As many will know, I’m not a member of the Scottish National Party, but of the Scottish Greens. I shall be actively campaigning for the Greens in the Holyrood 2016 elections, but in the meantime, I am very happy that the SNP appear to be doing rather well in the polls – something of an understatement! – and I hope for a substantial SNP contingent going to Westminster after 7. May. The so-called “Scottish Labour” party (neither Scottish, nor Labour, in my view), who have had the most Scottish MPs at Westminster for many years now, have not served Scotland well.
During last year’s referendum campaign, the British nationalist/unionist/No campaign used several names for themselves, but the key one was ‘Better Together’ and was in fact the registered name of the campaign. The substantive argument was that Scotland was better as part of the UK. The Better Together website appears to have been taken offline now, but I wrote a longer blog about their arguments in 2013.
In the meantime, one might be forgiven for assuming that Better Together was an entirely altruistic affair – it seems Scotland would be Better Together with the rest of the UK, but rUK is not Better Together with Scotland. After all, what else could explain the spate of stories that have emerged from English politicians and writers decrying the possibility of Scottish voters sending lots of SNP MPs to Westminster? For example, this week we have former Conservative PM John Major (whose government, as you may recall, was such a good example of shamefulness!) telling Labour leader Ed Miliband that ‘it is shameful that Labour hasn’t ruled out a pact with the SNP,’ whilst in another right-wing newspaper, Max Hastings is being driven crazy by ‘the terrifying prospect of the Scots ruling England [that] is now all too real… [it’s a] nightmare scenario facing Britain after the Election.’ It’s not just those on the right arguing this: the Labour Lord Lewis Moonie (incidentally, I always think ‘Labour Lord’ should be an oxymoron, but…) said he’d ‘rather have a coalition with the Tories than the SNP.’ Meanwhile the coalition that was at the root of Better Together is being revived by Labour and Tories, who are co-operating to counter ‘the current nationalist threat.’
Hastings’s piece is of particular interest to me on various levels, much as I am repulsed by it. There is much to critique, but let me just pick up one line. He writes: ‘Like the French and Greeks, the Scots seem immune to rational argument about their circumstances and prospects.’ This is a particularly telling part of his article. It is classical Orientalist discourse: by describing others’ irrationality, our rationality becomes clearer. Scotland is being treated as a barbaric periphery, against which the civilised metropole must be defended (a few years ago a colleague wrote a book describing precisely this phenomenon, with the title Discourse on Civility and Barbarity – perhaps Hastings should read it?). It is ironic that Hastings lumps together Greece (origins of the first democracy), France (arguably the first modern state following the 1789 revolution) and Scotland (home of the Enlightenment in these islands). His own ignorance is revealing.
If, as seems likely, Scotland votes for a large number of SNP candidates and the SNP play a role in forming or enabling a government of some kind in Westminster, it will be one of the few times since World War II when Scottish votes make a difference at Westminster: in general, Scottish votes have not changed the outcome of Westminster elections, so that effectively, rUK has got the government it voted for (except on three occasions: in 1964 a Labour majority of 4 resulted from Scottish votes, otherwise the Tories would have won albeit with a majority of 1, and the government collapsed after 18 months anyway; in the second 1974 election, Labour won a majority of 3 on the basis of Scottish votes, but in the end formed a pact with the Liberals so wouldn’t have need Scottish votes anyway; in 2010 Scottish votes meant the Tories couldn’t get an overall majority without a pact with the Liberal Democrats, resulting in the present incumbents; incidentally, I suspect Wales hasn’t voted Tory too often, so actually, Westminster generally reflects English votes).
Surely, having Scottish voters’ wishes respected in a Westminster parliament is exactly what Better Together wanted, isn’t it? Or did Scotland misunderstand the parties when they argued for being ‘better together’ – perhaps they meant the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats are ‘better together’? Or perhaps they meant we’re only ‘better together’ if we vote the way they want us to: we should be obedient colonial barbarians, just as Hastings wants? But, but… that’s not quite what most of us thought we were being told…
The only reasonable response to be made to the kind of nonsense now being peddled by British nationalists/unionists is to say loudly and clearly: ‘Get over the referendum, please – that was last year! You wanted us in the UK – well, we’re here, and you have to respect our votes.’
Incidentally, I note that whilst I was mocked on social media for suggesting some form of Labour-Tory alliance at Westminster (in November, in December, and then more flippantly in January), this is undoubtedly being discussed as a serious possibility, as the links above suggest. As I said in November: ‘the Yes campaign members were not the only ones to have collaborated closely – the No campaign also worked closely together: I, for one, will never forget the “Labour” and Tory parties at the Stirling count early on 19.9. celebrating Stirling’s No vote together – who is to say that kind of cosy arrangement doesn’t herald greater cooperation in other contexts? (Incidentally, it amazes me that few on the former Yes side seem to think this is important.)’
Ed Miliband is not stupid enough to go for a formal alliance with the Tories, but if the votes pan out in such a way that Labour decide to form a minority government rather than an alliance with the SNP (the SNP have said they won’t ally with the Tories), I think it’s safe to assume there will be informal agreements between Labour and Tories about not allowing the government to fall in case the wicked Scottish Nationalists gain in influence. If that happens, so be it: that’s part of the FPTP system. However, the British nationalist/unionist parties should bear in mind that this will further the argument for radical reform of Westminster – and Scottish independence.
Addition, 7.3.15: as if to make the points I’ve outlined here even more dramatically, here’s the cover story of today’s Independent: