One of the stand out features of the GE 2017 campaign was it’s energy and positivity. In Scotland, Labour not only had a young female leader but had more younger members and women involved in the campaign than ever before. There are lessons to be learnt in how the party unifies and makes sure the party reflects the diversity of the nation it seeks to represent but for a new generation of voters Scottish Labour has begun to look like the future not the retro brand their grandparents voted for. We asked Shonagh Munro to write about the campaign and what the future holds for Scottish Labour and Georgie Harris to reflect on how Labour engaged the youth vote.
Shonagh Munro-This was the election that no one wanted and the result that no one expected. Were the last 8 weeks of minimal sleep, maximum stress, blistered feet and more £3 Meal Deal dinners than I’m willing to admit to, really worth it? Absolutely.
The majority achieved by Ian Murray in Edinburgh South, the record-breaking number of female MPs returned to Westminster and six new Scottish Labour MPs are all testament to the resilience and dedication of thousands of Scottish Labour activists who gave up weekends, evenings and social lives to fight for what they believed in. Over the coming weeks and months, it is vital we do not overestimate the effect of party leaders had in turning out voters, at the expense of underappreciating the work of those doorstep warriors.
Scottish Labour’s message during the campaign was clear and simple. We are the party for the many not the few and our values are those of equality, unity and socialism. We took that message to voters across the country while the SNP continued their self-destructive message of Scottish independence at all and any cost. The narrow mindedness of the SNP over the last 3 years and their inability to listen to what voters want and, more importantly, need ultimately resulted in major losses.
An easy soundbite that has emerged from this election is the claim that ‘Scottish Labour is back’. But this does a huge disservice to all those who stuck by the party in its darkest days. Scottish Labour is not ‘back’ – it had never left. Our elected members both in Holyrood and down at Westminster have, for years, been using their position to shape debate, influence policy decisions and have consistently held both the Tories and the SNP to account as they attempt to implement their regressive and backwards policies.
In Edinburgh, we returned Ian Murray to with an unprecedented yet completely deserved majority of over 15,000 and our efforts slashed the SNP vote share in the other four seats. Edinburgh South’s majority is now twice the size of the largest SNP majority in Scotland. In a number of constituencies, we came a painfully close second in seats where, eight weeks ago, we thought we had no hope. By any measure it was an incredible political achievement.
Whether we will need to wait until 2022 to win these seats or we are thrown back into election mode sooner, the results of this election show that Scotland is ours for the taking and, when and wherever the fight is again, Scottish Labour is ready for it.
Georgina Harris – In the 2015 general election, only around 43% of 18 to 24 year-olds turned out to vote, and this figure was around the same in last year’s EU referendum. Early estimates claimed that over 70% of under 24s had voted in this month’s election, defying the political commentators and Tory ministers who often came out with patronising comments about young people’s lack of enthusiasm when it comes to politics.
Though the actual youth turnout figure isn’t yet fully known YouGov released a survey indicating that 57% of 18 to 19 year-olds, 59% of 20 to 24 year-olds and 64% of 25 to 29 year-olds turned out to vote. While these figures aren’t as high as the 72% originally reported, this is still a great deal higher than in 2015 and in the EU referendum. This can give the Labour Party a lot of hope for the future, as well as being healthy for democracy in general and encouraging for our generation’s involvement in politics. But how did Labour do it?
Two-thirds of 18 to 24 year-olds apparently voted Labour, and obviously in greater numbers than in recent years. It seems that Labour has managed to send out a different message to young people offering something distinct and optimistic. Many commentators have accused Labour of bribing young people, and students in particular, by putting forward policies such as free tuition fees, reintroducing the maintenance grant and the Education Maintenance Allowance, and lowering the voting age to 16. However, there is more to it than that. Labour appealed to younger votes as they ran a campaign of positivity and hope, an entirely different campaign to that of the Conservatives whose campaign was based on fear and ruthlessly attacking Jeremy Corbyn. The Parliamentary Labour Party and members stood united – MPs from Yvette Cooper and Ian Murray to Emily Thornberry and Barry Gardiner worked hard to portray Labour in the most positive light possible, which resonated with young people. I saw so many more previously apolitical people on my Facebook sharing Labour Party campaign videos or sharing links, people who I’ve never seen engage in politics in any way before. Maybe this could have been achieved during the EU referendum if the whole of the Labour Party was united in the same way, something those of us who campaigned for a remain vote had hoped for but which sadly wasn’t achieved.
It seems that politics in this country is undergoing a change – people want something different from the usual “nasty party” Tory politics, and Labour managed to defy all the polls which had predicted a landslide Tory victory. The individual events – getting grime artists and various celebrities like Stormzy involved – may not have made a great difference on their own, but the massive effort Labour made to stand united against an awfully run and negative Tory campaign really managed to speak to young people.
Shonagh Munro was an organiser in Edinburgh South during this election and throughout Edinburgh during the locals. She also sits on the SEC and is the former chair of Edinburgh Labour Students.
Georgie Harris is a student at the University of Edinburgh and is the Woman’s Officer for Edinburgh Labour Students.