Labour contenders and the monumental task of winning over the youth vote

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Scottish Labour leadership contenders Kezia Dugdale and Ken MacIntosh addressed the issue of young voters at a hustings meeting in Glasgow’s east end last week. Student journalist Craig Todd attended, and reflects on the monumental task facing the party.

Kezia Dugdale remarked at a party leadership hustings event at the Emirates Arena last week that Labour needs to win back Glasgow if it is to ever win power again.

That is a daunting task for Scottish Labour. In 2010 the party was three years into opposition against a minority SNP government, but had 40 out of 59 MPs going to Westminster. They now have one.

Dugdale
Kezia Dugdale

Currently they hold 38 seats in Holyrood, but a recent poll suggests 60 per cent of the electorate are planning to vote SNP which would once again secure a majority government. Further polling suggests the former Labour heartlands will fall in Holyrood, similar to Westminster.

Who’s to blame for Labour’s mess? Was it the referendum? Was it siding with the Tories which caused angst and alienation for its supporters? Or was it inner fighting between cliques within the party itself?

One thing the party is beginning to agree on is youth. They need young blood. Labour needs to engage voters online, and according to leadership candidate, Ken MacIntosh, MSP for Eastwood, the SNP has led the way in involving young people in politics through online technology.

“The reason the SNP are so good at it (using online) is because they have actually recruited so many young people,” he said.

“It is a grassroots media and they have got a very good grassroots party. Now we are suffering because we’ve not got as many young members, and that’s why we were not as good at social media: it’s as simple as that.

“The two will go together. If we put a bit more resource into improving our online or social media presence, that will actually help reach young people, but it’s by getting young people into the party that will have a bigger online presence, so the two go hand-in-hand.”

Ken McIntosh, speaking to Newsnet during his campaign last month
Ken McIntosh, speaking to Newsnet during his campaign last month

Kelly McGill, 23, a Labour activist from Coatbridge, believes using online material may not be as resourceful as MacIntosh thinks, as vast amounts of information is already available.  “Personally it would not have influenced my vote,” she said.

“Labour was active online as there were Labour forms, Facebook pages, elected members who were active on Twitter and Facebook and which kept people up to date with the day to day media, news, posts etc.

“However, I like to gather my own information away from the media.”

She would like the Party to focus on helping students, particularly after the UK Budget was so detrimental for those under the age of 25.

Maintenance grants have been replaced by loans for students down south, whilst they are expected to fork out as high as £9,000 for their tuition each year.

She added: “I know that here in Scotland we have our tuition fees covered, however from personal experience I have had to take out student loans to live on.

“Therefore, when I finish I will have a large sum of money to pay back. I know that this is an issue of the Scottish government more than the UK. However I feel all the parties fail to take the issue of student debts into consideration.

“I personally feel both governments should look to increase bursaries in an attempt to lower the amount of loans needed. This way, when in employment, people are not struggling due to taxation, National Insurance and loan repayments.”

The TNS survey published in June surveyed just over 1000 adults of 16 years of age and above, about their voting intentions. Sixty per cent of those answered they were voting SNP in the constituency seat, whilst 50 per cent say they are voting for the party in the list system.

Only 19 per cent say they will vote Scottish Labour in both voting systems. Perhaps this has prompted  Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson to claim confidently that her party will become the second party in Scotland.

Furthermore, a post-election poll has predicted 80 per cent of 25-34 year olds will vote SNP, implying that they have led the way in engaging younger voters through the use of social media. But what percentage from that category is going to vote for Scottish Labour?

“Five per cent of my age group are going to vote Labour next year,” said Scottish Labour Leader candidate and MSP for Edinburgh and Lothians, Kezia Dugdale at the hustings.

“Eighty per cent are going to vote SNP and I find that deeply, deeply concerning, because the Labour Party is the party about change.

“It is about all the great social changes that have happened in our country in the 20th and 21st Century that has been because of the Labour Party, whether that be creating the NHS, creating the welfare state, introducing equality legislation, equal marriage, the Scottish Parliament – every great social change like that was driven by the Labour Party.

“Business is changing people’s lives and we can do that again, so I want to win back the trust and hopes of all the young people in Scotland, because that is the only way we can change our country.”

A new generation has been invigorated since the referendum when 16 and 17 year olds voted for the first time.

Providing a new voice in politics, schoolchildren were able to debate in the classrooms with their friends and staff, challenge politicians and tackle their own agendas with a clever mixture of honesty, seriousness and comedy as seen in the Big Big Debate last year on the BBC, with an audience that only included 16 and 17 year olds.

UnknownThe Scottish Youth Parliament played a key role in providing information. Despite being “flawed,” one of the MSYPs for Coatbridge and Chryston, Kayleigh Finnigan, believes the SYP is crucial for young people to have their say on issues that matter to them.

“We did a good job at the Referendum to get a lot of people involved in politics,” said the 17-year old.

“We went out to a number of places. We would go into high schools and take part in debates and showed people that there needed to be two sides.

“The best part was the questions they asked us – watching the school kids’ debate was like watching leader debates, as the idea was that they know the right questions to ask.”

MSYPs are not affiliated with any political parties. If any do take part in political campaigns they must ensure it does not deter their position as a representative for young people.

In September 2012 the youth parliament launched One Fair Wage which supports the Scottish Living Wage, and their Love Equality Campaign won Campaign of the Year at the Scottish Charity of the Year Awards, playing a major role in the Scottish Government’s decision to legalise same-sex marriage.

They use their influence to try and hold councillors and MSPs to account, but also to work with them. Using Twitter and other social media, MSYPs urge youngsters to get involved in politics. Last year they held an event which allowed S6 pupils to question the then First Minister, Alex Salmond.

Youngsters are being provided information, contributing to a higher turnout for the General Election, along with first time voters, but many are still left frustrated with issues they care about ranging from education to employment and low pay.

Daniel Ferguson is one of those youngsters. Aged 23, he works as a supervisor for a supermarket chain in Lanarkshire, and is studying web systems’ development at Glasgow Caledonian University. He fears many graduates will be left behind in the battle for jobs, particularly with cuts imposed in the Budget, which included no housing benefit for anyone less than 25 years of age

“I believe that austerity hurts all aspects of society, but none more so than the economy,” he said.

“Austerity will cause household purse strings to tighten. Less spending in local and national businesses means businesses are unable to grow their workforce which means less chance of me gaining a graduate job when finishing university and a general increase in unemployment overall.”

He voted SNP in this year’s election and joined the party the day after the Referendum, believing Labour are “no longer the party of the working people”. He believes for Labour was to be more effective online, he would remain loyal to the SNP.

Daniel added: “The SNP didn’t bombard me with mail. I received at most two items from them.

“Labour on the other hand sent me about eight or nine different publications all filled with promises that were border-line desperation.

The Great Clunking Fist can sign letters too...
The Great Clunking Fist can sign letters too…

“One of Labour’s leaflets was from Gordon Brown. I think it’s out of touch for a retiring MP (not representing my constituency) to send me a leaflet urging me to vote for his party. It seemed as though Labour were relying on ‘big names’ like Brown to persuade voters but it appeared desperate.”

During the hustings at the Emirates Arena, Ken MacIntosh commented that perhaps more could have been done online, which would have been cheaper than printing hundreds of thousands of leaflets.

Representing himself as a candidate for change, he vows to change the leadership style of the party, to stop highlighting what they have done or opposed in the past and to create a “Good Society.”

Scottish Labour has been the fiercest critics in regards to the SNP policies on education, but admits the electorate no longer trust them.

“The fact that we have got 140,000 fewer college students is a direct result of decisions taken by this SNP government,” said MacIntosh.

“The difficulty there is we have been opposing those but people aren’t listening to us, they’re not trusting us.”

The MSP added it is crucial for Labour to work with the SNP, and believes “there is no logic” blaming them for the Higher Maths exam, which left some pupils in tears over its difficulty.

He said: “If we take every single issue like that, and say it’s all the SNP’s fault because they’re bad people, then what happens is when we come to make a genuine argument, such as the lack of college places, people don’t believe us because they think we are being too political.

“Your key here is the young people who have worked really hard and had a disastrous maths exam and they think their future is affected by that.

“You have got to work out how do you help them – you don’t help by shouting at the SNP – and for those who can’t get a place at college, how do you help them? That’s the priority.”

Labour are still to elect a leader for Scotland – or the UK for that matter. Whilst in Scotland a united front is beginning formalise, three out of the four leaders are publicly slating Deputy Leader, Harriet Harman for supporting the Conservative’s welfare cuts.

To gain a good education requires hard work, support from those around you and a determination to succeed. Leadership is very similar.

It is going to take at least a few more years before Labour can recover from their fall from grace.