Referendum battle puts Scottish Labour on backfoot

 Old loyalties are being shaken up in the campaign for Scotland`s independence referendum -- and the Labour party is feeling that more than most in its industrial heartland.

AFP| Last Updated: Sep 12, 2014, 08:45 AM IST

Edinburgh: Old loyalties are being shaken up in the campaign for Scotland`s independence referendum -- and the Labour party is feeling that more than most in its industrial heartland.

In places like Cumbernauld, a new town outside Glasgow built in the 1950s to house a rapidly growing overspill, support for Labour has ebbed and pro-independence ranks have swelled.

"Yes" campaign supporter Stephen McGrath said he felt "betrayed" by Labour as the opposition party`s leader Ed Miliband visited this week in a bid to bolster the unionists ahead of a tight vote on September 18.

Miliband "represents nothing here -- the situation here gets worse but they in Westminster do nothing," he said, after the party leader spoke in a local community centre.

The son of a leading Marxist academic who was raised in London and educated at the elite Oxford University, Miliband`s background is a far cry from that of many voters in traditional working class Labour areas such as Cumbernauld.

While many of his policies are more left-wing than those of former Labour leader Tony Blair, who led the party`s modernisation in the 1990s, polls indicate that he often struggles to connect with voters.

Some Labour lawmakers argue that former foreign secretary David Miliband would have been a better leader than his brother, after a string of gaffes which have fuelled Ed`s image as a political geek.

When the Labour party leader came to Scotland with Prime Minister David Cameron, Scotland`s First Minister Alex Salmond said they were part of a "Westminster elite" who were "in a state of absolute panic" over the independence vote.

Polls suggest that across Scotland, Labour voters are rapidly moving towards the "Yes" camp, despite their party supporting a "No" vote.

A YouGov survey released Sunday which gave "Yes" a narrow lead said the proportion of Labour voters intending to vote "Yes" had risen from 18 percent a month ago to 35 percent.Cumbernauld is some 20 kilometres (12 miles) outside Glasgow and has regularly been voted the ugliest place in the United Kingdom.

The town centre is a crossroads overlooked by a gigantic shopping mall, giving it the feel of an airport.

"It`s all about the shopping centre here. It`s not very sexy," said Ben Higgins, as he sipped a beer in the mall, which locals compare to a creature from the sci-film "Alien."

The town of 50,000 people has been compared to bombed-out Kabul and its shopping centre to "a rabbit warren on stilts" but it was once a thriving place.

The town was designed as a worker`s ideal and was the backdrop for the much-loved 1981 Scottish film "Gregory`s Girl", a coming-of-age romantic comedy.

Industrial decline has hit Cumbernauld hard and the unemployment rate now stands at 9.5 percent compared to 7.3 percent for Scotland as a whole.

Disillusionment with Labour is rampant, as was shown in the 2011 Scottish Parliament election in which three-time local lawmaker Cathie Craigie lost to Salmond`s Scottish National Party (SNP).

Her support fell by 13.7 percent to 40.1 percent, while the pro-independence SNP romped home with 53.8 percent of the vote.

Miliband in his speech was scathing about former Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher`s free market reforms in the 1980s, still deeply unpopular in Scotland, and talked about the need to defend social welfare.

But he argued that a "No" vote in the referendum came from the "head, heart and soul".

"I think the independence proposition just doesn`t add up on social justice," he told the community centre.

In the audience, Labour supporter John Brownlie agreed.

"I found him very convincing, this has always been Labour territory and it still is," he said.

"But people are concerned. There is a lot of unemployment here."

Fellow Labour backer Elizabeth Hay said the solution was not to switch to the pro-independence camp.

"They keep talking rubbish and promise kingdom and heaven to the people and many believe them.

"I`m starting to get the jitters," she added.