has created chaos and misery for our most vulnerable citizens.”
Tom, who uses GamH services, said there is a disconnect between politicians and voters. “They think services can be run short term without resources,” he told Socialist Worker. “But that’s not how it works.”
Chrissie said the recent cuts won’t be the last attack on mental health. They certainly weren’t the first.
Allie used the Charlie Reid Centre that she said was “the first to get hit”. She explained that the council started charging people money to use the drop-in centre and they couldn’t afford to pay.
It eventually closed last May leaving hundreds of people “cut adrift”.
Paul also used the centre. He told Socialist Worker the change to funding was “just a disguise for cuts”. Chrissie said, “When they closed Charlie Reid part of the rationale was that people using it would fall neatly into services provided by GamH. One year on, GamH is being cut.”
The so-called logic behind cuts to mental health services in Glasgow is all too familiar across Britain.
Labour and Tory governments have accelerated the introduction of the market into public services. Profits and costs come before quality of care.
But the way that people feel the council is treating them illustrates a much deeper attitude towards the Labour Party in Scotland.
As Tom put it, “It’s their arrogance”. He said this was clear when senior union officials, shop stewards, service users and workers delivered a 10,000-strong petition against the cuts to GamH. “They wouldn’t even walk downstairs and accept it,” he said.
Protesters at the time heard Scotland’s largest Unison union branch secretary say, “I’m thinking of leaving Labour and tearing up my party card.”
She’d been in the party for 30 years. Another union official swiftly announced that they had already left.
The Labour council blames the SNP at Holyrood for cuts to Glasgow’s budget. The SNP in turn blames Westminster. Chrissie said, “We need accountability from Glasgow’s politicians.
“They had a choice. Council unions proposed a no-cuts budget, said borrow money if we have to, we don’t need to accept austerity.
“Instead they said, ‘We’d love not to do this, but they made us do it’.”
Paul said politicians opposing austerity in words but not deeds are “like conscientious objectors going to war”. The thirst for an alternative to austerity drove many working class people to vote for independence.
Since then the SNP has benefitted most from Labour’s decline. It now claims 93,000 members—around one in 50 of the adult population of Scotland.
Allie said the SNP is giving people hope for change. “That’s flowed directly from the referendum,” she said.
Chrissie has also joined the party.She said its “commitments to social justice seem to be there”.
She added, “A lot of my colleagues say, ‘I’m happy to give them a chance. I’ve seen what it’s like under the Tories and Labour—I know what I’ll get’.”
The SNP could be set for an historic victory in May. But it might have a difficult job holding on to its new recruits in Scotland’s charged political atmosphere.
Kay was one of tens of thousands who joined the SNP after the referendum. But it didn’t keep her. She explained to Socialist Worker, “The weekend I joined, their system crashed.
“They contacted me saying I had to rejoin. But then it started coming out how the SNP is willing to implement cuts. That’s not a party I want to be part of.
“I want to be part of a party that is going to fight for a better future for my children.”
Kay has been campaigning for Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) candidate Angela McCormick in Glasgow North.
“She’s the anti-austerity candidate in my area,” she said. Basically everything that’s shaming our society, such as the bedroom tax, racism, bankers’ bonuses, she’s fighting against it.”
MPs’ recent comments about being unable to survive on their salaries showed again the gap between politicians and voters.
It angered Kay. “They should come into the real world and try and live on the benefits that a single parent like me is supposed to live on with two children,” she said.
“They’d see that it’s not possible. They haven’t got a clue.”
John has also been campaigning for TUSC. “I’ve been a member of GamH for the last two years,” he said.
“I’d never been interested in politics really—the first time I voted was at the referendum when I voted Yes.
“But looking at the cuts and the effect on the most vulnerable people, I had to get involved.”
Socialist politician Tommy Sheridan has argued for people to lend their vote to the SNP in May. He has joined others on the left who have argued to put an anti-austerity challenge on hold until next year’s Scottish elections.
John said they’re wrong. “You just have to look at SNP council cuts in Dundee or Edinburgh,” he said. “They’re doing the same as every other party.”
He says TUSC’s no cuts message is going down well.
“People are fed up with the same old thing. Politicians say what they think you want to hear to get your vote and then do what suits them.”
Allie agreed. “Scotland is basically saying we don’t want to go back to what we had before. I’m not a member of any party now but many years ago I was secretary of a trades council and in Labour.”
But she said, “Labour now is the complete anathema to what it used to be. Jim Murphy is an insult to what Labour has been in the past.”
Allie said campaign groups should organise election hustings so politicians don’t get an easy ride.
“Whether it’s SNP, Labour or the Greens we need to pin these slick politicians down on how they are going to stop the cuts,” she said.
“And the unions have an important part to play in putting pressure on them.”
Tom added, “Everybody wants to protect the welfare state. “It’s ours by right, it’s not something that’s been handed down or given to us. All of our parents have fought for this.
“What we have to argue with these politicians is that it’s non-negotiable—and they won’t get away with dismantling it.”