Territory Wars

Peter Arnottt argues we are witnessing Peak Union in the last chance saloon.

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.

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  1. George Gunn says:

    Maybe, but I don’t see the gains STV gave the Tories at the Local Elections last week translating into gains from first past the post on June 8th. I also can’t see Labour in Scotland benefiting from Corbyn’s manifesto even though it is full of things I like. They are just too far gone. The Tories in Scotland will fight on issues which are devolved to Scotland, which is just as dishonest as the way they fought the local elections on the single issue of a second independence referendum. The politics of the paradox is a dead end. The fact that the SNP are still popular after 10 years tells you which way history is going. After this election the Tories in London are going to have one car crash after the next. As you keep saying, tick tock.

    1. Ed says:

      Absolutely spot on! George

    2. Gordon says:

      Trying a hypothesis on for size…

    3. Richard MacKinnon says:

      Why is it when I read George Gunn’s articles and comments I must reply? No other commentator does it for me quite like George.
      “The politics of the paradox is a dead end”. What does that mean? So that I am not accused of ‘taking it out of context’ in the preceding sentence George claims the Tories are a dishonest bunch when it comes to elections, not in the sense of sneaking back and voting twice or miscounting ballot papers but that they fight dirty and talk about things that George thinks are not relevant. If someone far cleverer than I am knows what George is on about with ‘the politics of the paradox’ then please tell me.
      The next sentence is another blinder. “The fact that the SNP are still popular after 10 years tells you which way history is going”. I am not even going to try and pass comment on the shear inane naivety of that statement (oops) but take a minute and think about it. Its worth it believe me.
      Finally George concludes with the prediction that “After this election the Tories in London are going to have one car crash after the next”. George obviously knows stuff the rest of us don’t. I have always been sceptical of horoscopes and that kind of thing, but not George, he is 100%complete in his belief, he kens, ‘the car crash’ will happen the only uncertainty in George’s mind is when.

      1. Richard MacKinnon says:

        Whats up with George? You love to trot out big long self indulgent prose, but when it comes to criticism, where are you?

  2. Wul says:

    “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…”

    I hope this is true. However, many Scots continue to blame our own government for things which are clearly out with their control.

    We seem to have a great ability (like many culturally damaged people?) to blame our own ilk for trouble caused by far away, unsympathetic forces.

    1. Richard MacKinnon says:

      Wul,
      I know what your saying, some people are so unfair blaming our own government when we know, all the Scottish government can do is dish what we get from Westminster. And if the Westminster government is a hard nosed Tory outfit determined to subject the country to 10 years of austerity what else is there for the Scottish government to do but to see it implemented up here. That’s their job for goodness sake.
      Some people?

      1. Wul says:

        I think it’s fair to blame the Scottish Government for devolved matters which they are in control of.

        Blaming them for the economic fall-out from Brexit would, in my view, be unfair.

    2. Alf Baird says:

      “It will surely be very difficult to recruit and maintain many more angry Union diehards …”

      On the contrary, this is rather obviously happening. Census data shows that over one million people from rest-UK have come to live in Scotland during the past 20 years, at a rate of 50,000-60,000 a year, and this trend is continuing; historically, over the past 100 years the largest migrant group to Scotland has been people from rest-UK. A whopping 80% of this ‘group’, according to voting intention surveys at Indyref14, voted No to indy. Census data and voting intention surveys therefore suggests the No vote is being replenished, but not by Scots. This ‘phenomenon’ was discussed in a Herald article today by Sir Tom Devine who referred to: “the decisive role English voters played in the referendum….. voting “overwhelmingly” against independence”, and tipping ‘No’ over the winning line. Scotland’s rapidly changing population and the far greater propensity for people coming from rest-UK to vote No to Scottish independence implies the latter group probably accounted for around one third of all No votes in 2014, and given continued inflows of 60,000 a year they could account for 40% or more in indyref2, if it happens. Surprising as it may seem, almost half of No voters next time could be English, evidently preferring a Tory nationalist Britain to an independent social-democrat Scotland, and blocking self determination for Scots.

      1. Wul says:

        So you move north because Scotland is a better place to live & work and then vote to stifle the growth of the very benefit you enjoy? Makes no sense.

        Perhaps they don’t see it this way. Maybe they feel they are voting “No” to keep things the same, because “everything’s alright as it is”. The problem with this mindset is:

        A) Things are only OK for some folk, but pretty bad for many more others.

        B) There is no option to “stay the same” any more. That’s gone. Brexit & the march of the unfettered “market” have seen to that.

        In the 2014 referendum run-up, I started to see it as a straight choice between becoming more like Northern Europe or more like America.

        1. Alf Baird says:

          Wul, clearly the ‘No’ vote is being replenished, year on year by substantial inflows from rest-UK and where their dominant culture is British/English, not Scottish. This makes the outcome of any Indyref2 (if allowed) less certain than some might think. There are options though, such as:

          1. do what virtually all nations do with their voting franchise when deciding constitutional matters, i.e. limit the vote primarily to people actually born in the nation concerned.
          2. secure a majority of SNP MP’s on June 8th and assert Scotland’s independence that way
          3. do both the above, perhaps number 2 first (as the Baltic States etc did).

  3. Alex M says:

    The analysis of “incomer” voting in 2014 was clear. 80% voted no. These are the “unsettled” immigrants, who like the scenery, the cheaper housing, free personal care etc, but who do not recognise Scotland as a Nation, but consider it merely a bargain basement version of England. They do not attempt to integrate into Scottish culture. In my youth Britain was called England almost universally furth of Scotland, now England is called Britain, in a curious attempt to avoid having to mention Scotland, or to acknowledge any distinction. This trend has accelerated markedly since the establishment of Holyrood. Clearly 20% of the English in our midst have integrated, is it wise to disenfranchise them in a broad attempt to “cleanse” our electorate?

    1. Wul says:

      “..now England is called Britain..to avoid having to mention Scotland”

      I’ve noticed that too. What is weirder though is that the word “England” is avoided too. It’s as if the word “England” makes some commentators self conscious or embarrassed.

  4. Bibbit says:

    Imagine if England had voted narrowly to remain in the EU last June but that a huge majority of Scots had voted to leave.

    Would England have accepted this result, citing that the Scots voted to stay in the UK and therefore we all voted as the one nation?

    Or would England have voted for its own sovereign right to self-determination?

    I think we all know the answer to that scenario.

  5. James says:

    Scots should make it a little less attractive for all those English settlers that don’t recognise Scotland as their real home and oppose Scottish self determination by completely ignoring them as if they are invisible.

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