Tuesday 19 March 2024

Humza Yousaf's last stand


It feels like the phony war before an inevitable blitzkrieg in the Autumn which will bypass the Maginot line and attack both the Conservative Party and the SNP causing the one to retreat to Dunkirk while the other gets stranded in France like the 51st Highland Division, forced to surrender giving it a grievance for the next 70 years. But there will be no little boats to rescue the Conservative Party this time. Conservative voters are sick of its failure to stop other little boats. The SNP similarly is going to be punished for its inability to deliver to its supporters and will find itself looking out from behind barbed wire. There is nothing much that either party can do now anymore than those who faced blitzkrieg in 1940.

I have come to the conclusion that people like me who write about politics and people like you who read about it have a very limited influence on political events. It isn’t to say that political campaigning is pointless nor is to say that individuals can’t make a difference, but what really decides elections is forces beyond the control of political parties.

I remember after the 2014 referendum there were some of us who thought if we can defeat the SNP by 55% to 45% why don’t we work together to defeat the SNP at the General Election. It was all very clever. “No” voters would use our majority in each seat to defeat the SNP candidate. We’d win everywhere except certain parts of Dundee and Glasgow. Instead, we were defeated in all but three seats. The result had already been decided on the day of the referendum. The price we paid for decisively defeating Scottish nationalism in September 2014 was a decade of SNP dominance. It was worth it of course.

For a long time, it felt as if the situation was permanent. I would make arguments against both the SNP and Scottish independence, but it was damage limitation. The SNP were always going to have 45% of the vote and were always going to win the General Election or the vote for Holyrood.

I don’t at all think that making these arguments was pointless. If there had been no opposition to the SNP, we might never have reached the point where its support began to fall.

People like you and me making arguments against the SNP did not cause whatever it was that happened last year, but we provided the foundation and the necessary condition to exploit it. If we had all given up in 2015 after losing all but three of the seats there would have been no fightback this year.

But just as we were powerless to stop Scottish nationalism winning nearly all of the seats in 2015 so now Scottish nationalism is powerless to stop the SNP losing half of its seats and more this year. Elections are decided by mood or if you like swing. They are decided by people who would never read what I write, nor who pay much attention to the news and who are unaware of the details of day-to-day politics.

The Conservative Party is going to be destroyed because it gave Conservative voters hope about Brexit, the economy and maintaining the character of Britain in the face of unlimited migration changing the country beyond recognition. It dashed those hopes and Conservative voters will now either stay at home, vote for someone else or even vote Labour because it could not be worse and might be better.

So too the SNP gave Scottish nationalists hope that the result in 2014 could be overturned and independence achieved despite “Yes” being decisively defeated. This was always unrealistic. The independence referendum was only granted by David Cameron in the first place because just like with Brexit his sense of posh entitlement meant that he couldn’t conceive the possibility that he might lose.

But after 2015 it became obvious that a second referendum on independence was a coin toss and so we inevitably arrived at the Supreme Court decision which said Scotland had no democratic right to a second vote and that Holyrood could not legally legislate for one. It left the SNP with nowhere to go.

I still don’t know why Nicola Sturgeon resigned last year. It could be that she realised that independence wasn’t going to happen or had dreamed of a blue tent in her garden. Even if the SNP won all of the seats at a General Election and more than 50% of the vote the British government could still say “No sorry you have no legal right to a referendum.” This left rebellion, UDI or some other nonsense that wasn’t even close to having majority support in Scotland.

Scottish nationalism is soft and selfish. If you everything stays the same after independence as now and maybe we get to keep all our oil or all our something else and if someone pays me a bit more to do nothing then I’ll vote for it, but don’t ask me to stop using the pound, don’t ask me to stop watching the BBC and don’t make me show my passport at the border.

I don’t think it was Sturgeon’s resignation, nor the campervan nor indeed Humza Yousaf that caused support for the SNP to fall. It was the general sense that independence wasn’t going to happen, and that the SNP had kept promising a second referendum when it had no power to deliver it. Promising a second referendum became like promising to stop the dinghies.

Ordinary Scots who supported independence at least theoretically were willing to overlook SNP incompetence and scandal because they hoped for something better afterwards, but if there is going to be no afterwards why keep voting for a party that isn’t running Scotland particularly well and whose leadership were now being investigated by the police? Why indeed?

Once you accept that independence isn’t happening then the choice becomes vote Labour and kick the Tories out or vote SNP and get what? Nothing whatsoever.

The SNP has had nearly all of the Scottish MPs since 2015 what exactly have they achieved? I can’t think of a single thing that those SNP MPs have done. They stand up every now and again and ask questions. They demand a vote on Gaza. But how does that help Scottish voters?

But thirty or forty Scottish Labour MPs would be part of a Labour government. Some of them may be in the cabinet.  They just might be able to change things in the UK. They might make a mess like the Conservatives did, in which case we will vote them out next time, but it is better to vote for someone who might make life better than to vote for an SNP MP who we already know will achieve nothing.

It isn’t as if voters follow all the details, but there is a wisdom in crowds that understands the essence of the issue. It is for this reason that swing will like a wave wash away both the SNP and the Conservatives.

Of course, we have to continue to campaign and make good arguments. We have to point out that getting rid of the SNP involves voters thinking about who has the best chance of defeating the SNP in each constituency. All of this is part of the wave and the effort that each of us makes may make a difference here there or everywhere. Everyone has a role. Campaigning is not pointless. Who knows where it will make the crucial difference.  

But the force that will obliterate both the Conservatives and the SNP is beyond all of us, which is why both are in retreat, surrounded and facing annihilation.

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