For some, leaving or joining a political party is like choosing what to have for tea at night. Changes in leadership, policy or dare I say it, electoral defeat causes some to ‘jump ship’ into the arms of another party. For others, membership of a political party is about finding a home.
For me, joining the Labour Party wasn’t a conscious choice, in truth I never really had a choice. I grew up in a Labour home, brought up with a family who on both sides through generations were all Labour voters, members and/or activists. I never imagined being a member of any other political party than Labour, it was my home. I first campaigned for the party at 8 years of age in the 1992 General Election, I remember writing a speech in a first year modern studies class and causing a scene when the teacher assigned my group as the Tories, I refused to take part until she changed us to something else (Monster Raving Loony Party was all that was left.) The nerve I thought, that Labour could ever associate with the Tories.
Joining the party in my late teens was a natural progression, In my student days I tried to get involved with the students association of the party. I met with the chair of the students at the time Michael Marra (Jenny’s big brother) and attended a debate on independence with a few others in the group. By the end of the meeting I never associated myself with them again. I heard their grand plans for research jobs then parliament, their obsession with hating the Nats, although none of them were quite sure why, worse was the denigration of anyone's opinion who wasn’t wearing a suit and tie. An old boys club which had no relevance to the lives of those the party was created to represent.
The unfortunate reality was that this did not solely refer to a jolly boys club at university, rather this was becoming the acceptable face of New Labour. In fact by the time I had joined the party, it was no where close to representing what Labour values actually stood for. The reason I joined was that I still believed in the values and principles that led to the creation of the party, that created the Welfare State and the National Health Service. Looking back it’s clear I believed in the party that my grandmother told me about, not the party I was a part of. Of course I had no knowledge of this at the time.
In the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, I seriously considered resigning from the party and joining the Scottish Socialist Party... Yet I couldn’t. Despite my contempt for the governments actions; to leave the party would be to walk out on my home. No matter how unsuited we were I still held on for the past and stayed within Labour ranks.
It should be noted that while the New Labour team held the grip of power in most branches and CLP’s there were and still are some real Labour members in the party, who stand up for what the principles of Labour really are. It is a shame that this number continues to dwindle.
Despite being a member of the party I had always supported independence for Scotland. I did so, not as a nationalist but rather a believer in a nations democratic right to self determine it’s own parliament. I began Labour for Independence as a Facebook page to see if anyone else shared this opinion. I was amazed at the growth and development from a social media platform to a political organisation. I am immensely proud of the work that we did. Our message was simple, vote yes and you can have a real Labour Party back, one that returns to it’s founding principles of fairness, social justice and equality. In the end 38% of Labour voters agreed with us, (up from 9% when LFI was formed).
Throughout the two year campaign we (LFI), were slandered and abused by ‘comrades’ within our own party, decried an ‘SNP front, and treated as traitors by a great many within our own party. They did this through fear, through an understanding that they were in the wrong but couldn't help themselves be anywhere but where they were. Any time they debated with us, which was seldom, they lost. With even good socialists like Neil Findlay unable to mount a logical defence of the union regarding trident.
Yet this is not why I left the Labour Party, In the campaign we had Labour leaders call us a ‘something for nothing society’ that we are not ‘genetically programmed to make our own decisions.’ We have seen our so called comrades high five Tories at counts. Some, like the new Labour Branch Leader of Scotland, Jim Murphy hugging Tories in Clydebank of all places. Thoughts instantly sprang back to that classroom and my refusal to be labelled as a fictional Tory.
But for me personally the final straw was seeing Johann Lamont outside Asdas smiling for a picture because they had announced to raise prices in an independent Scotland. What a vile act for someone claiming to be Labour, let alone the leader of the party. Regardless of her voting preference the fact she should take enjoyment out of rising prices that will effect the poorest and the working class the hardest is unconscionable.
So with a heavy heart, I resigned my membership of the Labour Party. To do so also meant resigning as Co-Convenor of Labour for Independence. For me there was an incredible sense of sadness and loss when I resigned. More than that I needed a new outlet to work, a new platform to continue to campaign. I just didn’t know if I could join another party.
After about a month of phone calls with Colin Fox, speaking to the local branch organiser and second guessing myself, I signed the membership form to join the Scottish Socialist Party. For some this would be nothing. But for me joining a party other than Labour still seemed strange. Even after the first couple of meetings I still wasn’t sure if it was the right fit. I attended the SSP conference and was asked to speak. I was worried I wouldn’t be accepted within the party, that the Labour name may have me be seen as an outsider. I needn’t have worried. I was welcomed as a friend and comrade.
It is still at times strange no longer being part of Labour, but more so, it is rejuvenating. I am now part of a party where I actually agree with current policy rather than the past. I am now part of a party whose two leaders, Colin Fox and Sandra Webster, I both respect and admire. Do I agree with everything that we do as a party? No, but I know more than most that no party is ever perfect. With the SSP I can argue my case and it will be considered. Political thought is not a hand grenade within the party like it was with Labour. We are an eclectic group of socialists who unite behind the interests of those we were formed to represent. The SSP is rising again and I am immensely proud to be a part of it.
When I think back to the Iraq War, when I nearly joined the SSP. I think, should I have taken the plunge then? I’m still glad I didn’t. If I had then I would never have worked with the great comrades in Labour for Independence. More than that I would never have had the full belief that Labour is not my home anymore.
Independence in Scotland was the last opportunity for a real Labour Party. It was the last chance for Labour. If I wasn’t still a member I might not of realised it. Many others in the party also realised it that day, those good comrades who kept fighting, realised it was over when Jim Murphy got elected as new leader in Scotland.
My home is now in the Scottish Socialist Party, I am a socialist and there is no other place for me to be and no other place that I would want to be. If my great grandparents, or grandparents were me... I know they would have made the same choice.