Ewan Aitken: A lesson in new politics of Scotland

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I have been fighting elections since 1982 but nothing I have learned in those 30-plus years prepared me for tonight. To watch my friend Sheila Gilmore, one of the hardest working MPs in Westminster who was genuinely committed to the community she represented, be so comprehensively defeated was both painful and an object lesson in the new politics of Scotland.

Time have changed in ways that need deep reflection from those of us whose political journey is with Scottish Labour. It’s a change that has not happened overnight and it’s happened for many reasons, some deliberate, some accidental but all very real.

Politics has always been about identity – who speaks for us is a statement of identity as much as it is a statement of ideology or class. But that political identity is now no longer driven by class or tradition. It’s local and global, personal and prophetic, about values more than class, about where power lies as much as what power does. There is no doubt that the SNP have ridden this wave of change well, not least in the person of their new leader. At one point yesterday at three doors in a row I met young women, previously Labour supporters now inspired by the SNP’s new leader’s words which seem to speak to them.

Yet all is not over for Scottish Labour. We may have lost many seats but we still have many supporters for whom what we stand for matters, for whom we are their voice.

Obituaries are premature. Our journey with them continues and with them our ability to shape the change in Scotland begins. Ian Murray’s win is one such example.

For now, Westminster will be a very different place, in good ways and in bad. But, without denying the winner in Edinburgh East anything in his victory, it will also be the poorer for the loss of people like Sheila. Her commitment to be first and foremost a community campaigner, committed to fighting for her constituents and be a genuine representative voice, is a standard of what it is to be an MP and is something that in this time of change I hope will not be lost. Especially in the face of, as seems likely, another five years of Tory austerity where the excluded will continue to be stigmatised, blamed for their circumstance and economic policy will focus on the needs of the rich.

If anything needs to change it is that influence of that ideology on to part of our nation.

n Ewan Aitken is a former Labour leader of Edinburgh City Council, who was writing before all results were declared.