Friday 9 June 2017

Tipping the SNP out

I’m a Conservative, but above all else I’m a Unionist. Party politics is a matter of ups and downs. Our country is a different matter. I would gladly accept any defeat for the Conservatives if it made our country safer. It looks as if the Conservatives are going to lose their overall majority. But the result in Scotland is beyond all expectations. I’ll take that.

I’ve hardly talked about the SNP during the campaign. This was quite deliberate. Scotland’s place in the UK would only really be secure when we brought ordinary politics back to Scotland. Scottish Conservatives should be battling against Labour and the Lib Dems and vice versa. We should be talking of the issues that affect day to day life, not whether we want to break up our country. Perhaps we are now going to be able to do that.

The SNP have lost their leader in Westminster (Angus Robertson). They have lost the former leader of their party (Alex Salmond). Big chunks of Scotland have turned blue. Scottish independence looks much less likely than it did a year ago. It looks much less likely than it did yesterday.

I remember last summer how Nicola Sturgeon made threats after the EU referendum. Independence must have seemed so close to her that she could almost taste it. But in fact the moment had already passed. I had been arguing for some time that Brexit would make the SNP’s task harder. I think it has turned out to be the game changer.

The UK is still going to leave the EU. All the attempts to stop it have failed. But the fundamental position is this. It makes no sense for Scotland to be in a different trading bloc to the UK. If the UK as a whole leaves, then Scotland must leave too. Moreover leaving the EU is going to be disruptive enough. No-one in Scotland apart from the fanatics wants to add further disruption.

Sturgeon gained the adulation of her own party and was treated like a mini goddess. She gained the cheers and the tears of the faithful who wanted merely to touch the hem of her dress in order to be healed. But it went to her head. She confused the rapture she met from the devoted with support in the country at large. She promised more than she could deliver, she threatened more than was in her power. When she threatened she thought she was damaging the Pro UK cause, but in fact each threat amounted to her digging a hole that became eventually deep enough to bury her hopes.

SNP support is now on the slide. We can expect this to continue. The next time there is an election in Scotland it will be a red/blue battle. The Conservatives and Labour are going to gain in strength over the next few years. It is hard to imagine that the SNP will gain another overall majority at Holyrood anytime soon.

There is a tipping point in Scottish politics. Those Scottish nationalists who supported the SNP because they despaired of Labour winning a majority in the UK as a whole will begin to realise that their best chance of getting “socialism” is to vote Labour. The “socialism in one country” (Scotland) strategy depends on it being credible that the SNP will win independence. Once it becomes clear that voting for the SNP won’t bring independence, then it becomes obvious that Scottish voters hoping for left-wing politics must look elsewhere. It may well be that we have passed this tipping point. It will take a while for the nationalists to accept this. They may flail around for a while. But I would expect Scotland now to revert to normal politics. Do you want the Left the Right or the Centre? At that point we will be safe.

Nationally the election is obviously a disappointment for the Conservatives and Theresa May in particular. What can be learned from this?

The public don’t like unnecessary elections. They punish those who call them. They don’t like politicians who change their mind. Theresa May kept telling us that she wasn’t going to call an election and then she did. The electorate like politicians who believe in something. Jeremy Corbyn has convictions. Theresa May, on the other hand, sat on the fence during the EU referendum. She campaign for Remain, but without enthusiasm and then seemed to out Brexit the greatest of Brexiteers. Like David Cameron before her she tried to move her party to the centre ground. She put forward policies, like the energy cap, that seemed more Labour than Conservative. It’s not at all obvious to me what she really believes.

The Conservatives need to spend a period of time working out what our party stands for. I think we should be the party of free-markets, low taxation and small government. We should be the party of opportunity and free trade, friendly to business and wealth creation. We should be the party that believes that British law and the British Parliament is the highest authority to which we can appeal. We should be aiming to create business friendly country that puts EU regulations on the bonfire in order to create conditions that help our prosperity and which create jobs. We must be the party that does what the public wants with regard to security and immigration. The party that does what it takes to stop terrorism, whatever that may be. At no point in the campaign did Theresa May really put forward that vision. She did not communicate to the electorate. In this she did worse than Jeremy Corbyn.

What now? It’s early morning. Not all the results are in. Here is what I think. It should be possible for the Conservatives to form a government with the Ulster Unionists. We are very lucky indeed that the nightmare scenario of Labour propped up by the SNP doesn’t look to be possible. There are worse things in life from a Pro UK perspective than having a government that depends on Ulster Unionist votes. At the very least we can be sure that they will do nothing to undermine the Union.

Theresa May should continue as Prime Minister at least until the Brexit process is finished. She should get rid of her advisors Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy. She has been far too reliant on them and their advice has turned out to be flawed. May has been very good on Brexit. Her strategy of No deal is better than a bad deal is spot on. It is the best way to get a good deal. But she must make govern with her cabinet rather than with her chosen few. She must talk to her colleagues rather than keep everyone guessing what she is going to do.

This is far from an ideal result for Conservatives in the UK, but it could have been worse. From a Pro UK perspective it could hardly have been better. Congratulations to Labour and the Lib Dems in Scotland. I have campaigned against you, but I am pleased that you have added to the number of Pro UK MPs in Scotland.

I campaigned for Theresa May because I thought she was the leader best able to stand up to Nicola Sturgeon. Now, given the result, it looks as if we will not need a Prime Minister to say “No” or “Not Yet”. Sturgeon must herself know that Scotland doesn’t want indyref2 and that she would lose such a vote.

Ruth Davidson deserves enormous credit. It might just be time for her to find a Westminster seat.

In some respects I am delighted that a Far Left Labour leader has done so well. Now no-one will be able to claim that the Far Left cannot win a UK General Election. One more push by Corbyn or perhaps an equally or still more Far Left leader and Labour just might reach the promised land of socialism. Having done so well, it is obvious that Labour’s moderate MPs were quite wrong to try to get rid of Mr Corbyn. Far from being a liability, Corbyn Abbott and McDonnell are clearly electoral assets. Labour obviously needs many more MPs and shadow cabinet ministers just like them. Now that the Far Left has triumphed it is time to put New Labour, social democracy and Tony Blair in the dustbin of history. Labour should continue on its leftward path. That clearly now is the route to victory.

A few months ago in Scotland the SNP must have been confident. They must have thought that they would win nearly as many seats as last time. I remember too how Scottish nationalists kept informing me how independence was inevitable. This election was unnecessary. It has seriously damaged Theresa May. But if it makes our country safer it is a price well worth paying. Nothing matter more than the unity of the UK.

The next few days and months are uncertain. What effect will this election have on the Brexit negotiations? Will we have a government that lasts or will there be still another election in a few months or years? Let us hope for five years without another election. But Scotland’s position in the UK is safer than it was yesterday. We have campaigned from differing perspectives, but I would like to congratulate my fellow Pro UK Scots. We may have disagreed and disagreed also on tactics, but we have all done massively better than expected. Breathe a little easier.  For the moment at least we are safe.  Support for the SNP and for independence is falling. I think they just lost their last best hope. Their goal is receding and it is as if they are chasing a setting sun. Run faster my dear Nats and you might just catch it. How long must they wait? Will Alex Salmond see an independent Scotland? Will Sturgeon?  “It may be for years, and it may be forever”. It must be tough to take.