The New Normal – Mhairi’s Maiden
Who would have thought it? The revolutionary date of the 14th of July … but in the UK in 2015, when the most undisguisedly reactionary government in living memory has just been voted into power on a wave of Jockophobia, here at the fag-end of a victorious, delirious Tory majority Westminster Parliamentary mini term, marked by the overt brutality of the Osborne budget and measures designed to drag Trade Unions back to the semi-legal status of the Combinations Act in the 19th Century, maybe, just maybe, also marks, in a wholly different register, the beginning of the new normality for not just Scottish politics, but for the future mechanics of UK politics as a whole.
The prospectus of the SNP at the last UK General Election just ten weeks ago was that UK Labour recognise in the SNP a strategic and occasional anti-Tory ally in the specific context of the UK Parliament. Now, it was never an expectation that UK Labour acknowledge any such possibility while in the throes of the Campaign itself – that would have been to throw the Scottish Party and its chances of recovery under a bus.
Then, late in the campaign, when the Tories, to their own surprise, discovered that they might achieve decisive traction with the twin bogeyman of a Jock and Jewish usurpation of some hitherto undigested vision of Englishness and a profoundly (if unaccountably) threatened sense of identity, on the 30th of April Ed Miliband made a speech where he ruled out any possibility of ever even talking to the SNP ever about anything under any circumstances…
Now Labour were already in deep trouble in Scotland and deeper trouble than even their focus groups told them in England, but this speech effectively sank the hearts and boats of all but the most tearily loyal troops North of the Tweed.
One has to actually live here to understand the depth of shock and long-lasting hurt that our still overwhelmingly Unionist establishment up here (in broadcasting, the media, business and academia) now feel. Culturally speaking it is hard to see the damage that was done by the steadfastly fear and nihilism campaign fought for the Union has just plain disappointed and disoriented people who were far more sincerely and historically conscious and collegiately British in their outlook than are the electoral beneficiaries of the fear and hatred whipped up by the baying, empty-shirted opportunists of the contemporary Press and Tory establishment in London. It has become terribly and terminally clear that the Tory defenders of Britishness are entirely skin deep and cynical in their commitment to anything other than the immediate rewards of power.. They’re not Unionists in any sense my own Unionist family would recognise.
Labour became the establishment Party in Scotland during the sixties and kept that status right through 18 years of Thatcherism partly in response to the moral and intellectual hollowing out of the alternative. And when Ed Miliband threw Scottish Labour under the electoral bus at the end of April, as I said at the time, the last proper Unionists left the building. Leaving their Scottish branch office utterly bereft.
Beyond all the predictable (and justified) Tory yells about the SNP performing a convoluted and semantically dubious U-turn on their traditional policy of abstaining on what they (as opposed to the Speaker of the House of Commons) as clearly “England Only ” measures on the Fox Hunting vote, that same Loyalist Establishment in Scotland are screaming themselves puce about SNP hypocrisy and neglecting to identify the true significance of what has just happened today.
Which is that the UK Labour Party, (although admittedly using Ian Murray, the last unlikely survivor of the Scottish Party as postman) invited the SNP to support them on a vote on fox-hunting in England and Wales. For the SNP, the fact of this invitation was what mattered. That they were thereby forced into some inelegant contortions of mind bogglingly transparent sophistry hardly matters beyond the fact that what Ed Miliband rejected so vehemently and finally on the campaign trail has now in fact come about (Albeit in opposition rather than the hoped for informal coalition). The Tories, ten weeks into their term, have already been deflected on Human Rights legislation, English Votes for English Laws…and now on the totemic issue of fox hunting…by a de facto progressive alliance that Labour have now come out and publicly requested in the specific instance of a specific winnable vote.
And like the empty shirts they are, rather than risk a fight, the Tories have backed down.
Now we are a very long away from the by-elections that might, two or three years from now, routinely thwart the wishes of the slim majority in the Commons. And we already know that the Tories are callously and cynically front loading the most anti-social of their revenge fantasy economics on very many on both sides of the Tweed who can ill withstand the assault.
But in the maiden speech of Mhairi Black that came on the same day as the Parliamentary Gamesmanship jointly and successfully played by UK Labour and the SNP yesterday, ,maybe, just maybe, the wider UK electorate will begin to get a sense of what was happening up here in the deep North last year. And in a sentence, what we felt here was a sense of re-discovery of the sense of possibility. That maybe, just maybe, there was a way to challenge the version of reality to which Margaret Thatcher bore witness and to which Blair and Brown subscribed.
This has also been the week, of course, when that very sense of democratic possibility of self-determination (or at least self-defence) was so brutally stamped into the killing floors of Brussels with an almost audible grunt of “That’ll LEARN ya!”
We faced the same ugly closing of the future in name of “Reality” in the No Campaign last year.But maybe, just maybe, our experience may be salutary and useful down south…as well as refreshing. Maybe…just maybe…positive and progressive alliances, practical solidarity can indeed be found in a federal approach to opposition across these islands and this continent that will one day bear democratic fruit constitutionally and in terms of the re-discovered possibility of progress towards social and economic justice.
Stranger things have happened, and, after all, no matter what the constitutional settlement in 2025 or 2030, we will all still be living on the same Atlantic Archipelago, whatever we want to call it.
And 14th July 2015 will one day be known as Day One of the New Normal.