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.