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It’s No Game

Nicola 2

“I want to speak to those beyond our party ranks, to no voters as well as to yes voters” – Nicola Sturgeon 

I  have seen two kinds of expert reaction to Nicola Sturgeon’s own “vow” on Saturday that the SNP will under no circumstances “put the Tories in power” in the event of a hung parliament after the general Election next year.  One, of straightforward puzzlement from the Westminster games players, who cannot see why anyone would nail their colours to the mast like that.  After all, the rules of the Coalition game have been set for years by the Liberal Democrats…that the party will await the “will of the electorate” before sticking their opportunistic colours to whichever ship seems to be heading for governmental waters.  By the rules of that game of tease, it makes no sense to declare in advance what you will or will not do.

It would seem that the declaration from Nicola Sturgeon was announcing a different game with a different set of rules.

We have also heard from several commentators their analysis of the next concomitant step along the path that the SNP would help Labour to form a government – and why would an elector who wanted a Labour government not just vote Labour.

Again, within the rules of the game as it has hitherto been played, up till and including the last Holyrood election, where the anti-Tory Scottish vote distributes itself tactically distinctly between “local” and “national” elections, that logic cannot really be faulted.

It follows then, I think, that Nicola Sturgeon’s version of the Vow must be part of a different game with different rules. It is in fact based on a gamble on the intangible.  (Who knew that Nicola liked a flutter as much as her friend Alec?) The bet in question being whether or not,having declined  to change itself profoundly on the 18th of September, Scotland really did profoundly change on the 19th. That the game is not the same any more. Not that tactical voting has ceased to differentiate between Westminster and Holyrood elections, but that voters now tactically calculate that the best way to defend ourselves from the Tories, and , crucially, from neo-liberal Tory values , is no longer to participate in the UK while hedging our bets in Scotland, but to move all of our electoral chips onto one side of the table. And vote SNP in both

If the Scottish electorate go for the pitch that an SNP vote in Westminster and Holyrood elections is better tactics than a Labour vote in one and an SNP vote in the other, then there really has been a profound change. That tactical choice would reflect an existential understanding on the part of the electorate that Scotland is now and forever politically both entirely distinct from the UK and entirely its own polity, and its own democracy. And that therefore the relationship with the UK has itself transformed. Labour’s own gamble that devolution would consolidate its control of Scotland while maintaining a loyal block of votes in Westminster will be proved, to use an old 7:84 word, a bogie.

To get classical, the die will be cast, Scotland will have crossed the Rubicon.  (Or the Solway) Make no mistake, if the SNP can cross the threshold where the first past the post achieves electoral system stops suppressing the small party and rewarding the big one, if they can keep their current level of support in the polls and the Central Scotland,Labour seats really do start falling like nine-pins, then on a far deeper level than mere electoral fortunes, we will be living in a different country.

On one level, it may well be that the “No Pact with the Torys” pledge is mere electioneering.  That it is intended to force Jim Murphy to take Scottish Labour further to the left even while the two Eds down South do their best to impersonate Osborne on economics and Farage on citizenship.  Murphy will then be an easy target for the accusation that he is promising a socialist government in Scotland when his entire Unionist position means that he can offer no such thing. Indeed, the logic of labour as a socialist alternative to the SNP only makes sense in an independent Scotland.  Sturgeon is also gambling that the Scottish electorate are savvy enough to suss out that the left opportunism that jolly jim seems to be offering currently is either the crassest and most obvious hypocrisy or is actually a declaration of Indy by an unexpected pathway… It may be, machine politician that she is, Nicola Sturgeon is simply continuing the superior tactical nous that the SNP have used to make a succession of Scottish  Labour Leaders look silly for getting on for a decade now.

But their tactical superiority indicates a deeper truth, and it is this truth that I think the SNP are now “acting as if” they believed.  That they bring their A game and their A team to Holyrood because it is now Holyrood that matters.  The SNP, at the time of devolution were, like the others , a Westminster-model Party. They were formed through Westminster politics, and still had that shape in the uneasy first years after devolution.  But they have now adapted themselves in to being a Holyrood Party that plays tactics at Westminster.  They are doing this now with complete conviction because they believe in the depths of their bones that the Westminster game has finally become someone else’s business. That keeping the flame of social justice burning in the UK as a whole is no longer best served by holding our noses and voting Labour. That it is only a matter of time and a tactical nip and tuck till Scotland achieves home rule in some shape or constitutional form and within all the caveats and conditions of our interdependent islands and continent and world.

The Anti – Tory Vow is a manifest interpretation of the No vote as being a vote for “Not Yet”, as a vote, without any real conviction,to give Westminster one last chance, just to be on the safe side. It is a vote then , based on a belief in something.  And that in itself may well be enough to make the current rather wild poll predictions come somewhere near to coming true in May.

I believe that people on both sides of the Yes/No divide want to believe that we can change the country and ourselves. And that if we act as if we had faith, we might just pull it off. And that might just be enough

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  1. Iain fraser says:

    As a ‘No’ voter, I don’t recognise this picture of me nor others I speak to. In truth, this is a very common feature of ‘blogs’ from ‘Yes’ voters. if you want to convert people, surely you should explore their concerns rather than ‘paint’ the picture you want?

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Hi Iain – we’d welcome a piece articulating how you see things now?

      1. Peter Arnott says:

        Absolutely. It is definitely true that each side of the Yes/No divide came to occupy parallel universes. I would relish a serious conversation.

    2. r baxter says:

      looking forward to the picture you will paint.

    3. davidmccann24 says:

      Well Iain,the SNP must be getting something right as many of those I met at the SNP conference were former Labour No voters who regretted voting NO and are now prepared for the new politics, and joined the SNP.
      An interesting statistic is that the SNP Trade Union Group has more members than the entire Scottish Labour party.
      Whoever takes up the mantle of Leader of Scottish Labour have a huge task ahead of them, if they are to survive at all.

    4. Frank M says:

      Let us know your concerns Iain.

    5. Heidstaethefire says:

      I’d also be interested to hear from a “no” voter. According to Ashcroft’s polling (I know, he’s a tory, but it’s somewhere to start), about 25% of “no” voters saw themselves as supporters of the Union, so we’re not going to change them. The interesting numbers, however were the c 25% who voted “no” inthe expectation of more powers, and c 47% who had concerns over currency, pensions or Europe. As a former Labour Party member, I’d be interested in your reaction to these figures, particularly, if you’re in the 47% group.

  2. IAB says:


  3. An interesting analysis. Do we find ourselves in another country? We will find out next May, and the disappointment I felt on 19th September hasn’t totally left me fearful of polls.

    However, let’s hope for the best. And more important: let’s work as though we’re in the early days of a better nation!

  4. Seoras Skye says:

    An insightful analysis which cuts to the heart of the matter. Changed entirely might be putting it a bit strong, but I think the concept of a lot of No voters giving Westminster one last chance has a lot of resonance. And Nicola’s performance world class too!

  5. Juteman says:

    I get the feeling that the SNP are stealing the clothes of the Scottish branch of Labour yet again.

    Want an independent Scottish Labour Party? Vote for the Scottish National Labour Party.

  6. As the majority of voters in Scotland really dislike the Tories by saying no chance of supporting them the onus is now on Labour to prove otherwise.

  7. Clootie says:

    Perhaps she is being honest!
    That act alone has sent the political spin doctors into overload – Why would you be honest with the electorate?

    Could it be she wants to gain their trust?

  8. Ann says:

    At a branch meeting this afternoon in Dunfermline and listened to a Ex-Labour Member and still Trade Union Member who has joined the SNP.
    Full of passion for what he believes in and that is what Labour threw away when joining forces with The Conservatives and LibDem Parties.
    Scottish Labour has to break it’s self away from the UK Labour Party as a whole and become stand-alone, listen to it’s members, create new policies that are important to to the Scottish people, otherise come the General Election next May and the Holyrood Election in 2016 they will no longer be.

  9. AnnaMac says:

    At her recent rally speech in Dundee, Nicola urged the people to “Lend us your vote in the GE2015” and no doubt she will repeat this statement at the Glasgow rally. I know many who have decided to do just that – LEND their vote to SNP at GE. WM parties need a seismic shake up – now is the time for that and here is the opportunity!

  10. oldbattle says:

    The Salmond (I almost said Solomon) use of the Yeats line “changed utterly” has enormous political resonance as PA (above) describes with some clarity.

    Should Murphy win the leadership of the ‘branch office’; then he has on his very doorstep an army of leftwing occupation, many of whom were “No” voters.

    He will have ‘auld Labour’ against him; many prominent unions and several (how many?) of his fellow MPs and Findlay’s cohorts in Holyrood against him? Murphy carrying the weight of ‘the lost Scottish left’ on his back will seek support from the comfort of the familiar in the head office in London, digging a bigger hole for his leadership.

    Meanwhile in Scotland what will Unite’s band of comrades (and other friends of Findlay) do after the Murphy victory?

    There were at least two TU leaders and Findlay supporters (& Labour members) who spoke at SNP fringe meetings in Perth. (The SNP TU group is growing in numbers, confidence and influence not least within the Party).

    “Social justice” (yet to be defined), early childhood free care, equality, anti-Trident” are all shared slogans of the Unions and Ms Sturgeon.

    Will we see a real sea-change into ‘changed utterly’ with unions in Scotland supporting the social democrat Nicola Sturgeon rather than the Blairite morphing Murphy?

    Will we see the anti-Murphy Labour membership join with so many of their friends in the 60,000 and join the social democrat SNP?

    Will we see a surge of feminist support for “oor Nicola” from within the NO voters?

    Will we see Trade Union membership leaving behind their chain to Labour under the influence of London Labour”s drift to the neo-con right of centre?

    Will a major TU in Scotland come out and support Nicola Sturgeon and her new peoples’ national party?

  11. bringiton says:

    For 30 years we have had a British state which has followed Thatcherite dogma and there is no sign that is going to change any time soon.
    What is happening in Scotland is the realisation that there is an alternative but it means rejecting English based political parties and their supporters.
    If the British state cannot accept conflicting social and political ideas within it’s “family of nations” then it is doomed.
    Repression of Scottish aspirations will only work for so long and then the lid is going to blow off and that will be much more disruptive to the British state than a negotiated settlement would be.

  12. Alan Weir says:

    I can’t help fearing that Nicola Sturgeon has made a terrible blunder right at the outset of her reign, in ruling out, as she seems to have done, any deal with the Tories. Of course I see the tactic: we certainly have to win over as many Labour voters, not just those who voted Yes but more if possible, to vote SNP next May. But what if the Tories are the largest party in rUK next May but cannot form an overall majority, with the SNP holding the balance of power? What if Labour cannot put together a coalition which, even with the SNP, commands a majority? As I understand Nicola’s position, the SNP will not only refuse to go into coalition, which is indeed unthinkable (I don’t think we should go into coalition with any unionist party in fact). We will refuse to give the Tories ‘confidence and supply’. Even if the Tories, desperate for power, yield, as part of the deal, Full Fiscal Autonomy. Even if that includes a just settlement of liabilities, including compensation for the oil mis-selling- which vastly exceeds Scotland’s share of UK debt (see the work of Jim and Margaret Cuthbert) and which would put us in a very strong fiscal position. Even if there is, as part of the deal, some sort of realistic entrenchment of the powers of the autonomous parliament, including a right to hold future referendums (perhaps by repatriating all of Scots Law and removing the right of the UK Supreme Court to interfere in Scottish legal matters, and perhaps in return for some EVEL deal, for example Scottish MPs become ‘senators’ in the Lords). That would be crazy it seems to me: to turn down entrenched full fiscal autonomy is not to protect Scotland from Tory rule, rather it is to ensure that a Tory minority government still rules in economic, as well as international matters, over Scotland and throw away the possibility of achieving essentially the same economic independence we would have got with Yes and the chance to build the confidence of the No voters for the next referendum.

    Of course Labour, in such circumstances, will bring back 1979, the no confidence vote in Callaghan, and all the crap about how that forced an unwilling English electorate to vote en bloc for Thatcher. They will accuse us of abandoning our friends and family in Birmingham, London etc. But the alternative to confidence and supply on the above scenario is just the Tories soldiering on as a minority government inflicting their policies anyway on England Wales and NI. The best one can say is that a minority government without confidence and supply will mitigate its policies if it thinks the opposition will go for a no confidence vote because it doesn’t fear causing a second election in short succession. At any rate, I don’t think we should inflict Tory economic policies on the Scottish people, if we are given the chance of a substantial form of economic autonomy (and a guarantee that the Scottish parliament can call another referendum whenever it chooses) just because we fear the brickbats from such a discredited bunch as the Labour Party’s North British branch. The above scenario, of course, is not all that likely, but it seems a perfectly possible one to me and I am worried that a major strategic error has been made.

    1. Colin Church says:

      But in Alan Weir’s above scenario – if we secure FFA, home rule, devo max (everything apart from FA and defence), repatriate Scots Law so we could later hold referendum on owning this aswell and agree to EVEL for term why would the SNP stay at WM to support any other party? Why not just pull representation when job done and have the rUK MPs form a government? It is a raid not an occupation.

      1. Alan Weir says:

        Yes exactly. If, for example, the deal for FFA, entrenchment and right to hold referendum was EVEL in the form of no Scottish MPs in the Commons then the SNP majority who secured the deal would not be in the Commons after it was all secured and would play no part in running rUK, except insofar as they appeared as ‘senators’ in the Lords to make Scotland’s case in matters of foreign affairs and defence (where they would be ignored, nothing new there). But the English (and Welsh and NI, that complicates things certainly) have a right to self-determination too: if they choose to be run by the Tories, then that’s up to them, we have no right to block that, just as it’s up to our Irish sister nation if it chooses to be run by the spivs of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, as unfortunately they have done in the past. What’s important is that choice isn’t foisted on us. Only independence can secure that fully, but an FFA deal would insulate us to a very great extent.

  13. manandboy says:

    For the SNP to support a Tory Gov at Westminster would constitute a betrayal of IndyScotland and a defection to Unionist Scotland.
    Nicola may have to suffer a lot of girnin’ and greetin’ from the ranks of Bella Caledonia and elsewhere on the Left, but she and her team at SNP, will lead us to what is simple justice in self-determination.
    One thing’s for sure: when your partner’s been stealing your oil and lying to you for 40 years, you’re not going to find justice from his hands.

  14. oldbattle says:

    Any Home Rule deal must include FAs.The EU impacts on so many domestic, social, fiscal, agriculture issues etc that Scotland MUST have power in Europe and Europe is Foreign Affairs.
    It could be shared power with London or Scottish ministers get to sit at the front desk on key issues until we have full sovereignty. BUT Europe must be part of any Home Rule settlement.

  15. Wull says:

    I fully sympathise with the first comment (Iain Fraser: ‘As a ‘No’ voter, I don’t recognise this picture of me nor others I speak to. In truth, this is a very common feature of ‘blogs’ from ‘Yes’ voters. if you want to convert people, surely you should explore their concerns rather than ‘paint’ the picture you want?’)

    Let me try. I think the real story here is that the SNP will put obtaining Devo-Max / Home Rule / near-Federalism at the heart of their General Election manifesto in May 2015. They believe their own submission to the Smith Campaign is nearer to what most Scots want, including many who finally voted No, than the submissions of any of the three Better Together parties. By the time of the General Election, they expect the Smith Commission will have made recommendations that will disappoint the pro-Devo-Max section of the No vote. They will target these No voters, claiming that only the SNP can deliver what they wanted, and thought they were voting for at the referndum.

    At the same time, the SNP will also seek the support of all Yes supporters, as the one pro-independence party which can realistically expect to win seats at Westminster. They will affirm their ultimate goal of achieving independence, by means of another referendum. The time is not yet ripe for that but, meanwhile, their immediate objective will be to obtain Devo-Max/ Home Rule / near-Federalism. If the Scottish parliament is given these powers, an SNP government will use them well, demonstrating at Scotland is economically viable and well able to govern itself. Economic fears concerning independence will dissipate, support will increase, and very soon it will be time to hold another referendum, with the certainty of winning.

    In their 2015 manifesto, the SNP will also appeal to (pro-Devo-Max) No voters by saying, truthfully, that they are going to Westminster to obtain Devo-Max/ HR / near-Fed, NOT independence. The SNP still believe in independence, but will promise to keep a further referendum on the topic off the agenda for the duration of the 2015-2020 Westminster parliament. ‘No’ voters who do not want independence but do want Devo-Max can therefore vote for the SNP in 2015, in the full knowledge that the SNP will not exploit that vote to claim that the SNP holding a majority of seats in Westminster equates to a majority for independence.

    Indeed, the SNP will claim that pro-D-M / HR / near-F voters should vote for the SNP. None of the other Parties will deliver the (degree of) Devo-Max these voters want. The Smith Commission’s recommendations, by then published – and the acquiescence of the Labour Party in these recommendations – will demonstrate the inability of Labour to deliver what most Scots want in this regard. Ironically, in the 2015 GE, the only party offering what Gordon Brown seemed to promise in the last ten days of the referendum, will be the SNP.

    The SNP will also be the only party able to secure what Gordon Brown said was already in the bag. It will do so if it gains enough seats to hold the balance of power in the Westminster parliament. In Alex Salmond’s realistic but unlikeable phrase, only the SNP will be able to hold the feet of the Westminster leaders to the fire. The other parties will all settle for much less than what the majority of the Scottish population – all Yes and many No voters – now want, and can justly claim.

    In the unlikely event that the Labour Party changes its current stance in order to ward off the SNP threat, allowing Scottish Labour to develop its own policies – including a much stronger pro-Devo-Max policy – even this will serve the SNP’s long-term objectives. Continuing with their pre-referendum gradualist approach to independence, what they now want is the Devo-Max / Home Rule / near-Federalism that voters were led to believe would happen in the event of a ‘No’ vote. The SNP, including their non-party-member candidates, thus become the champions of the Yes voters and also of the sensible, pro-D-M No voters.

    That explains why Nicola Sturgeon did not opt for a formal SNP alliance with all pro-Yes parties (Greens, Scottish Socialists etc.). Instead she went for something much more subtle: the possibility of having non-party-member, SNP-endorsed candidates. In that way, both Greens and Scottish Socialists can still have one or two or more candidates (presumably on condition that these parties do not run any separate candidates at all, so as not to split the vote). Yet there can be one or several SNP-endorsed candidates (presumably prominent people, with a high public profile) who oppose independence, yet who fully support D-M/ Home Rule/ near-Federalism. The condition for them being selected, as for the Greens and the SSP, would be that they endorse the whole of the SNP’s 2015 manifesto, something they will easily be able to do without betraying any of their principles.

    As ever, the SNP is building a platform that can appeal to the widest possible support. They are devloping a strategy and policies that are tailor-made for obtaining the maximum number of seats at Westminster in the 2015 General Election. That, moreover, not as an end in itself, but for a specific, well thought out and entirely justifiable purpose. Namely, to ensure that Westminster delivers what the BT parties between them hoodwinked the Scottish public into believing would certainly happen in the event of a No vote on September 18.

    They can quite rightly claim consistency in this, as well. They are the only party who wanted the voters to have a chance to vote on the D-M option, even though it was not their own main preference. It was Cameron who refused, but when he did so neither the LibDems nor Labour offered even a whimper of protest.

    Not only the Tories but all the BT parties are therefore implicated in preventing a huge swathe of the Scottish electorate from having its say on the D-M question. No one can say that the SNP is being dishonest in going for that option in 2015. The dishonesty and inconsistency in regard to D-M/ HR/ near-Fed are all on the other side – or rather on all three sides of ‘the other side’.

    The Smith Commission proposals will loom very large in the 2015 GE campaign in Scotland. The SNP will emphasise their inadequacy. They will appeal to both ‘No’ and ‘Yes’ voters to vote for the SNP as the only hope of obtaining the desired D-M / H R / near-Fed. ‘No’ voters will be encouraged to see this as an achievement of their aspirations, ‘Yes’ voters as an important step towards the ultimate goal.

    If this Devo-Max is achieved, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Pro-D-M No voters will probably want to see whether or how well it works; if it does, they are likely to move towards independence. That will be the SNP’s hope. If a fully devolved Scotland gets into serious difficulty, however, it would have the opposite effect. Even many Yes voters will begin to drift away.

    Meanwhile, the SNP will be wary of ‘wrecking’ strategies from the Westminster parties (especially the Conservatives and Labour) as Smith’s final proposals come before the new Westminster parliament in 2015. The SNP will be the best watchdogs against Westminster leaders who might try to devolve powers in a way that will do Scotland damage, or is contrived only to serve their own political or party interests. It is not impossible to imagine forms of devolution specially designed to make it seem as if Scotland would be economically unviable if she became independent. Piecemeal devolution of some economic powers but not others could hide the economic reality in a way that full, transparent D-M/ Home Rule/ near-Fed could not. A feeble ‘bits and pieces’ settlement gerrymandered to suit the interests of Westminster politicians is a very real possibility. Remember, the voting system specially designed for the Scottish parliament by Labour was intended to prevent the SNP from ever gaining an outright majority.

    Time to end with a warning, not only for the BT parties, but also for the SNP. Unintended consequences are never far away. If the ‘best-laid plans … gang aft agley’, they do so for men much more than for mice, and for politicians more than for most. The SNP has made its advances above all by being honest with the public. This is the only way guaranteed to give ultimate success to any political project. Dishonesty may win battles for a while, even big ones, but it will come unstuck in the end. Nicola Sturgeon’s first speech as SNP leader suggests that she and her party are very much on the right path. May our confidence in her, and hers in the people of Scotland, not be disappointed.

    1. Alan Weir says:

      Interesting piece: but it’s ‘best-laid schemes’!

    2. John Souter says:

      Your missing the big picture – Should the SNP hold the balance of power in May 15 at Westminster Labour and the Cons would work out a deal to thwart them. For a Scottish National Party to have executive power in Westminster would be an anathema to the establishment and all it stands for.

  16. Wull says:

    Many thanks for the correction, Alan.

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