Two weeks in, and it is already clear that this is going to be a challenging General Election for the SNP. They have been incumbent in Holyrood for a very long time now – ten years old is ancient for a government -and there is some tiredness and creaking of ministerial knee joints creeping in. Also, a strange paradox of their success since 2011, peaking in 2015 in electoral terms, of the sheer profile and impact they’ve achieved in Scottish life , is that they are more truly accountable to the electorate than at any time in the past. Indeed, they are more vulnerable to democratic scrutiny than any Scottish administration has ever been.
This democratic oversight and parliamentary pressure is, despite tribal sensitivities, a good thing overall. Governments in Scotland have never really been accountable to anyone before…being too far away from London to appear on the radar most of the time, and immune to popular pressure at home. A succession of oligarchies have ruled in Scotland (with permission from London) since the Union, and none have ever been especially accountable to a specifically Scottish electorate. Till now.
And the SNP are indeed feeling the immediate pressure. They have an organised, motivated, energised Tory Party focusing the Unionist vote in a way that has never been so electorally coherent as it is now. They also, as of May 11th, have a UK Labour manifesto that may well be attractive to those people on the left in Scotland for whom a socialist agenda underlies the aspiration for independence, for whom the Yes movement is a means and not an end. There may be a disconnect between Corbyn’s vision and the Follow-the-other –lot’s-leader Unionism that Scottish Labour are pursuing, but that is of little importance beside the overwhelming logic, so far, of the General Election campaign as it is playing out in Scotland so far: it is ALL about the SNP.
“All the pressure, and certainly all the vitriol, is going to be concentrated not against the Tories and their lunatic attempt to cancel economic and political reality in a wave of Little England blethers, but against that other “bloody difficult woman.”
If, until a few years ago, the territory of Scottish politics, and its territorial ferocity was all about who was the “REAL” opposition to the Tories, Labour or the SNP, now the governing logic is a fight for who occupies the lead opposition spot to the SNP, the Tories or Labour, with Willie Rennie yapping for attention in the background. All the pressure, and certainly all the vitriol, is going to be concentrated not against the Tories and their lunatic attempt to cancel economic and political reality in a wave of Little England blethers, but against that other “bloody difficult woman.”
None of this feels especially healthy or democratically enlightening. It feels like a rather sick, narrow world to inhabit for the next six weeks. But looking forward, it may well be that the current concentration of furious focus on the SNP on the one hand, and the last chance saloon for any kind of social decency in the UK as embodied by Jeremy Corbyn, may both benefit the Nats in the longer term. For one thing, this is surely peak Tory in Scotland. It will surely be very difficult to recruit and maintain many more angry Union diehards than are being recruited right now, not when Brexit bites, not when the Barnett Formula comes under some serious pressure as tax revenues collapse and inflation surges, as both may well do in the next couple of years. (Why do you think the Tories didn’t want to risk hanging on till 2020 before putting Brexit to the electoral test?).
“For one thing, this is surely peak Tory in Scotland. It will surely be very difficult to recruit and maintain many more angry Union diehards than are being recruited right now, not when Brexit bites, not when the Barnett Formula comes under some serious pressure as tax revenues collapse and inflation surges, as both may well do in the next couple of years. “
As for the hopes for a real change of direction in the social disintegration and polarisation of the UK, these hopes now rest with Labour overturning a huge Tory lead in the opinion polls and forming a government in Westminster very much against their own expectations, let alone probability.
Peak Unionist and a progressive UK in the last chance saloon. While the pressure in the present tense may all be on the SNP, who will inevitably lose some of the seats they won in 2015, historically, the pressure is all the other way. This is on the left and the right, the strongest the forces of the Union look like being for the foreseeable future. Realistically, there was probably never a prospect of the In dependence project taking the next step till the prospect of Tory little England for that foreseeable future stared us balefully in the face. The odds overwhelmingly are that this is exactly the long dark tunnel we’ll be looking into on June 9th. If the SNP feel some pressure from the left in the meantime, and can do an exact head count of the Unionist opposition while they’re at it, this may be no bad thing for them in the long or even medium term.
The next six weeks, however, will be a bumpy, angry ride.