A Tale of Two Defections


A Tory MP decided that his party no longer reflected his political beliefs; left said party to join UKIP (that voice of reasoned and measured political engagement in 21st century Britain). At the by-election triggered by his defection, UKIP achieve their first representation at Westminster with an increased majority in Crapton-on-Sea, thus obtaining the political legitimacy that they have craved for so long. The BNP in suits storm the Big House.


In a far-flung corner of the empire: the Highlands and Islands of the largest geographical region of UKplc to be precise, an MSP who left the SNP back in 2011 when they signalled a policy u-turn and declared their commitment to staying in NATO if Scotland were to choose independence, throws his lot in with the Scottish Greens at the start of their annual conference.

What does all this say about the state of the political landscape?

There are some obvious conclusions that can be drawn from these events: some superficial similarities, but more significantly, glaring differences that underline the huge gulf between the south-east of England and the geographical area formally known as a nation(sure, 307 years ago but still)going by the name of Scotland. There is a gulf between these nations that has existed since the blight of Thatcher in the ‘80s, but has developed into a chasm since the referendum in September.

So, the seeming similarities first of all. Two establishment figures jump ship to join peripheral parties: possibly after a sudden attack of conscience and principles; possibly because they sense the way the political winds are blowing. Either way, their actions do illustrate the general disenchantment felt by the majority of the population, whether they reside in Scotland or England.

However, that is where all parallels end, for although both scenarios involve two people moving from the parties in government of their respective countries, as well as two parties that are often cited as examples of nationalism, these mini-dramas are, in actuality, indicative of why Scotland is not England. Despite the depressing referendum result, it is not a case of UKOK and business as normal. Flux is the order of the day, but what kind of change is afoot?

A dismantling of the cosy neo-liberal consensus that has held sway for the past three decades is underway in Scotland, while a belligerent xenophobic emergence of an English nationalism that will in reality lead to a retrenchment of the established order gathers force down south. When you have a bankrupt political system that panders to an increasingly narrow demographic- defined by marginal constituencies- ordinary people react to this in one of two ways. Complete disengagement with the duopoly that is the political scene either through refusing to vote, or by voting for the faux outsider that is the fag smocking, beer swilling Nigel Farage. Up here we have seen a resurgence of political engagement, as evidenced by the both the SNP- who are, remember, the party of government- and the Scottish Greens who have both trebled their membership. The referendum saw a blossoming of political activism because it was perceived, rightly, as a chance to create a better world: a rejection of the same old, same old lies and platitudes that have been spun by Labour and Tory party alike(the Lib Dems are of course irrelevant) . And despite victory being denied by the closing of unionist ranks, both official and unofficial, the battle is ongoing.

This is why Labour are condemned to, at the very best, form a weak and ineffectual government in 2015 committed to pursuing a monetarist economic agenda (look out for an increasingly shrill anti-immigrant agenda in the wake of UKIP’s success), or, much more likely, they will continue to languish on the peripheries as the Tories and UKIP form a marriage of convenience to maintain hegemony. While up here, Labour is finished and will now join the Tories in the dustbin of history, as we pursue a socially progressive and genuinely egalitarian society. Self-determination is coming: maybe not tomorrow, or the day afterward, but rest assured it is coming.

On joining the Greens Finnie said, “I’ve been a Green all my life; I just didn’t know it.” For a lot of Scots, as the good ship Britannica drifts further and further towards splendid isolationist shores somewhere to the right of Enoch Powell, it’s a case of “I’ve been an (inter)nationalist all my life; I just didn’t know it, ”and Scotland steams ahead to a land somewhere to the left of Jimmy Reid.

Comments (35)

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  1. Scotland is going nowhere……but will become the blueprint for every country in the world to take up and recreate equally.
    To save this planet and all who live on her we all need to share what each country can produce and get rid of money altogether. Each and everyone of us has a unique ability to contribute to the whole. Whatever it is can be discovered when a child is learning to read and write….all children have the right to education but they can’t all be mathematicians. Their natural abilities can be discovered through play then developed as the child grows.

    1. They may say we’re dreamers, but we’re not the only ones.
      Becoming the blueprint for the world is the vision I had of pre referendum Scotland. It is the vision I retain. I hope to live to see it become so.
      Yours is a hopeful vision. May we prove to the cynical how wrong they are.

  2. Juan P says:

    He didn’t defect.

    He had already left the SNP before he decided to join the Greens.

      1. cynical lowlander says:

        But pertinent.

        Like it being reported that labour “won” seats it merely retained.

  3. Gary says:

    The author of this piece writes:

    ‘A dismantling of the cosy neo-liberal consensus that has held sway for the past three decades is underway in Scotland’.

    Really – since when? I must have missed that. Neo-liberalism is firmly embedded in Scottish society and the recent no vote will not lead to a ‘dismantling of any neo-liberal consensus’.

    1. muttley79 says:


      Agreed. It is arguable if Scotland is really egalitarian or not as well. Many of us hope it is, or will be in the future.. However, the article does not really account for the inherent conservatism in Scottish politics.

  4. Fay Kennedy. says:

    Just because something is embedded doesn’t mean it can’t be shifted. Change and uncertainty are unavoidable. No matter how many naysayers there are the Ayes will always be there working for a better way.

    1. Thank heavens that the Scottish people, now truly awake, will show the rest of the world that we will not give up and will fight Tory Britain for a fairer, international country north of Englandshire.

    2. Gary says:

      Yes, that’s true – but wishing to dismantle something is different from actually dismantling it. That was the only point I was making in regards to the article.

  5. Abulhaq says:

    The view from abroad of “rejected independence” Scotland is not a pretty one. Why two million thought sticking with the decrepit and devious status quo a good idea is beyond understanding. Why Scotland should be a species of existential “blueprint” for the “world” is also beyond comprehension. The stuck in a rut elements in Scotland need a good political kicking. In the real world only success matters. That simple lesson is all we need to assimilate. Leave the high minded stuff, reshaping politics etc. until after we have acquired the power to actualise those aspirations. The process of obtaining that power we must now realise will be far from “high minded”. Splits and signs of disunity at this time simply reinforce the image of a people comprehensively stitched up.

    1. Juteman says:

      I agree totally. The British State will exploit any division, and will certainly have people in place to create splits and division. They are past masters at it, and we need to be on our guard for it.

    2. manandboy says:

      Ah, you should have had the brainwashing – you’d think differently.
      2 million no-voters can’t be wrong.
      Or so the Westminster propaganda machine says.

      1. Martin D. says:

        “Leave the high minded stuff, reshaping politics etc. until after we have acquired the power to actualise those aspirations. The process of obtaining that power we must now realise will be far from “high minded”.

        Although I fully support independence I am not sure exactly what you are implying in this remark.
        As a person of principle I find it hard to support a win at all costs outlook on victory. In order to attain independence it seems that some kind of alliance needs to be formed between those who voted for change and those who did not at that time. In choosing, one ought to be careful who one takes on board lest after the coup one finds oneself on the short end of the stick and powerless to attain the kind of society that high minded ideals would have fought so hard for. Or worse yet find that a win at all costs outlook was blinded by it’s own reflection and becomes divided itself and the end of the day.

        If I have misunderstood your sentiment you have my apologies.

  6. jean martin says:

    Sorry but i didn’t find the results of the referendum depressing, disappointing yes but not depressing. the 45% is significant and show the level of discontent in Scotland. This is a huge stepping stone for Scotland and should be lauded.

    1. ronald alexander mcdonald says:

      I agree. Especially as, in my opinion, the official YES campaign was insipid.

  7. snpadmin11 says:

    at least the tory resigned to call a by election; Mr Finnie’s principles didn’t extend to resigning and giving his place to the next SNP member on the list – despite signing a pledge/ commitment that he would do this if he resigned from the party; Finnie doens’t come out well in this – just looks like he’s mooching about trying to find a way to keep his cosy job in parliament.

    1. kept faith says:

      I think it was “Mr Finnie’s principles” that kept him in his seat, remember, the SNP stood on a NO to NATO platform, it was not “Mr Finnie’s that should have been resigning, it should have been ALL the SNP MSPs that voted to join NATO that should have been resigning!!!. Finnie kept faith with those who voted for him.

      1. muttley79 says:

        If all the SNP MSPs who voted to join NATO had resigned, then we would not have been able to hold a independence referendum in the first place. What would have been the point in that?

      2. principles says:

        Its called having “principles”, “Being true unto yourself”.

      3. muttley79 says:


        Not sure I understand you. Finnie was elected on the party list. The SNP democratically changed their policy at conference, after a high quality debate. Why should he resign, when others who voted against it, remained in the party, and continued to pursue their principles? How are these people not as principled as Finnie?

    2. I met John Finnie, indirectly, this weekend at the Scottish Green Party Conference in Edinburgh. I found him to be a man of great integrity. I understand he left his previous party as he felt he had more to offer the Green’ s as their politics are more like his own.

      1. Dinna_fash says:

        I agree, John was a speaker representing the Yes side and that’ll do for me.

    3. MBC says:

      Agree. See my post below about Carswell.

      I think the SNP were cultivating the CND vote in their anti-NATO stance. It got them some votes but lost them the mainstream. I’m not convinced most Scots want out of NATO. It’s been a very successful military alliance. I think it was right the SNP changed their stance on NATO.

      A large number of Scots are concerned about having nuclear weapons on our soil, but even then I’m not sure that the numbers against Trident are what they were in the 1980s when at least 65% were opposed.

  8. Reblogged this on mireillepouget and commented:
    Indeed Labour is already, in panic, joining the rank of xenophobic and demagogic politicians by trying to outdo the right-wingers on welfare benefits restrictions for migrants. This despite the fact that official figures issued by this government show that EU migrants claim less benefits than UK born citizens while contributing to the economy with their taxes. And ignoring the right of EU citizens to work across EU borders and ignoring social security agreements. It’s scandalous of the LP. That’s all they can come up with to regain their core voters. They deserve their fate.

  9. George Gunn says:

    I know John Finnie to be a man of integrity. He did not “defect” from anything. He left the SNP, as did Jean Urquhart, on a point of principle over Trident. To conflate him with the witless Tory is to denigrate a politician who believes in something and to elevate one who believes in nothing. The people of the Highlands can feel happy that someone with political principles has found a political framework to carry on the work necessary to make our country economically fair and politically free. I know a lot of people in the Highlands and Islands who will now vote Green.

    1. MBC says:

      According to Antony Barnett (Open Democracy editor) Carswell resigned and joined UKIP because he realised that Cameron was not sincere in his proposal of a 2017 in-out EU referendum. Carswell got wind of the fact that Cameron was going to stage it so that we would not be leaving the EU. It was only going to be a prentendy referendum.

      Cameron is fully supportive of TTIP, sees it as a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’. If we are out of EU, we are out of TTIP. Britain is going to be far more affected by TTIP than the rest of Europe because of the degree of privatisation we have here. Of course Cameron wants us in Europe. He wants US corporate power to take over Britain because that will be the complete death knell of socialism and progressive politics in this country.

  10. Steve Mackie says:

    A truly pointless article.
    There really are no general conclusions to be drawn from this specific example of 2 politicians changing horses midstream.
    It tells us absolutely nothing about the differences between our political psyche and that of our southern cousins…… and I’m not arguing that perhaps they exist but at this juncture a wee bit less of the ‘Here’s tae us wha’s like us’ nonsense would be appreciated.
    We deluded ourselves into thinking we were going to carry the Referendum because we spent too much time ‘bumming ourselves up’ .
    So for the moment please concentrate on the job in hand..
    Plenty time down the road for this sort of flim flam.

  11. Dan Huil says:

    England is definitely moving to the far right politically. Scotland is not. With every ukip victory people in England are destabilizing the union – a union already fundamentally weakened.
    Ironic that a party which says it stands for this “united” kingdom is emerging as a major force in the union’s demise.

  12. broadbield says:

    Anyone who changes party after election should re-submit themselves for election by the people who put them there in the first place – that’s integrity. Although I deplore party politics, history shows that in the long term “personal” votes count for nothing and it’s parties that people vote for. That’s why we’ve go so many nonentities in our parliaments.

    As for England moving to the right, the most depressing thing about the dysfunctional UK parties is their craven submission to the UKIP agenda. Instead of standing up to their racist poison they vie to out-UKIP UKIP. But we mustn’t forget how many voted for UKIP in Scotland at the recent EU elections.

  13. benmadigan says:

    i really do think the Union is running on borrowed time –
    as we know it, it can hardly be reconciled with devolution, let alone devo max or home rule for scotland

    Please have a look at http://eurofree3.wordpress.com/2014/09/25/squaring-the-circle-what-no-means/

    and also its companion piece


    the centre really cannot hold on for much longer

  14. MBC says:

    I’ve been beaning up on Carswell. He has a blog and has done a couple of interviews which you can access from his blog website. He’s also written a couple of books on how he sees the future for politics today. He’s not a standard UKIP arse but a rebel, an individualist, who believes in localism and grass roots democracy, not party managerialism. His parents were Scottish doctors working in Uganda where he was born and raised until sent to boarding school in England. He witnessed Idi Amin’s disastrous attempts at ‘nationalisation’ of the coffee industry as a boy. This has turned him into a free marketeer.

    The curious thing is that what his discontent is, and those of the voters he has tried to engage with, is very similar to what we have been complaining of in Scotland. Same disease, same symptoms, can be observed by an independent observer, but each patient differs in their self-perception of what the disease is, what causes it, and what the cure might be.

    He thinks the internet has the capacity to revolutionise politics in the UK.

    Both patients are complaining of the Westminster system being rotten, of decision making being opaque, of decisions with far-reaching local impacts for communities being taken by anonymous and unaccountable distant officials without any real consultation or fact finding.

    Carswell complains of how the Tory party’s membership has dwindled to a fraction of what it was even 20 years ago. It now has only 100,000 members. (The SNP has 80,000). It depends instead on donations from corporate donors. At the Tory party conferences lobbyists outnumber activists. At Westminster MPs are not interested in governing the country or curing its ills or holding Whitehall to account, but in how they can manipulate the media so as to be elected next time. They are concerned wholly with their public presentation. They abandonned the business of government to those in the shadows and are cravenly just working the system for power alone, not results, never mind democracy.

    He first became an MP in 2005 and was elected on a slim margin of about 500 seats. It couldn’t have been a grade A Tory list safe seat he was offered. But he assiduously cultivated the constituency, chapped on doors, listened to what folk wanted, and was elected by a 12,000 majority in 2010. We can say he’s done his homework. He didn’t need to have stood down once he had joined UKIP to have continued as an MP, but he felt he owed it to his constituents now that he had changed party, to resign, and stand again on a different ticket.

  15. calumnine says:

    The results of the referendum may have been disappointing. The results of the referendum campaign, however, we’re not.

    The reasons to support independence are many, and for the most part are robust and sound.

    I suspect the reasons to oppose independence, however, will be shown up more and more to be painfully misguided, in the coming year or so.

    What then for Scotland? Time will tell…

  16. Iain says:

    John Finnie and Jean Urquhart are indeed decent people, and I wish them well, but it was quite wrong of them to continue as MSPs after they resigned from the SNP. I still have difficulty in reconciling their stance with their apparent integrity.

    They were not elected as individuals who gained the support of the electorate, but as representatives of the SNP in the all-party contest for list seats. Almost of the people who got them elected were simply voting for the SNP, willing to accept whoever the party’s list candidates were. John and Jean should either have resigned as MSPs altogether and – as they had bound themselves to do in such circumstances – consigned the electorate’s desired representation by the SNP to other candidates on the SNP list, or they should have stayed in the party but declared their opposition to the party line on NATO and their intention not to be list candidates at the next Holyrood election.

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