Friday, February 20, 2015

The Independence Lens

After the referendum in September, I was pretty happy to leave the debate in the past. Indeed, I said, "Alex Salmond said that this should settle the issue for a generation; David Cameron said it should settle it "maybe for a lifetime". I'd actually go further than that: unless something dramatically changes - ... - this should basically settle the issue forever."

No such luck. It appears that, for the foreseeable future, everything in Scottish politics will have to be viewed through an Independence Lens, and since Scotland is one of the keys to the General Election (the others being the questions of how well UKIP will do and how badly the Lib Dems will collapse), that means that by extension much of UK politics falls into the same area.

Part of that is inevitable. In UK General Elections, only one of the three "Yes" parties has any real footprint - the SNP. That, coupled with the fact that the SNP government has been mostly providing mostly competent governance for eight years, makes it pretty easy for "Yes" voters to decide how to vote.

But for the "No" voters it's rather more tricky. Because the Tories are a non-event in Scotland, and the Lib Dems are about to join them, which leaves Labour as the only alternative to the SNP. But can Tory voters really bring themselves to vote tactically for Labour? And, indeed, can they do that in the knowledge that that most certainly does make a Labour government more likely?

And it also doesn't help that Scottish Labour is, sadly, utterly woeful. Their campaign has largely been built on comments about the oil price (which would indeed be a concern had the vote gone the other way, but as things are it comes across as unseemly glee at lots of people losing their jobs), the "Vote SNP, get Tory" line (while the Tories are simultaneously saying "Vote SNP, get Labour"!), and a catastrophic attack on the Scottish NHS based on "mis-read" numbers.

And so in many areas, "No" voters have a tough choice: vote for a pro-independence SNP, waste your vote, or vote Labour with all its warts. Not pleasant.

But what worries me is what happens after the result comes in? And, in particular, I'm concerned about the case where Labour are short of a majority, could form the government, but only with SNP support in some form.

The thing is, I am actually genuinely uneasy about the SNP being part of a UK government. I genuinely believe that it is the job of government to run the country in the interests of all the people - not some favoured clique, not some pressure group, not a particular region, not just for their voters, and not even for the majority. As such, it's actually inappropriate for a pro-Scotland party to have disproportionate influence if that means the rest of the country suffers as a result. (That said, a Labour or Tory majority government is liable to operate disproportionately in the interests of big business in London. So if the reality is that my choice is between us or them being favoured, I'll choose "us", thanks.)

But, as uneasy as I am with the prospect of the SNP being involved in a government (be it a coalition or some other arrangement), I'm much more worried about the possibility of Labour not doing that deal. Because if Labour refuse and thus force another election, or they enter a Grand Coalition with the Tories, or they cooperate with the Tories to allow the largest party to form a minority government, then they're saying that the democratic voices of the people of Scotland don't count for anything - it we won't vote for one of their approved choices, they'll simply marginalise the choice we do make.

(And there's another scenario that concerns me as well. It's very likely that the Tories will get 0 or 1 of the Scottish seats, the Lib Dems 1 or 2, and Labour and the SNP will divide the remaining 56-58 between them (in any configuration). But what, then, if we end up with a government that doesn't include either Labour or the SNP, be it a Tory minority, a Tory majority, or a Tory/Lib Dem, Tory/UKIP, or Tory/LD/UKIP coalition (or whatever else I've forgotten? The current coalition is able to face down criticisms about its mandate to govern Scotland because it has 11 Lib Dems as well as 1 Tory, but if that drops to 2 Lib Dems then that's a much harder sell.)

So, the only arrangement that doesn't fill me with constitutional angst is if there's a Labour majority and Labour somehow hold on to a majority of the seats in Scotland. Which I really can't see happening. And, given my opinion of the current Labour party (both in Scotland and in the UK as a whole), I really hope doesn't happen.

It's a huge mess. And I fear it's going to get worse before it gets better.

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