GE 2015: what happened in Scotland?

As you can imagine, as a non-SNP supporter in Scotland, whose excellent, experienced Lib Dem MP (who I’d dealt with a lot over the tuition fees debacle), who was prepared to go against party whip for his constituents if required, has been replaced by a 23 year old career politician (for whom politics is in the family) who has been filmed saying he will never vote against the party, I am feeling a little like politics has died. However, my personal feelings aside, here’s what’s happening here in Scotland, and how much the rise of the SNP really has to do with independence.

The SNP have been out to destroy Labour’s support in Scotland since the referendum last September. The cries of ‘red Tories’ and ‘Liebour’ (even with the most left wing Labour leader in 40 years!) have been loud for months. It was accepted by most of Scotland that certainly Glasgow and the majority of the central belt at least would fall to the SNP. I think the SNP managed to outdo even their wildest hopes with the result they achieved, though.

However, that sentiment of Labour not being left enough (regardless of truth) has been pervasive, and has turned many stalwart Labour supporters to the SNP. A decent proportion of No voters also voted SNP, on the belief that the SNP would push for Scottish interests in a Labour government, as Sturgeon has repeatedly claimed.

However, the voices since the result have been mixed. I’ve heard ‘I wouldn’t have voted SNP if I’d thought the Tories would win’, ‘Labour is as dead as the Tories in Scotland’, ‘now we have a mandate for UDI’, ‘it doesn’t matter how Scotland votes anyway and didn’t affect the Tory win, so why not vote for a Scottish party rather than a branch office?’, and of course the Lamentations of the Left, who see the rejection of old style left wing Labour by the Scots as pushing a move back to middle-England-pleasing centrist politics and the legacy of Blairism.

What do I think? I think communication has gone out the window and fear is rife. The English electorate see voting in the SNP as an anti-English move, when it is an anti-Westminster parties protest vote (think UKIP, but generally left wing and progressive, with an actual record of arguably successful government). The Scots on the other hand see the anti-SNP rhetoric spun by the mainstream UK media as being anti-Scottish thanks to criticism of our chosen representatives, and the Scots are well known for being stubborn (or as we say, ‘thrawn’) as hell and determined to have what we’re told we can’t. Ultimately, both sides are perpetuating the division that Scotland voted against in September.

So the political picture here is an odd one. It’s been historic; jubilant for some whilst desperately sad for others; there is the threat of nationalism but more so there is hope for the socialism that Scotland desperately believes in.

Personally, I’m heartbroken, and have just joined the Labour Party ahead of next year’s Scottish elections so that I can cast my vote for the new leaders of Labour and Scottish Labour. I guarantee that a different result will be seen next year – no FPTP means Scottish government is much more representative than Westminster, thankfully, and 50% of the vote will produce closer to 50% of the representation. If Labour can pull themselves together and find something worth standing for again, they might even start to make a comeback.

The SNP got just over 1.45 million votes on the 7th of May. The losing Yes campaign in September got over 1.6 million. So support for independence has absolutely not increased in real terms. And the SNP MPs have made it clear that they are not pushing for independence with this result. Except for Alex Salmond. But he’s a bit fishy anyway.

I don’t think they will either. Ultimately, they lost in September – why try again until they have increased their popularity, and the support for independence, or else they start to become a running joke and lose the real momentum that they have gained.

Wait until 5 years of a majority Tory government has hammered Scotland.

Regarding the role the SNP will take in Westminster itself: thanks to the Tory majority the SNP can only be part of the opposition at best, and more likely only unofficial opposition bench seats rather than shadow government. So in actual fact, they have very little actual say, other than filling the role they already fill on Scotland’s eyes of shouting a lot at the Tories. Unfortunately, a role as the opposition rather than the smaller party in coalition government will probably increase support for them – a role in government would have thrown up their mistakes, rather than their objections, and would have forced them to accept responsibility. Look what it did to the Lib Dems. However, England was having none of it – and may have done more harm than good.

So what happens next? The SNP will soon realise that flouting parliamentary rules on applause and photography are about as much rebellion as they can create, and Labour will have to analyse what the SNP are providing for the people of Scotland that they aren’t – and quickly. Personally, I’d love to see a split of Scottish Labour from the main Labour party, and Scottish Labour becoming an affiliated party like the SDLP in Northern Ireland.

But we may yet see another referendum before we see that.

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Talking about politics…

I hate repeating such over used media phrase, but it’s true: the 2015 General Election was historic. Not only were the polls shockingly misrepresentative of the public feeling, but Scotland threw a pretty big spanner in the Westminster works. However, there is another phrase that has been bandied around excessively, particularly by the Nationalists that now overwhelmingly represent my country in parliament, that irritates me even more: ‘Scotland’s voice’ will now be heard.

I’m fairly certain that Scotland, with it’s huge class, culture, economic and ethnic disparities, has more than one voice. A twenty-something living on benefits in Easterhouse has a very distinct voice from a pensioner in Morningside, as does a middle-aged oil industry engineer in Aberdeen, and a farmer in Perthshire. So how does one party represent all of us – whether that be the SNP, or, previously, Labour?

I’ll give it to the SNP that they certainly try to. Whilst political commentators argue over whether the SNP are left wing, right wing, socialist or capitalist, I think it’s safe to say that they are populist: they pick a set of policies to appeal to the widest range of voters. So that’s a council tax freeze to help out the poorest people – that then means less funds available to the council, and less public spending, which is decidedly not in the interest of the poor. Free prescriptions, allowing those who need long term medication a huge financial break – but, being non-means tested and therefore every citizen in Scotland has their prescriptions funded by the government, it is resulting in a funding squeeze leading to privatisation of other parts of the health service. A bit of a mixed bag, really, once you start to look closer.

However, the crux of the matter is that people don’t look closer. Scotland has always been tribal – Catholics vs Protestants, Rangers vs Celtic, Highlands vs lowlands, Scottish vs English, Labour vs Tories – and Yes vs No, separatist vs unionist, and SNP vs Westminster have become those new tribes. And the SNP have done very well to get on the winning side – so well that Labour is left still sitting gawking. But the SNP didn’t win the election because of their manifesto, or what they stood for: they won it because they are good at picking up on the mood of the people, and using it to their advantage.

The problem with the tribal aspect of Scottish politics is that is is a direct foil to the claims that politics is becoming more accessible and stimulating debate. It most certainly isn’t. Not unless being shouted down as a Quisling, or a right-wing English invader (not that there is anything inherently wrong in being right wing, or English, but when you are neither the labelling becomes frustrating to say the least), or an idiot who believes the lies of the biased media when you question the SNP or independence is considered ‘accessible debate’. In fact, both sides spend most of the time personally insulting the other, and very little sensible debate or challenging opposition to party politics is happening.

So, as a young Scot who is interested in policy not party, representation not repression, and a Scotland that is as diverse as the whole of the UK and where we share far more across social stratas than nationalities, I would like to say one thing in reply to Sturgeon and Salmond’s talk of being ‘Scotland’s voice’: I’ve got my own voice, thanks. And I want to talk about politics.