Sunday 5 April 2015

Is there an ideal result for Scottish UK supporters?

For most Scots campaigning to keep the #SNPout the most important, indeed the only issue in Scottish politics is defeating the SNP. The experience of the referendum changed us. We saw it as a threat to our country’s existence. Unfortunately that threat has not gone away. The SNP still intend to try to break up Britain at their first opportunity. Stopping this has for many of us become our prime political goal. It is far more important to me that my country remains intact than either Ed Miliband or David Cameron become prime minister. But having said this, is there an ideal General Election result for us besides keeping the number of SNP MPs as low as possible?

During the independence campaign I quite often reflected that it would have been far better if we had had a Labour Government. If Gordon Brown had won the election in 2010 or alternatively had formed a coalition with the Lib Dems, our argument would have been much easier. The nationalists frequently argued for independence on the grounds that Scotland voted Labour and ended up with a Tory Government. They continually pointed to the fact that there was only one Tory MP in Scotland. Naturally we were able to point out the counter argument that in every democracy there are always parts which vote differently to the whole. But the basic fact that Scotland votes one way while the UK votes another was a powerful argument for independence supporters. So what if over the next few years there was a Labour Government in Westminster? Would this make it more or less likely that Scotland’s place in the UK was threatened?

Part of the reason for the whole independence movement developing has been the fact that the UK economy went through a major crisis in 2008. Those parts of Scotland that are doing reasonably well economically tended to vote No, while the poorer regions tended to vote Yes. If the whole of Scotland were more prosperous, it is likely that support for independence would fall. People are much less likely to vote to change their nation state if their own personal financial circumstances are improving. The UK economy is on the mend. The important thing is that this process continues.

Both Labour and the Conservatives have deficit reduction plans and accept that the UK has to live within its means. Labour plans to reduce the deficit somewhat more slowly than the Conservatives, but then again the Conservatives have ended up reducing it more slowly than they originally intended back in 2010. In itself this does not matter much. Financial circumstances, which are impossible to judge right now, will anyway determine how quickly the deficit can be reduced.

In the short term there is one major difference financially between Labour and the Conservatives. The Conservatives plan a referendum on EU membership, while Labour does not. Given that many businesses are worried at the prospect of the UK leaving the EU, it may be that a Labour victory would help business confidence and decrease uncertainty. The EU is changing whether we like it or not. It may therefore be that the whole debate about whether to leave or remain in the EU will be overtaken by events. A strategy of wait and see what results from this change may be in everyone’s best interest.  No-one can guess what the EU will be like in 5 years’ time, so there is an inherent uncertainty in either voting to remain or in voting to leave. The SNP would moreover attempt to use any difference in the way Scotland voted in an EU referendum from the way the UK voted as a whole as a means of splitting up the UK. It could therefore be argued that a Labour Government would spike their guns on this issue.

In point of fact the UK’s leaving the EU would make Scottish independence less rational rather than more so, but putting this point to a Scottish electorate drunk on the heady brew of nationalism would not necessarily be successful. The UK bad EU good motif is accepted as dogma by large sections of the Scottish public/media and therefore an in/out EU referendum could be explosive in Scotland.

A Labour majority at Westminster then looks like a fairly good result for pro UK Scottish voters. Even many Conservatives, caring more about their country than their party, might see the prospect of 5 years of Labour Government as well worth it if it makes it harder for the SNP to break up our country. The major difficulty is that Labour is highly unlikely to win a majority. If the SNP win anything like the number of seats in Scotland that the polls predict, it would simply be impossible for Labour to obtain an overall majority. It would be unlikely indeed that they would win more seats than the Conservatives.  Furthermore, if the SNP were to win the vast majority of Scottish seats, they would still be able to make the argument that Scotland votes one way (for the SNP) while the rest of the UK votes another. Scotland would still get a Government that it didn’t vote for. Naturally this is an unfair argument, as the SNP only stand in Scotland. But when has the unfairness of an argument ever stopped the SNP. It may be reasoned that given that many SNP supporters are ex Labour voters they would still prefer to see a reasonably left-wing Labour Government, especially if it was dependent on SNP votes. Would such a situation make it more or less likely that Scotland becomes independent?

If a Labour Government dependent on SNP votes would put the independence argument to bed, even I would be willing to think this dependence might be worth it. It could then, after all, be pointed out that Scotland voted for the SNP and got a Government dependent on SNP votes in parliament. SNP votes would have influence at Westminster. SNP votes decide matters not only in Scotland, but across the UK. The idea that the way Scotland votes doesn’t affect decision making in the UK would be proven to be false.  If the SNP’s success made Scotland’s position within the UK more secure, even I might consider voting for them. But would it?

The problem is what the SNP would demand as the price of their support. They would demand ever higher public spending, to the tune of an extra 180 billion pounds. They would no doubt demand that any further austerity only applied to the non-Scottish parts of the UK. They would demand ever more powers for the Scottish parliament while they themselves were able to in effect rule England.

With hindsight the route that Labour went down all those years ago of creating asymmetrical devolution looks like a long-term strategic error. This error is being compounded by giving Scotland ever more devolution, while England gets none.  The UK parties promised to give more devolution to the Scottish parliament, but the SNP even though they were a part of the Smith Commission which agreed these powers immediately expressed dissatisfaction. They wanted more. Labour have now said they will make a “Vow plus” and give still more powers to the Scottish parliament. But does anyone seriously think the SNP will be satisfied. This is just feeding a troll. The SNP don’t want devolution. They want independence and will take each new power until devolution collapses into independence. What is needed now is a comprehensive UK devolution settlement which is fair to everyone. But that is not going to come from a Government that depends on SNP support to pass legislation.  The SNP want the unfairness to continue, because they know it destabilises Britain.

The problem for Scottish UK supporters is that any Government that depends on SNP votes is liable to have to make concessions to the SNP which will make independence more rather than less likely. The SNP would use any influence it gained at Westminster to further its only political goal. It would seek to heighten division in the UK and create resentment in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It would always be thinking of ways in which it could still further weaken the bonds of the Union. Above all Independence supporters are hoping that a UK Government dependent on SNP votes would allow a second independence referendum. They are hoping to put us all through a second campaign as early as 2016. Would a prime minster dependent on SNP votes to pass legislation really be willing to say sorry Nicola you already had your referendum? For this reason it is nonsense to suggest that the General Election in Scotland is not about independence. Independence is and will remain the only issue in Scottish politics for the foreseeable future.

What then is the ideal Government for UK supporters? The prospect of a Government in any way dependent on SNP votes looks like being the worst result of all for UK supporters. The ideal Government must be any that keeps the SNP from even having a sniff of power for they would use whatever influence they could gain at Westminster to wreck the UK. The best solution is that whichever of Labour or Conservatives wins the most seats should be allowed to form the Government. An informal confidence and supply arrangement, between the major parties, could allow such a minority Government to continue. There is no need for a grand coalition.  A minority Labour or Conservative Government would not be able to implement its whole program, but it could continue to help the UK to recover economically without being brought down by a No confidence vote. Above all don’t be held to ransom by people who want to break up our country. Don’t depend on their votes when there are over 600 other MPS who, even if they disagree on much, agree that the UK should continue and should prosper together as it has for centuries. Hardly anyone however, appears to think that such a sensible arrangement is possible in the UK, even if something similar is possible in Germany.  We’d prefer to wreck our country rather than take steps to protect it.

Pro UK supporters in most of Scotland have no choice but to vote Labour as Labour are the only party that can keep the SNP out in all but 17 seats. But anything is better than the prospect of a Government dependent on SNP MPs. The danger for Labour is that if voters in other parts of the UK see a vote for Labour as a vote for the possibility of a Labour Government dependent on SNP votes, they will vote for anyone but Labour. After all, the one thing that guarantees that the SNP won’t have any influence at Westminster would be a Conservative majority. This would not be an ideal result for Scottish UK supporters. The SNP want a Tory Government and as I keep saying “Always do what your opponent least wants”. Moreover, we would be faced once again with the Scotland votes left England votes right argument.  But any party, or combination of parties, with an overall majority that is not dependent on nationalists would be better by far than the SNP having any influence on Government.

If you like my writing, you can find my books Scarlet on the Horizon, An Indyref Romance and Lily of St Leonards on Amazon. Please follow the links on the side. Thanks. I appreciate your support.