Pole’s eye view: newcomers neglected by Scottish left?

Casting a critical eye over the radical left in Scotland, Konrad Rękas ask why they are not more welcoming to migrants

Since I first came to Scotland six years ago, I have tried to find answers for two questions which hit me in local politics. First, why native Scots – despite of all their enormous social sensitivity, openness, psychic impregnation against racism that means natural leftism, unique in the West – do not vote either for the Scottish Socialist Party or for the Socialist Party Scotland (nor for any other even the most interesting initiatives like Solidarity – Scotland’s Socialist Movement). Second, why neither approach newcomers like me.

I understand that this is a strategic problem of the true left in Scotland, but as a new Scot, an immigrant from Eastern Europe, I am interested not only in the causes of this phenomenon, but also in the hermetic nature of Scottish socialism for the newcomers like me. Very often we are and remain just at the bottom of the social ladder as a part of the new working class. So, we should be a natural recruiting ground and base for Scottish socialism, fighting together for an increase in the minimum wage, resources for the health service, nationalization of public transport and lot of other issues that directly affect our wallets (which are the main motive for our immigration). But, while you can find Polish or Hungarian supporters of the SNP – some of them are even SNP activists or present in the ‘Yes’ movement – you’ll also find a lot of new Scots that prefer to vote Labour or LibDem (or even Tory) than engage on the side of authentic Scottish Left.

One of the reasons for this situation is the social experiment carried out since the fall of the Eastern Bloc in 1989. As a result of this transformation, neo-liberalism has gained almost total exclusivity in shaping the consciousness of Eastern Europeans. But after 30 years of listening to the proverb that ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’ which we just have had to wait for rather like the people of Israel led by Moses through the desert to the promise land, we have been caught in the trap of medium economic growth and low wages. This means that we new Scots have become refugees from the dictatorship of the neo-liberal paradigm.

Hence, coming to the West and now working here for some time, we are beginning to realize that, for example, unions are not public enemies as we were taught they were in our former countries. We have also come to understand the true spirit of capitalism when an employer order us to clean their property for another day with the same old cloth and with just water because s/he ‘has’ to pay for their new Porsche and does not intend to buy any new cleaning materials. Unfortunately, still too few of us are able to translate this growing socio-economic knowledge into political conclusions.

In 2014, I read the Tories’ leaflets warning (in good Polish!) how dangerous independence would be for our workplaces. Since then SNP and the ‘Yes’ movement have attempted to find common language with immigrants. And on a certain level of perception, the equation ‘Scotland’s independence = European Union = a free labour market’ may be enough to respond to the new needs of the new Scots. However, even though the SNP has already won the majority of votes of these immigrants who decide to vote, it seems it has in the long run little to offer them. The economic crisis stemming from the pandemic has already started to give proof to that. Of course, majority of us support independence and Scotland is our home. But what if again we are in another desert led by another Moses?

Recent polls, giving SNP around 47% of support are impressive. But who needs such results a year before the election? Great, 54% of respondents in the summer of 2020 want independence – but we know, that there will be no referendum this year, and the higher the polls, the more certain that Westminster will never let us to vote again in a referendum. The science of sport knows of the phenomenon of overtraining too quickly to obtain championship form.

Yes, the First Minister makes a very good impression in England during lockdown. But what for? Does she really believe that someone will give Scotland independence just because the ‘Scottish way’ of fighting the coronavirus seems to be better? No, no one will do so. You do not get given independence – you have to take it for yourself. And an even more important issue is that the struggle for the life and health of the nation is really marvellous but as long as we cannot introduce our own employment-shields and support programs, and need to ask Westminster for additional money for the Scottish NHS, the so-so soft-social-democracy of the SNP builds the greatest possible trap for our economy and its own self-determined policies. Yes, I know that emphasizing the limited Holyrood legislative competencies is a proven practice of ‘Yes’ agitation. But that in itself is not enough because what if some naïve newcomer asks ‘why haven’t you introduce more progressive tax system?’ or ‘we had our land reform just after the Second World War, haven’t you heard how to do that here?’

We are Scottish working class – Polish, Romanian and Hungarian cleaners, chefs, waitresses, builders and drivers. We work in the devastated hospitality sector, in the wounded retail sector and just after the words ‘furlough’ and ‘80%’ – we can hear mainly ‘redundancy’ now. So, is there anything different, what Scottish Left would like to say to us in this brave new world of the ‘new normal’?

Konrad Rękas is a Polish born but living in Aberdeen journalist and columnist who is active in the Aye Aberdeen movement, chair of the Polish YES for Scotland Association. In Poland, he was the former speaker of the Lubelskie Province Regional Assembly and adviser to farmers’ unions.