Why Orcadians vote Lib Dem
I see people online incredulous that people in Orkney (and Shetland) continue to vote Lib Dem.
I don't know about Shetland but I will try and give you my take on Orkney.
In doing this I mean no disrespect to any person living in Orkney that votes Liberal Democrat. I have to make that clear at the outset, because I would expect my analysis to be mischievously misconstrued as an insult to Lib Dem voters.
This is an attempt to explain some of the social factors and influences that affect the views and decisions of people voting Lib Dem in Orkney.
It is my personal view as a female social observer from an embedded position in one part of the community and longevity of exposure to many parts of the community over fifty years.
Here are the main factors - historical political context - social pressure - societal structure - and islandness.
The Lib Dems split form the (Tory ) Whigs to become the Liberal Party ( when ordinary people still didn’t have a vote) and before the birth of the Labour Party. In crofting communities land tenure was feudal and the Liberals, through the Napier Commission, got secure rentals for crofters. This was the first time a political party did anything for the landless poor in Scotland.
There has never been a trade union history here. Over the years crofting has declined as small crofts have been subsumed into larger farming units. The Labour party was never a party focussed on the needs of crofters - because it grew from the industrialised cities for different reasons. The Liberals have retained a place in the psyche of the farming community for what they did in terms of land rights. Some voters today will know the actual history of their allegiance to the Liberal party, but as voting passes down in families from father to son (gender deliberate; patriarchy is a different issue), the actualities have turned into a general voting 'comfort blanket' that the Liberals are 'for ' the farmers. Little policy analysis is required and no one really challenges that 'feeling'. The actual position of the Liberal Party as a force at Westminster has been impotent since the rise of the two party Labour/Conservative dynamic (other than their dalliance as coalition partners with the Tories). What cannot be forgotten is that the Liberals historically are an offshoot of the Tory Whigs.
In the 1900s, Liberal and Tory politicians came from the ranks of the posh, owned large companies or were the landowners who simply moved into political power. The attitude of the dependent tenant is to look at the landlord with a mixture of private scorn and envious awe. Basking in their reflected glory as they become a party leader in a safe seat might just rub off a bit on you too and give you a feeling of secondary importance. Despite that, the crofters who accumulated land to become bigger farmers, can still harbour the residual memory, that its best not upset those who held power over you because it remained within living memory the absolute power that could evict and force emigration on a whim.
In Communities where you cannot organise collectively (where there are factories), you have to put up with your lot. You have no strength in numbers. The power of landowners of the past was that they could turf you out of your house and land. The entrenched memory of that power imbalance does not disappear quickly. Even if you had tenancy rights your ease through society was through compliance with the unspoken norms of your 'superiors' who were those landowners and the church. The MPs of the past were drawn from the landed, the wealthy and the privately educated. Their entire demeanour and accent consolidated their social superiority or 'cleverness' and emphasised your own 'inferiority'. So began the complexion of MPs and inherited voting patterns that consolidated the norms of the once absolute feudal superiors. Speaking out about injustices meant 'getting above ' yourself. You must survive in a community full of unwritten dos and donts. This rural community is a network of in and out- groups. These are social psychology definitions of how groups operate by reaffirming group identity through those who are in and out of the group. The rigidity of those groups is greater in small communities that in urban settings. Not to 'fit in' risks alienation where there are few other groups you can gravitate to. For some, adopting the 'house view' of the in-group ensures you still fit in and are accepted.You are safe.
The power of unsaid rules in small communities is enormous. It extends well beyond political thinking to attitudes to domestic violence and sexuality. The loneliness of alienation is also extreme.
To live here is to either gird yourself to say and do things that run against the unwritten compliance norms of the dominant in-groups or say nothing and keep your head down. When you speak out in this community you can expect to face discrimination. At one time this meant your son(gender deliberate) might not get a reference from the minister, a casual word in the ear of an employer would deny your son an apprenticeship and conversely if you amplified the unsaid norms and views, your path and your families’ would be made easier. This continues up to the present day where the informal chats in the margins of the local authority chambers will damn or elevate someone despite a rack of policy documents on the shelves. Local government voting is well ingrained as a personality contest rather than objective policy analysis gifting carte blanche to individuals without accountability, who go on to rubbish the ‘party’ system of the mainland in a prime example of bunker in-group funtioning . There is no history of policy examination at local authority or other democratic levels.
Island-ness is simple - water cuts you off from everyone else. You actively have to seek a path away for the island if you want literally to 'broaden your horizons' through meeting eye to eye with others. Cancun does not count as broadening horizons. The merchant navy has always taken people away from the islands. Those who go away to live and work return with changed views. Right back to Hudson's Bay - those seamen saw different cultures ,ways of thinking and ideas. For those who cannot leave or are disinclined to do so the revolving cycle of the tight island in- group continues to retain its psychological and social grip on those who remain. Remember they have to fit in as alienation is so much worse.
Today you will still hear nativist racist views expressed from people who have no experience of rubbing shoulders with any other cultures other than their in group. Very often local social media platforms amplify these views and uncover how uninhibited they are among the culturally under-exposed in-group population. This nativist reaction then chimes easily with the xenophobic tropes used by politicians with their own agendas.
The island psyche of the underexposed in-groups is very slow to change.
In the 60s and 70s when times seemed a lot more innocent, everything in Orkney, apart from farming techniques, was 20 years behind 'the mainland'.
Island-ness socially means you don't see the good and bad on the mainland, you don’t serendipitously stray into a pub where there is a different currency of banter and discussion. You are not walking past the beggars on Buchanan street daily. Your conscience is not pricked. The poverty in Orkney is hidden from the 'Allright Jacks’.
Islands have a romantic lure and appear to those who can afford to buy a life style and parachute into their construction and concept of a 'community' that fictitiously erases all the ills of society. These people have no inkling of the things I have described above, they are happy to have bought a relatively cheap house with a nice view and often want to replicate in their imagination an island or village life that exists nowhere in reality. increasingly they buy multiple properties and supplement their professional pensions from renting out on Airbnb. They dont want to see what they have 'got' threatened or the idyll into which they have bought sullied by acknowledging the realities of rural poverty deprivation, unaffordable rents and homelessness.
There are those too who know all of this and agree with the position of voting Liberal – that it is in fact a non vote for a party that can do nothing except prop up the status quo of monarchy, the house of lords and the established elite but its’ not quite voting Tory. Some see themselves as ‘North Falklanders’.
To reiterate, this is not a criticism of voters, it is an analysis – in a time where language is loose and habitually distorted, views taken out of context, that difference is key. Voters are products of the complex environments and influences to which they are exposed no more and no less.
In Orkney it is changing and the change is led by the young people. They are much less frightened of challenging the norms than their parents.
And that is good.