In every aspect of life, we all zero in on our lifelong interests gradually. We get a taste for the overall ideas, and hone in on the particular aspect of it that feels right to us. In the entertainment industry that can be the one album that comes along at a time in your life that just feels like it was made for you. You become a lifelong fan. You may not like every single or album, but you still consider yourself a fan. In politics, it’s what makes you a lifelong supporter of a particular party. You may not like every leader, front bench member or policy, but you still come out to vote for them in the election.
I came to political awareness at the end of the Thatcher era. She wasn’t just any leader in the UK. In Scotland she was someone who knew the Tories couldn’t lose in Scotland because very few Scots voted Tory. This gave her a free reign to test out policies without any lost votes. The unions had a decade’s worth of all out assault by the Tories. My defining album as I came to political awareness was of the hated Tory party consisting of wealthy English folks waging war on the ordinary people. When Thatcher was finally ousted, the Tories had the chance to dispel some of that damage. They didn’t. This impression lasts.
When the Tories used the “you know what happens when Labour get in” angle it’s powerless on me. As a toddler I wasn’t much of a politico. I have no memory of living under Labour’s ’70′s rule. I made my impressions based on the era; Thatchers Britain.
This applies to everyone who comes to political awareness as a time when things around them are very polarised. People coming to political awareness now, probably weren’t alive when Thatcher was in charge. They’d most likely come to awareness when Blair, Brown or Cameron were in charge. Blair’s place in the history books is an illegal war costing the lives of countless people. Brown was the guy who inherited the PM job and couldn’t win an election to keep it. Cameron is the guy who’s using every opportunity to punish the poor and reward the rich. All of the Westminster parties have proven themselves unelectable to enough of the electorate that none of them got a majority of the vote.
The Scottish Independence Referendum has been opened up to 16 and 17 year olds. Debates have been taking place in schools all over the country. These young people are the future of our country, and they’re becoming politically aware. Like me at the end of Thatcher, they don’t care about stuff that happened before they were born, or were too young to remember. They care about the recent past, and the present.
Compare the current government in Westminster, and the current government in Holyrood. In Westminster we have a coalition government slashing and burning everything in the name of austerity. Just when these young people are waking up to the concept of public services like the NHS, how it’s funded and how vital it is as a safety net for everyone, they’re seeing a government determined to have it run as a for profit service. That applies right through the range of things most people would consider public services, like the Royal Mail. As if destroying the safety net isn’t enough, there’s a regime of sanctions forcing the already vulnerable into even worse poverty. In Holyrood we have a government elected by a landslide majority who are protecting those same public services where they can, with the limited powers they have.
You can’t of course just compare the current governments and their policies. It’s important that you look at the previous governments too. A General Election can change the way a country is governed, so it’s important to get a taste of that. In Westminster we have a decent comparison. We went from a Labour government to a Tory led Coalition government, while in Holyrood, the difference was the size of the SNP majority.
We have a comparison of how Labour and the Tories differ on their views of public services that affect everyone. Labour outsource them to the private sector and charge the cost to the taxpayer, while the Tories sell them off as for profit companies. They’re both run for the benefit of profiteers, just in different ways. It allows Labour to claim they still value public services. On foreign policy it’s no change. They’re both happily backing the US on their Imperialist adventuring.
Any government with a tiny majority will struggle to get their own way; they are easily outvoted. This is fine when the voting is presumed to be rational. As young people are coming to political awareness, they’re seeing the visceral irrational hatred of the SNP by Labour in particular. It’s not a difficult leap to get to “no matter what the SNP try to propose or how good it is for the people, Labour will oppose it because it’s from the SNP”. Despite this, the SNP managed to do enough for the ordinary people of Scotland to be entrusted with a second term, elected on a landslide majority.
Just as young people are understanding how the various parts of the machine all fit together, they’re looking at the combination of the two parliaments, and how that relationship works between Holyrood and Westminster. Since Holyrood is still very much a “living memory” thing, it’s also valid to bring that into the equation. Young people in Scotland are growing up at a point in history where they have their own parliament, unlike previous generations.
The whole point of the Scottish Independence Referendum is about the relationship between the two parliaments, and whether or not it provides the best future for the people of Scotland. Young people have the most to gain from making the correct decision, as they have the longest to live with the consequences.
As part of that unusual sharing of power arrangement, there’s the concept of “if the same party is in government in both parliaments at the same time, surely the results would be amazing”. If you have two parties who hate each other having to negotiate, you’d expect a slow tortured process. If they’re both from the same party, with the same vision and the same goals, it should be butter smooth. We had that; Labour held both offices. Despite that, as these young people were going through primary and secondary school, Labour went from controlling both, to losing both, and being widely seen as not being able to win the next General Election in either country. What happened?
If you’re leaving school now, facing a future where you’re liable to be sanctioned for anything, the only jobs you can get are zero hour minimum wage ones and people around you are relying on foodbanks, that’s pretty bleak. It’s your day to day existence. It’s not some philosophical thought experiment. If you’re constantly told that there’s no money to cover basics, while being forced to subscribe to the BBC to be shown more sycophantic coverage of the Monarchy and their latest taxpayer funded lavish expense, that’s an impression that lasts. If you’re looking to a future under a different government, you want to think there’s something possible that’s gonna improve day to day life for you. When Labour say they’ll be just as harsh as the Tories, that hope is gone. When Labour even add insult to injury and say they want to remove benefits from your age group, without changing the prospect of more jobs, well, that impression lasts too.
In the past, the mainstream media would play a large part in informing people, and setting their opinions. Now these young people are seeing an all out assault on the SNP as some sort of evil force of nature who want to destroy Scotland with their madness. They are seeing the SNP being rolled into the Yes Scotland campaign as one in the same. This doesn’t match the awareness they’re getting as they learn about what’s going on in their lifetime. Not only does that set the SNP up as the underdog being bullied by the UK establishment, it pushes those young people away from getting their information from the establishment, with a resentment of being treated with contempt. It sets the SNP up as the one mainstream party fighting for Scotland.
That impression will last.