BY EFFIE DEANS
The strategic problem with Scottish politics is that there are now three small armies against one large army. The overall numbers are roughly equal, but the SNP can defeat Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives in detail because the opposition is divided.
This problem can be overcome in a number of ways. If either of the Pro UK armies were able to defeat the other two decisively, it would become the only credible Pro UK opposition to Scottish nationalism. But if this were going to happen, it would have happened already. Anyway, even if, for example, Labour and the Liberal Democrats were annihilated, it is at least as likely that their former voters would choose the SNP as the Conservatives.
Scottish Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative voters have differing views on who should form the British Government, whether Brexit was a good idea and all the other issues that divide opinion in Britain.
The SNP by contrast is essentially a single-issue party. It has a left-wing façade because it wants to attract left-wing former Labour voters. It has a Pro EU façade because it wants to attract Remainers and Liberal Democrats. But if the SNP thought right wing economic policies would bring independence closer it would adopt them. If it thought leaving the European Union helped the cause of independence it would adopt this as its policy too. It is a grievance party.
It is never difficult to distinguish between a Sturgeon with a grievance and a ray of sunshine.
The goal of Scottish independence supporters is to get to the first General Election for an independent Scotland. Some think that this would bring socialism. Others think that it would bring social democracy. A few think it would bring free market capitalism.
More SNP voters voted for Brexit than members of any other party in Scotland. Without their votes it is likely that Remain would have won. Some were voting expediently to hasten independence, but others genuinely believe in independence not merely from Britain, but from the EU too.
SNP voters do not care about devolved issues such as health and education. It does not matter to them how well or how badly the SNP run Scotland, because they are voting on the single issue of independence. It is this that turned Labour voters into SNP voters. They believe that Britain made them poor and independence would make them rich because English Tories stole Scotland’s oil and closed down Ravenscraig.
The SNP’s interest in wider British politics is solely to use it to further the aim of Scottish independence.
England votes Tory because English voters do not want a Labour SNP coalition, which would still further exploit England’s lack of devolution. The SNP which caused this situation by destroying Labour in Scotland uses it by exploiting Scotland’s sectarian hatred of Tories.
Hatred of Tories is no longer about Conservative Government policies such as bailing out Scottish businesses and paying our wages. We take the money, but without gratitude or even acknowledgement. The visceral hatred of Tories that sometimes makes Sturgeon demented is based on events of the 1980s that have now entered into folk memory.
SNP voters too young to remember it bang on about Thatcher and the poll tax. But you have to be in your fifties to remember these things first-hand. They happened thirty or forty years ago. It’s like someone in the 1970s saying “Yes, you did. You invaded Poland.”
Don’t mention the Tory.
Scottish Conservatives have a strategic interest in obtaining a Conservative Government, because we don’t trust Labour or the Liberal Democrats to not do a deal with the SNP. Scottish Labour and Liberal Democrat voters dislike Conservatives because they are Tories and because they dislike Boris Johnson and usually oppose Brexit. It is for this reason that tactical voting fails to make much difference in Scotland. A few activists will lend their vote, but not enough to change anything decisively. There is no discussion of the issue on the news and most voters don’t even know about it. The SNP still win nearly all the seats.
Some people have suggested starting a new Pro UK party. This won’t work. Look what happened to Change UK. It has ceased to exist even though it had MPs and massive media attention.
The Brexit Party won a European election that most British people didn’t care a damn about and then went on to win zero seats at the General Election.
If Scottish Labour, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives agreed to merge and if they were given massive amounts of money and press coverage, there might be a possibility of changing things. But they won’t.
How would a single Scottish Pro UK Party supported by people from across the political spectrum vote in Westminster. Would it work with the Conservatives or with Labour? If it worked with Boris Johnson it would immediately be called Tory, but if it formed a coalition with Labour and the SNP, Conservative Scots wouldn’t vote for it again. This isn’t going to work.
What might work is for Pro UK parties in Scotland to work together. If only one Pro UK party stood in each constituency whether for the Scottish Parliament or for Westminster and if they agreed to cooperate with regard to List seats so as to maximise the number of Pro UK MSPs then it might be possible to have the best of both worlds. Detailed polling could give an accurate unbiased assessment of which party had the best chances where.
This is at least worth exploring. But it will go nowhere unless the main Pro UK parties agree. New parties and new political organisations rarely get more than a handful of votes.
Scottish Labour, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives could still have their own policies and the seats they won could still be used to further their own party interests, but by agreeing a joint strategy they could begin to rebuild the unity that we had during the 2014 referendum. If we were willing to work together then, why not now?
The excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.