By Colin Fox
Perhaps the key question the European elections pose in Scotland this summer is – will UKIP win a seat here?
While most commentators predict Farage’s racists may top the poll in England (in 2009 UKIP got 13 MEP’s elected and received more votes than Labour) they feel UKIP does not have the support to win a seat north of the border.
But the most recent British/Scottish Social Attitudes Survey shows there can be no room for complacency on this score. Whilst 57 per cent of respondents in England favoured further restraints on immigrant’s rights, so did 47 per cent of Scots! This shows the significant challenge the left faces in attempting to overturn such ingrained attitudes.
In 2009, the six Scottish European Parliament seats were won by the SNP (two seats), Labour (two), the Tories and the Liberal Democrats. Since then support for Clegg’s collaborators has fallen off a cliff in Scotland. Most people do not see them holding on to a European seat here this time round. So where might it go?
Labour did particularly badly in 2009 and might hope for a comparative upturn in its fortunes – but not enough to win a third seat. Both they and the SNP will be focusing their resources on the crucial independence referendum campaign. The Tories are not likely to advance either so the chances of an unwelcome UKIP victory might be higher than at first expected.
The European elections are conducted in circumstances favourable to them. The prevalent anti-EU mood, the London-based election campaign with Farage at its epicentre, the low turnout and a proportional voting system where UKIP only needs 11 per cent support to get an MEP elected all play to their advantage.
Admittedly, they polled just 5.2 per cent of the vote last time round in Scotland – someway short of the 11 per cent needed to win a seat. But a great deal has changed since then. The Social Attitudes Survey reveals a discernible hardening in attitudes towards immigrants. Moreover, there has been no groundswell of support for the Greens that might act as an alternative ‘protest vote’. Perhaps if there had been some kind of Red-Green Alliance, as was mooted at one time, that might have gained traction.
Stopping UKIP therefore means confronting anti-immigrant feeling in Scotland. This runs deeper than we might like to admit, as 25 years of right-wing Daily Mail propaganda has taken its toll among what Marx called the ‘lumpen’ layers of the working class.
Moreover, the Westminster parties all continue to aid UKIP by pandering to its notion that immigrants – and claimants – are fiddling ‘our generous benefits system’.
The Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats are each engaged in blaming immigrants for Britain’s economic crisis. First UKIP created the myth that thousands of Romanians and Bulgarians were headed here. Then the Tories suggest access to the NHS and welfare services should be denied to immigrants until they have lived here two years. Labour then says ‘No, it should be a year!’ And the Lib Dems add to this appalling carnival of reaction.
What Labour should have said is: ‘It wasn’t immigrants who cause the collapse in our living standards. It wasn’t the Romanians who caused the worst recession in 80 years or the Bulgarians who bankrupted the economy. It wasn’t immigrants who embezzled £100 billion by avoiding their tax obligations.
It wasn’t immigrants who introduced the Bedroom Tax or sold off Royal Mail. It wasn’t immigrants who forced one million households in Scotland into fuel poverty. It wasn’t immigrants who were caught red handed stealing tens of millions from the public purse at Westminster with their fraudulent expenses claims and “second homes” scam – it was bankers like Nigel Farage!
But of course the Labour Party that would once have proudly taken such a principled position is long gone. Instead they tail end David Cameron’s attacks on migrant workers for “coming over here and taking our jobs” and protect employers who pay them slave wages and protect landlords who charge extortionate rents for flats unfit for human habitation. This government is responsible for the shortage of affordable housing and the inadequacy of public services and yet he blames it on immigrants.
The left in Scotland can counter this “carnival of reaction” using facts such as these:
• Immigrants who come here make this country wealthier and more diverse, not poorer
• Migrant workers pay far more taxes into the UK Treasury than they take out
• The NHS and other key services and industry have benefited enormously from the efforts and skills of immigrants over many decades
• Immigrants come here for work not our paltry benefits
• Young workers from Poland and Spain have halted Scotland’s chronic population decline
• Our quality of life in Scotland is greatly improved by our treasured multiculturalism and such a rich and diverse community of peoples
• Scots have emigrated for centuries in search of a better life
The Scottish Socialist Party believes people who uproot themselves and their families and travel thousands of miles in search of a better life here should be given a warm welcome and receive our admiration for their courage and determination.
We Scots know all about emigration. It is an experience Scots families have been forced into for generations.
Courtesy of the Scottish Socialist Voice