The View Up North: Radcaster
We sent Eddie MacGuire to speak to voters in Radcaster, a northern English marginal constituency, about what they want to see in the next leader of the SNP
A CUT ABOVE: Cassie, a hairdresser from the Radcaster constituency on the border of Lancashire and Yorkshire, is not impressed with the SNP. (Jean Salminen/Bazake Media)
As the Scottish National Party (SNP) prepares to elect a new leader to succeed Nicola Sturgeon, the stakes are high for the future of Scotland and the UK as a whole. The SNP has been a major player in Scottish politics for decades, advocating for independence from the UK and pushing for progressive policies such as universal healthcare and affordable housing.
But who should be the next leader of the SNP? To find out, I visited Radcaster, a marginal constituency in the so-called Red Wall that narrowly voted Tory for the first time in nearly four decades in 2019, to speak with voters about their opinions on the matter.
First up was Margaret, a retiree who moved to England from Glasgow several decades ago. She expressed concern that the SNP was becoming too focused on independence and losing sight of other important issues such as education and healthcare. "I think the next SNP leader should be someone who can unite the party and bring a fresh perspective to the table," she said.
Margaret was softly spoken and I didn't actually immediately realise she was Scottish. I felt oddly embarrassed as I interrupted her flow to confess to my error and that I really wanted to speak to English voters. I moved on to the next vox pop.
I spoke to Pete, a recently graduated student who had moved to Radcaster from the south of England to live with his girlfriend, expressed confusion over why Scottish independence was even being considered. "I don't understand why they would want to leave the UK. We're all British at the end of the day," he said.
My next interviewee, who preferred to remain anonymous, was a call centre nightshift supervisor wearing a custom printed stag weekend t-shirt that read 'My Friends Say I Look Like Neil Kinnock On Crack'. They admitted that they didn't have much knowledge of the SNP or the independence movement. "I'm not really sure what they stand for, to be honest," they said.
I then spoke with Tim, a buy-to-let landlord who seemed to be a bit confused about Scottish politics and geography. At first, he was enthusiastic about discussing his views on the SNP leadership election, but it soon became clear that he was not entirely sure what he was talking about.
"I think they should pick someone who's going to stand up to those Irish guys," he said confidently. When I pointed out that the SNP was a Scottish political party, not an Irish one, Tim looked confused.
"Oh, right. Scotland. Ireland. Same thing, isn't it?" he said, laughing. Despite his confusion, Tim remained upbeat and eager to share his thoughts on the matter.
"I reckon they should pick someone who's not afraid to get tough with those Scottish people. They need to know who's in charge," he said.
DEPRESSED: Radcaster's once booming high street. "The town never really recovered from, what was it called, the company that make that Gumbond Denture Adhesive had a factory here until 30 years ago or something," explained new Tory MP Chad Bosewick. (Jean Salminen/Bazake Media)
Another local resident we spoke to was William, a retired woodwork teacher originally from Birmingham, who had some interesting ideas about what the SNP needs in its next leader. William believes that it's time for the SNP to have an English leader. "I think it would be a good thing for the party to have an English leader," he said. "It would show that the SNP is a truly inclusive party that is open to all."
William added, "The Tories have just got an Indian prime minister and they're all racists, so I don't see why the SNP can't elect an English leader."
However, not everyone we spoke to had such nuanced views on the SNP and its leadership. Cassie, owner of the Kassie's Kutz hairdressing salon, furiously assumed that the SNP was something to do with former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
"I don't know much about the SNP, but I know they're a bunch of commies," she shouted. "And I wouldn't trust that Jeremy Corbyn as far as I could throw him. He's a Soviet spy, you know."
As we continued our vox pops in the key marginal's high street, we spoke to Samantha, a young journalist who initially shared her views on the SNP, but then surprised us by revealing that she was working on an almost identical story for a rival news outlet.
"I'm actually covering a similar article for The Guardian," Samantha said with a delightful smile. "It's really interesting to hear different perspectives on the same issue, and I think it's important to hear from a diverse range of voices in order to truly understand the issues at play."
We also spoke to Barbara, a retired nurse who shared some deeply personal and surprising views on the SNP.
"I don't trust the SNP," Barbara said. "They've been running our local council for years, and they've made my life a living hell. They keep changing the bin collection days, just to harass me. It's all part of their anti-English agenda."
After I tentatively suggested that the SNP don't run the local council, Barbara's expression became more intense, like a wild animal stalking its prey. I could almost taste a feral staleness on her breath, as if she had recently feasted on raw meat.
She leaned in and whispered threateningly, "Listen and understand. I know what I've been experiencing, and it's not just me. Other English people in this area have also felt the brunt of the SNP's anti-English agenda. They're always putting Scottish interests first and treating us like second-class citizens."
As Barbara continued to share her views, it became clear that she felt very strongly about this issue and truly believed that the SNP was not only running the council, but actively discriminating against English people in her community. She expressed frustration that her concerns were not being taken seriously and that people "like you [me]" were dismissing her experiences.
It was at this moment that something very important occurred to me. Who am I to travel up here, from London of all places, and correct the subjective lived realities of these hardworking, honest, well-meaning folk?