Voting Matters: 7th May 2015

The polls open in a minute, and I’ll be on my way to vote. You’ve got til 10pm tonight to vote. You don’t need a polling card or ID: you just need to be registered and to know where your polling station is. (The doors of the polling stations close at 10pm, but anyone inside at 10pm is entitled to vote. Queue properly.)

I’m voting Scottish Green.

There are five men and two women standing in my constituency, and here’s why I chose Sarah Beattie-Smith to vote for.

There were three easy rejections: UKIP, the Tories, and the LibDems.

UKIP's Scpttish Launch

I’m not voting for UKIP. They’re homophobic, sexist, and racist: their sole merit in Scotland is their extraordinary incompetence. Alan Melville, so I gathered from the hustings where I heard him speak, will literally say anything he thinks will get UKIP more votes in Leith.

I’m not voting for the Conservatives. Iain McGill is, like many Scottish Conservative councillors and would-be candidates for parliamentary election, a very charming person who works hard. In Scotland, after all, a Tory has to be twice as charming as the next party candidate in order to stand a fair chance: a lesson the Tories seem to have learned well and their electoral cohorts, the LibDems and UKIP, have not yet figured out.

I’m not voting for the Liberal Democrats. I recall too well that in 2010, Kevin Lang campaigned hard for left-wing votes, arguing that Labour needed a shake-up and had held Leith as a safe seat too long. He made a very convincing case: Leith swung by over 7 points to the LibDems, and Labour held the seat by a 0.7% margin. And then the LibDems trashed their reputation by climbing into a coalition with the  Tories, and we all learned that whatever the LibDems say to get elected, they will vote for Tory policies to keep themselves in government. Martin Veart has impressed me as a man who doesn’t understand that a national economy is not run like a household budget: I am happy to know that unless he changes party or moves away from Scotland he will likely never be an MP. I hope to see a LibDem wipeout in Scotland – yes, even Alistair Carmichael in the LibDem safe seat of the Orkneys and Shetland – because in Scotland, they presented themselves as a left-wing party, and then betrayed their voters.

Yes, I’m still angry about that. And looking forward with considerable pleasure to seeing the LibDems cast down to fourth place in the next Parliament: hopefully Nick Clegg, who has been talking largely of what the LibDems would or would not accept as conditions for a coalition, will have lost his seat and will have to watch from whatever plum job is offered him for his retirement.

Those three are all very easy to dismiss.

Left Unity

With some reluctance, I’m also not voting for Bruce Whitehead, the Left Unity candidate. I like him and agree that his party is solidly anti-austerity, but they hadn’t done the preparation necessary to gain votes – Bruce was still looking for voters who live in Leith to sign his nomination papers at the time of the first hustings. (I was one of them, and I did so with pleasure, but I would prefer to vote for a candidate who was prepared a bit further in advance.)

Labour or the SNP?

Realistically, I know that either Labour’s Mark Lazarowicz or the SNP’s Deirdre Brock are going to win the seat: if Labour wins, it will be because Mark Lazarowicz has been a solid, honest, hard-working backbench MP, who defied a three-line Whip to vote against workfare, who responds promptly and thoughtfully to emails from his constituents. If Deirdre Brock wins, it will partly be because she herself has made a good local reputation as the Leith Walk ward councillor, and also because of the swing to SNP and against Labour.  I won’t be unhappy if either of them win, but I won’t vote for either party, and this is why:

Labour lost my vote in March 2013 when they laid down a three-line Whip to make their MPs abstain on the workfare vote. The Tories and LibDems pushed through retroactive legislation to retrospectively make legal the benefit sanctions of people who had refused or been unable to do workfare. The principle that employers should have to pay people who work for them ought to be a basic for Labour to support: that Labour instead was anxious to look as if they too could be tough on people on benefits both shocked and appalled me.

I might still have voted for Mark Lazarowicz, who in 2013 defied the three-line Whip and voted against workfare, but in March 2014, subjected to another three-line Whip, he followed the Tories and LibDems to vote for their welfare cap. The welfare cap is a principle that instead of spending what’s needed to lift people out of poverty, the government will set a maximum of what’s worth allowing for such people. Douglas Alexander, Liam Byrne, and Rachel Reeves have all gone on record supporting the basic principles of the Tory/LibDem attitude to people claiming benefits: shirkers not workers.

So, why not vote for the SNP? Well, I have a personal feeling against the party at Westminster: the six SNP MPs were instructed (and all obeyed) not to vote for the Bill that would lift the ban on same-sex marriage in England and Wales, on the specious grounds that this legislation would only affect LGBT people in England and Wales, and the SNP only votes on legislation to do with Scotland.

This isn’t true on either count. The SNP has voted on tuition fees for English students: and the legalisation of same-sex marriage in England and Wales of course affected same-sex couples in Scotland. I got married in December: my wife and I were in a civil partnership before. If the legislation for England and Wales had failed, whenever she and I travelled to England or Wales, we would have been in a civil partnership again – our marriage would not have been recognised. Two of the SNP MPs in 2014 had pledged to vote for same-sex marriage: they ignored their pledge because they had been instructed to do so by their party. Except in scale, this is no different a betrayal from the LibDem MPs who pledged to vote against a rise in tuition fees and broke their pledge. If the SNP can so readily force their MPs to break a pledge on a major human rights issue, can they be trusted on any other?

I’ve been told that the SNP would likely have let their MPs vote if it was probable their vote would have made a difference at Westminster: that’s maybe true, since the SNP MSPs did for the most part vote for same-sex marriage at Holyrood. Nonetheless: when the SNP had a chance to stand up and vote for human rights for LGBT people at Westminster, they decided they’d rather not, and became, with the DUP, the only party to have not a single MP who voted for equal marriage. So, no, I won’t be voting for the SNP this time. (Though my wife will: we came to different conclusions on this.)

Scottish Green

You might think by this that I’m voting Scottish Green as a process of elimination, but that’s not true: for the last four candidates, it was a genuinely tricky point to decide positively which way I wanted to vote, and there are good reasons for voting for each of them, including Left Unity.

I don’t honestly think Sarah Beattie-Smith is going to win, and nor, I think, does she: Edinburgh North and Leith isn’t one of the Scottish Green’s target seats. I would like her to do well enough not to lose her deposit: the Scottish Greens can use the money.

I am altogether tired of the BBC’s practice of treating the Scottish Greens as a minor party in Scottish elections, to be lumped in with UKIP and such: I would like there to be a Scottish Green MP at Westminster.

I read through the Scottish Green manifesto. I loved it. A living wage for the minimum wage. Railways back in public hands – an end to the ever-increasing spiral of rising ticket prices and tinier trains.  No more austerity politics: roll back the welfare cuts. Build more homes.

Let’s do it.

Sure, Sarah isn’t going to win. Yes, my wife is right to say that for all their rising membership, the Scottish Greens don’t do nearly enough to push their policies and make themselves and their party visible and make sure we know what they stand for (our discussions on the election have gone back and forth over “yes, good policy, but no one will vote for them if they don’t know about it!”)

But I’m voting Scottish Green in the hope that someday, I’ll see Scottish Green MPs at Westminster, and more Scottish Greens at Holyrood. I want to be able to vote for a Scottish Green candidate as my constituency MSP, not just as one of my list MSPs. None of that will happen unless those of us who read their manifesto and think “Love it!” vote for them.

Voting GreenSo I’m walking over to my local polling station to cast my vote, and I hope all of you – whoever you plan to vote for – are going to do the same.

There’ll be another blogpost today at 10pm – the constituencies I’m staying up for. See you all on Twitter tonight, and into the wee hours of the morning.

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Filed under Benefits, Elections, GE2015, Poverty

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