Will Scotland get no credit for a new politics?
Well that was fun (and simultaneously awful).
I’m trying and failing to find the final turnout figures in Scotland. When I crashed out at half five it was looking like the turnout was heading for over 70 per cent. By that time I was getting frustrated that no-one on the BBC had mentioned the new voters. If you looked at the change in votes, again and again the rise in the SNP vote was bigger than the fall in the vote of the other parties. Scotland has discovered something like five or ten per cent of its citizens who didn’t use to vote but now do. And they massively, overwhelmingly vote SNP. The profile of these voters is generally younger, poorer, more disenfranchised. We have created a politics in this country that has reconnected with the people of the country. And here I really do mean ‘we’ because the whole Yes movement and the Scottish Greens have played an extremely important part in creating that politics.
This is not a stupid politics. It’s not a cheap, ‘populist’ politics. It is a politics which has actively encouraged people to talk and think about their society, their future. I have been looking at the correspondence between my poor, disheartened friends in the UK left. Almost all of them recognise what has happened in Scotland and write in what are really slightly awed tones about what we have achieved. So what chance that this is going to be part of the general narrative? Will the Scottish media and the commentator class let people understand the democratic revolution behind these results? Or rather will they simply obsess about whether Nicola got her strategy right and Jim got his wrong? Will it all be presented as a mindless hangover from the referendum? Here is a way to judge. Every time someone says that the SNP achieve a popular politics, they are right. Politics should be popular, something people like and care about. Every time someone says that it was a ‘populist’ politics (cheap and divisive), they are wrong. (I come back to this paragraph because there’s Murphy on the TV saying it was not about left and right but about nationalism and populism. Hell’s teeth Jim, did no-one have a word with you through the night?)
Don’t say this isn’t about class
I’m already hearing some Labour people suggesting that this is the end of class politics in Scotland. The argument is that nationalism has replaced class as the driving force of Scottish politics. But here’s the thing; if that was the case then you wouldn’t expect to see such a close mapping between the size and nature of the swing from Labour to the SNP and the class profile of the seats where those swings were biggest. Put simply, SNP won biggest and most impressively wherever class politics are strongest. So could Labour perhaps at least consider that this is the most class politics-driven election since the 1980s? And should they not dwell on the possibility that they lost Scotland because they gave up on class politics in the Blair years? It very clearly wasn’t only about class – the SNP was winning everywhere. But to miss just how much this election in Scotland was about the reemergence of social class as a major factor would be a mistake. The most encouraging thing is that the SNP seems (for now) to have managed to weld class politics to more middle-class progressive politics and even beyond. It wasn’t divisive class politics but inclusive class politics. This is the challenge which Labour across the UK has so woefully failed to meet.
How out of touch can our media be?
The last time I wrote for Bella with only a couple of hours sleep and eyes jammed open with matchsticks was the day after the referendum. In that piece I wrote that the next target was to work to force Labour out of working class Scotland. A journalist for a Sunday newspaper picked up my comments and retweeted them with his usual contempt – ‘Aye, right’ was his considered assessment of the direction of travel of Scottish politics.
A couple of weeks later a Scottish journalist for a UK title called me and asked me to comment on ‘scientific evidence’ he had that proved the absolutely best outcome the SNP could possibly achieve was to take a maximum of three seats from Labour. At the time I was guessing that the SNP might take between 25 and 30 seats. He was vitriolic in telling me I was being idiotic. During the campaign I was on TV with a England-based New Labour insider, interviewed by a leading London-based broadcaster. After the interview we chatted. They were absolutely sure they knew what had gone wrong and it was all about a failure of PR during the Jack McConnell years and the need for more Westminster Labour politicians to have come to Scotland. Just that. Last night I spent a couple of hours in the BBC Green Room. It was bustling with what the TV studios select to be the political insiders. Which means I was in a room full of Lib Dem, Tory and Labour staffers (along with others). They don’t seem that much like insiders this morning – but then they really weren’t on the inside of what was happening in Scottish politics last week either. I have come to the conclusion that there are now few journalists working in Scotland that have either a proper understanding of Scotland as a nation and a political entity or who have the contacts to find out.
Labour is more lost that we understood
As I write this Pauline McNeil is on the TV talking some real sense. To his credit Ian Davidson said very similar things last night. But ten minutes ago Jim Murphy was on spitting out the same self-serving crap about the SNP being right-wing populist nationalists and that only he, Jim Murphy, has a conscience in Scottish politics.
In comparison with the dignity that Ed Milliband, Douglas Alexander, Nick Clegg and many others have lost, Jim is still Mister Angry howling at the moon while stressing every sinew in his body to try and give you the impression he’s not about to murder you. I wrote a Bella piece when he was elected. I tried to suggest that Jim Murphy is a liability to the Labour Party and they’d come to regret it when he is found out. No, it shouldn’t be about personality politics – but Labour has just run the most personality-focussed campaign I can ever remember (all those ‘halo’ pictures of Jim were simply ridiculous). He failed massively. But so has Labour. Both Pauline McNeil and Ian Davidson said that Labour needs to work out what it’s for. Were the party to reshape itself heeding these voices it might stand a chance. But switch channels and there are all the London Blairites (and Jack McConnel for goodness sake) saying quite the opposite.
Labour is a total mess in England and is a total mess in Scotland. And it seems like both parts of the same body are about to take different medicines for the same ailment. It really could kill them.
We’re not citizens of the UK, we’re caricatures
I’ve heard some more decent sense from less likely sources this morning. John Reid may be one of the Blairites ready to drag Labour to the right but he is treating this result with proper respect and calling for London to recognise and respect what Scotland has chosen. Last night, in a performance I can only assume she will come to regret, Catherine Stihler blamed the SNP for Labour’s loss in England (which means she blamed Scottish voters for Labour’s English failure). Murphy, tragically, is flogging the line unaware that he’s a finished (it’s like watching Bruce Willis in the Sixth Sense – someone tell him he is dead). There are English commentators who seem perfectly happy just to talk about the ‘clash of nationalisms’ – which will save them learning anything about Scotland. On the other side, the Tories and their London-based, Pravda-shaming propaganda sheets/newspapers have been happy to treat Scots as the enemy within for months and months now. So that’s where we’ve got to – we’re not citizens but caricatures. Our purpose is not to be part of a nation but to be used and abused for propaganda purposes. And so the cycle continues with England punishing Scotland because Scotland is unhappy about their last punishment. And so on. Which means for the first time I am not sure we’ll need to wait until 2020 to win a referendum. I still think that 2020 or 2021 is the timescale most likely not only to have another referendum but to win one. But the dynamics of Britain now may propel us out before then. With the wild-eyed Tory backbenchers now the real kingmakers in Britain we should remember that many of them are really English nationalists and not unionists at all. Most of them probably secretly would be delighted if Scotland just went away and gave them a built-in majority in England. I feel genuinely sorry for truly committed unionists like Rory Stewart. I suspect their time has passed. Pushed out, out by our own hand or thrown out by the centripetal force of a rightward lurch in England. Whatever. Britain is over.
We have to help England
It pains me to contrast the jubilation up here in Scotland with the desolation of my friends on the English left.
I quake to think what the Tories may do over the next few years – kill the BBC? Privatise the rest of the NHS? Scrap human rights? Shove TTIP so far up us all our eyes water? It’s awful. I have never so much wanted anyone so bloody mediocre to win as I did with Milliband. I was in the pub with friends on Sunday when they showed me pictures of the big stone tablet. I refused to believe it. It had to be a spoof. Had to be.
After 15 minutes they’d pretty-well proved it. I could only assume that he’d changed his mind and didn’t want to be PM. And still I was desperate to see Cameron gone. It is not only Labour that is lost south of the Border, the Tories are pretty lost too. In fact, politics in England are lost. We have just sat through the most inane election in history – overseas commentators are aghast at the idiocy of the issues we debate and how we debate them. The people of England deserve better. I cannot stress enough; the whole Yes campaign should be emailing the English left today offering to do anything we can to help them learn from the experience of what has happened in Scotland. I don’t mean to be patronising, I just desperately want to be that good neighbour we said we wanted to be. Be delighted but don’t be smug. Working people in England will go hungry and be cold because of the policies of the government that England has selected. It is our duty to do anything we can as individuals, or as part of the political parties and movements we are part of. What should they do? I have many thoughts and there are many thoughts flying around today on UK progressive networks. Working together is the real spirit of solidarity we talked about in the referendum. Now is the time.
SNP, live up to your triumph
I started to write down the names of some of the wonderful people who were elected last night and had to delete them – when you start it becomes hard to stop (though a special mention for Common Weal Board Members Tommy Sheppard and Philippa Whitford…). One of the most remarkable things was just the range of talent and experience that new cohort has – I was listening out last night and as far as I could hear only one or two of the new MPs had been party staffers. In contemporary UK politics that is surprising in itself.
The SNP is going to be awash with money and goodwill too. The problem is that it doesn’t look like there is going to be all that much they can do other than fight. So I hope that much of that talent turns its eye to things beyond just Westminster. Because the real challenge is now 2016 to 2020 in Scotland. The SNP will surely be in the government (though if what I hear is even nearly right I expect the Greens to pick up an enormous number of second votes and could be a very major player in Holyrood). Monumental moments like this are like a fork in the path ahead of you.
You can take that mood, that desire for change and be Tony Blair – squander it. Or you can take that mood, that expectation and be Clement Atlee – live up to it. In truth the SNP manifesto for Westminster seemed pitched to be almost exactly ten per cent better than Labour’s – enough to send out a clear message, not so much that it involved any risks. That is not enough for the Holyrood election. Scotland wants deep and far-reaching change. The SNP has everything it needs to achieve that change. If it does, Scotland will choose to be independent. And when that morning comes and I am writing something again with matchsticks in my eyes and a voice hoarse from cheering, I will be writing not about a country I’m proud of which has become independent but about a country I am proud of because of how it transformed the lives of its people and how those people chose their own future.
My old gaffer used to give us a bottle of champagne for Christmas. Being an old Presbyterian Scot I keep saving them for a special occasion. Weddings have come and gone. Birthdays. New jobs. A new baby. I never get round to opening them. I’m hunting one out right now and it’s going in the fridge. It’s going to be a great weekend. But hell, there’s a lot to do on Monday.