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Meet the Labour politician who bucked the trend and beat the Scottish National Party

Backers of a progressive alliance are deeply misled, warns Daniel Johnson. 

“No one expected me to win,” said the Labour MSP Daniel Johnson, as he settled down in one of his constituency’s signature coffee shops. “The odds were 20-1 at the start of the year.”

Johnson is the Labour politician who bucks the trend. He won his seat in May 2016, one year after Scotland’s Labour MPs were all but wiped out by the Scottish National Party. Not only that, but he snatched it from a Nat, Jim Eadie. So how did he do it?

“If there is one lesson my victory offers, it is Labour needs to be a little bit smarter in tying its message to different people,” he said. “We very carefully considered how to pitch the national Labour message. “

Johnson’s Edinburgh Southern constituency is one where streets are lined with sandstone Victorian villas, where shops sell artisan coffee and rye bread, and girls in private school kilts stop for ice-cream on the way home.

Nevertheless, the former local businessman managed to sell Labour’s flagship policy, a 50p income tax rate. How? “Investment in local schools,” he said. “And a message about responsible government.”

There is, of course, another reason Edinburgh Southern plumped for Johnson – independence.  While Scottish Labour is officially against an independent Scotland, there is an active Labour for Scottish Independence group, and a widespread view that the party could change its stance.

“I addressed it early on,” Johnson said. “I made it clear I wasn’t in favour of a second referendum.” But he admits it is the “axis” of Scottish political divides. “We have to move it on from there. But by default, that is what it will be.”

Indeed, despite a mood of exhaustion among Scottish Labour campaigners, the referendum issue will not go away. After the UK as a whole voted for Brexit, Scots found themselves the outliers – every single council area voted Remain. As they digested the result, a Survation poll found 54 per cent of Scots wanted independence.

“The conclusions people draw from Brexit are really important, especially in Scottish politics,” Johnson said. He believes Scots will see the Brexit fallout as a test case for independence: “The SNP have a very, very hard job to convince people that independence is a sensible choice.”

Nevertheless, the SNP is still the party in power, and remains Labour’s deadliest rival in the battle of the door knocks.

Johnson, who is backing Owen Smith in the Labour leadership campaign, sees similarities between the SNP’s success and that of New Labour.

 “They are very pragmatic and they definitely believe in occupying the centre ground,” he said. “But what they are much smarter at is having very clear, signposted policies.

“If you ask people what the SNP have done, they will be able to tell you. Free university tuition. Abolishing tolls on bridges.

“New Labour wasn’t good enough about being clear about what it delivered.”

In Tory-ruled England, desperate dissenters may be dreaming of a progressive alliance uniting parties of the centre-left. But Johnson is scathing about the idea.

“On so many levels the idea of a progressive alliance with the SNP is very misadvised,” he said. “It totally misunderstands what the SNP is interested in. The SNP doesn’t want to govern the UK; it wants to split it up. And they want to achieve that by bashing Labour in Scotland.”

Another idea floated is that of a separate Scottish Labour party, free to transform itself as the Scottish Conservatives have done. But Johnson is visibly frustrated by Labour politicians who give up on the idea of reclaiming Scotland.

“If they think like that, where does it stop?” he demanded.  “The reason we are in this situation now is not at all different from the threat from Ukip. It is essential similar groups of people leaving Labour because of dissatisfaction with mainstream politics and looking for an alternative. “

He blames complacency on Labour’s most metropolitan MPs: “It is a London problem. If you speak to people in other parts of England they will recognise the sentiment.”

More than anything, he wants Labour to move on from the constitutional questions that threaten to unbalance it and focus on economic inequality: “Labour at its best it is about transforming people’s life chances.

“Until we can get back on to talking about how we can make real economic, we are going to find it very difficult.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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I’ll miss the youthful thrill of Claire’s Accessories – but the tween Mecca refused to grow up

From an adolescent rite of passage to struggling to stay open: how the tackiest shop on the high street lost its shine.

The first day I was allowed to go into “town” (hailing from rural Essex, that’s the local shopping centre, not London) with a friend – unsupervised by a parent – was a real cornerstone of my childhood.

We were 13, and looking back, we had neither mobile phones nor contingency plans, and my mum must have been sat at home for the entire two hours scared shitless, waiting for when she could pick me up again (by the Odeon carpark, 3pm sharp).

Finally free from the constraints of traipsing around department stores bound by the shackles of an adult, my friend and I had the most grown-up afternoon we could imagine; Starbucks Frappuccinos (size: tall – we weren’t made of money), taking pictures on a pink digital camera in the H&M changing rooms, and finally, making a beeline for tween Mecca: Claire’s Accessories.

As a beauty journalist, I’m pretty sure Saturdays spent running amok among the diamante earrings, bow hairbands and fluffy notebooks had an influence on my career path.

I spent hours poring over every rack of clip-on earrings, getting high on the fumes of strawberry lipbalm and the alcohol used to clean freshly pierced toddlers’ ears.

Their slogan, “Where getting ready is half the fun”, still rings true for me ten years on, as I stand on the edge of dancefloors, bored and waiting until my peers are suitably drunk to call it a night, yet revelling in just how great my painstakingly applied false lashes look.

The slogan on a Claire's receipt. Photo: Flickr

On Monday, Claire’s Accessories US filed for bankruptcy, after they were lumbered with insurmountable debts since being taken over by Apollo Global Management in 2007. Many of the US-based stores are closing. While the future of Claire’s in the UK looks uncertain, it may be the next high street retailer – suffering from the surge of online shopping – to follow in Toys R Us’ footsteps.

As much as I hate to say it, this is unsurprising, considering Claire’s commitment to remain the tackiest retailer on the high street.

With the huge rise of interest in beauty from younger age groups – credit where credit’s due, YouTube – Claire’s has remained steadfast in its core belief in taffeta, rhinestone and glitter.

In my local Superdrug (parallel to the Claire’s Accessories, a few doors down from the McDonald’s where we would sit, sans purchase, maxed out after our Lipsmacker and bath bomb-filled jaunt), there are signs plastered all over the new Makeup Revolution concealer stand: “ENQUIRE WITH STAFF FOR STOCK”. A group of young girls nervously designate one among them to do the enquiring.

Such is the popularity of the three-week-old concealer, made infamous by YouTube videos entitled things like “I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS CONCEALER!” and “FULL COVERAGE AND £4!!!”, no stock is on display for fear of shoplifters.

The concealer is cheap, available on the high street, comparable to high-end brands and favoured by popular YouTube “beauty gurus”, giving young girls a portal into “adult life”, with Happy Meal money.

It’s unlikely 13-year-olds even own eye bags large enough to warrant a full coverage concealer, but they’re savvy enough to know that they can now get good quality makeup and accessories, without going any higher than Claire’s price points.

They have naturally outgrown a retailer that refuses to grow with them; it’s simply not sustainable on Claire’s part to sell babyish items to a market who no longer want babyish things.

Adulthood is catching up with this new breed of teenagers faster than ever, and they’ve decided it’s time to put away childish things.

Tweenagers of 2018 won’t miss Claire’s Accessories if it goes. The boarded-up purple signage would leave craters in shopping centre walls soon to be filled with the burgundy sheen of a new Pret.

But I will. Maybe not constantly – it’s not as if Primark has stopped selling jersey dresses, or Topshop their Joni jeans – it’ll be more of a slow burn. I’ll mourn the loss of Claire’s the next time a pang of nostalgia for blue-frosted shadow hits me, or when it’s Halloween eve and I realise I’m bereft of a pair of cat ears. But when the time comes, there’s always Amazon Prime.

Amelia Perrin is a freelance beauty and lifestyle journalist.