Like all political nerds, I’ve got a huge number of different threads swirling round my brain at the moment. The second shock general election result in as many years has thrown us all, and we’re once again utterly perplexed by our own country. So I’m sticking some of the things I’m thinking about on here, to clear them from my own brain as much as share them with others. Since I’ve got quite a lot of these thoughts, I’ve got some Scottish ones and British ones. Let’s do Scotland now, Britain later.
Where did all they Scottish Tories come from?
There’s been a lot of shock at the number of Tories we managed to elect. Tories! In Scotland! Heaven forfend! The reality is, of course, that Scotland has always had Tories. The glorious 20 years of invisibility for the party at Westminster elections here was never really justified by their share of the vote. Even at their 2015 low point – and it’s hard to imagine a mere 2 years ago was their lowest point – a proportionate share of seats would have been about 9.
Scotland’s smug progressive identity was always built on a rubbish electoral system. The much bigger presence of Tories in the Scottish Parliament and at Council level, both of which feature proportional representation, was evidence enough of that. What mostly happened yesterday was the Tories rode their carefully cultivated anti-indyref wave back to seats they had once held for decades.
Compare the map of 2017 to the map of 1992 – the first General Election of my lifetime. The seats the Tories held then aren’t so very far off those they won this time. Sure, they are missing much of the North East and the Borders; but you only need to go back a couple of elections to see they once held them too. Those SNP strongholds which fell – Moray, Angus, Banff and Buchan – came from the Tories. They’ve just went back. Which leads neatly on to my next chunk…
Being a National Party Ain’t so Easy
Although some of the SNP’s significant loss of votes can be attributed to events specific to this election – the resurgence of Corbyn’s Labour, the Tories constant anti-indyref drum, Brexit consequences – the reality is that the chances of replicating 2015 were quite slim. For the brief period of 2011-2016, the SNP’s dominance of Scotland was very, very different to the Labour dominance that preceded it.
Where Labour’s stonking vote shares and lions share of seats were the result of incredible majorities in the central belt, rural Scotland largely eluded their grasp. By contrast, the SNP won everywhere. In 2011 Bernard Ponsonby summed up the shock majority result with words to the effect of “the SNP are now truly the national party of Scotland – the party of urban and rural, north and south, east and west”. In 2015 that was reinforced by winning 56 of the 59 seats, a feat Labour never came near to matching in their hegemonic era. But to be that kind of national party, the coalition of voters you have to attract is enormous.
By 2015, the SNP voter base combined the die-hard independence true believers with No voters scunnered with promises made and not kept and decades of Labour complacency. It paired the pro-business, but not anti-state, right with moderate social democrats. Even many of the myriad strains of socialism, newly converted to independence, fell in behind the SNP. From fishing villages to post-industrial council schemes to leafy suburbs, the SNP corralled everyone into their big tent. But you can’t keep every one of those disparate interests happy all the time.
I think in large part the timidity that many have noted – including those within the party itself- in the SNP’s governance since 2011 and particularly 2016 rests on the fact they decided to try. But in trying not to put off some of that support from the right by touching income tax, many on the left have gotten disgruntled with the reluctance to use new tax powers to protect public services. In making council tax a tiny bit bit fairer, some of the folk in nice houses weren’t very pleased with their new council tax bills anyway. In opposing Brexit, the SNP alienated people in Buchan, whilst Bearsden wasn’t very happy it was apparently causus belli for IndyRef round 2. It’s no surprise some of their voters sloughed off to the Tories whilst others plumped for Labour.
The question for the SNP now is – where next? Which of the seats lost and seats threatened matter more, and how are they won back and protected? Gunning for Moray probably requires a policy track that waves a permanent goodbye to Midlothian. Whilst reclaiming Kirkcaldy means they can kiss goodbye to Kincardine. Attempt to meet both in the middle and prepare to see further seats fall to either side.
You Can’t Eat the Constitution
A recurring theme in the run up to and since the independence referendum has been “independence first, we can do that later.” Whether “that” is vote for the Greens, or implement specific policies the individual definitely agrees with but isn’t backing now, it has been the go-to refrain of a certain section of the independence movement. Everything must be laid to one side in our glorious march to a new nation, and all trust must be put in the SNP that until then everything they do is the best option. Of course, I disagree vehemently with that, especially when demands for progressive taxation to fund public services are met with that dismissal. There is no point in Scotland becoming independent if on the way there we allow, through sheer stubbornness and some of that timidity I talked about above, the vital services we all rely on to be cut away to ribbons.
The big Tory resurgence has now given the pro-Union side their own equivalent. Whilst much Tory support has been in their traditional areas, there is also a large chunk of it across Scotland which is purely anti-independence. People who haven’t been convinced – may not even particularly care – about Tory policies on tax, welfare, education or healthcare but for whom preservation of the Union takes precedence over all. But we all know the Tories are out to reduce the size of the state, which is a jargon way of saying make life harder for everyone but the wealthy. Is keeping Scotland in the Union truly worth the steady erosion of our schools, our hospitals, and our basic financial safety nets? Could you really not vote Labour, or even Lib Dem?
Regardless of our individual views on the constitution, we must move past this kind of nonsense. If you want to vote SNP or Tory because you genuinely believe them to have the best policies, fire in. That’s perfectly legitimate. But don’t thirl yourself to a second-preference party for the sake of independence or union. The constitution can’t pay bills or feed children. It won’t nurse you through ill health or give you an education. If you want a better Scotland, a fairer Scotland, then regardless of your constitutional preference vote for the party you genuinely believe best placed to deliver that Scotland starting now.