As summer evenings close in and the berries ripen, a chill comes into the air. Cancel that. It’s September and it’s stiflingly hot. There’s the phrase doing the rounds: “Stop thinking of this as the hottest day you’ve ever experienced and start realising it might be the coolest”. We think of change as mostly incremental, often frustratingly slow for people advocating the need for radical urgent transformations. Then something shifts and everything collapses. The reason for these shifts is often thought to be the desire for the ruling elites (wherever they are) to blind themselves to discontent and surround themselves with upbeat lackeys and courtiers and advisors. Take the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg last week taking extraordinary length to defend the Prime Minister, to whom she is said to be extremely close, saying: “While Johnson “whatever you think of him” is determined to take on hard issues whatever the political cost.”
Not only is this deeply inappropriate for her role as one of the best paid and most senior BBC reporters to be saying this, it is also at odds with every human beings experience of Boris Johnson who is characterised by extreme opportunism. The very last thing he has ever been able to do is “take on hard issues whatever the political cost”. He has been described as having a “pasta like tendency to buckle in hot water.” He is precisely the Prime Minister we don’t need right now. When we need a leader of empathy who is able to communicate and who is able to put across difficult messages with conviction and sincerity, instead we have a priapic Etonian buffoon. Anyway, this is mostly about Scottish politics so let’s leave Laura and Boris behind in whatever exercise they are engaged with.
This is about opening up and turning to a new season and a coming new year. This is not about ‘back to normal” because all of the signs are that the political landscape that’s emerging looks very different to the one before. The opinion polls released last week were devastating for a umber of players hoping for a new spring. For Alex Cole-Hamilton didn’t even register. When asked about net trust -9% of people asked said they distrusted Willie Rennie. Talking about failing to make an impact. Anas Sarwar also fails to impress or ‘cut through’ in the jargon. Nicola Sturgeon was the only leading politician polled whose statements and claims independence swing voters are more likely to trust than distrust. Of the leaders – unsurprisingly the Tories are the least trusted, with the exception of Alex Salmond, whose Alba Party managed to reduce their polling from 2% (+2) in April) to 0 (-2 in September).
The Opinium polling showed us more. The latest polling reveals that a majority of Scottish voters would back the SNP in a Westminster election. The SNP is up +4 points, with 51% of the vote share, whilst the Conservatives have 21% (-4) and Labour have 17% (-3). In fact the SNP now have an outright majority of the constituency vote – something that has never actually been achieved in an election at Holyrood.
Well, coalitions are famously very popular at the beginning, and the SNP-Green pact is untested. But for Douglas Ross, Anas Sarwar and Alexander Cole-Hamilton the outlook is pretty bleak. They have each had long enough to become known and each have failed to make any impact other than to prove their unpopularity. The Tories have been reduced recently to looking like bad actors playing Scottish Tories in a low-budget drama. The Conservatives who stood on a single issue ticket of “there must be no referendum” were utterly rejected. But the lack of any credible opposition to the SNP is no good thing. The opposition at Holyrood are hopeless and getting worse.
Aside from the Opinium polling, Savanta/Comres polled for The Scotsman. They reported that more than half of the public (54%) say that the new SNP/Green deal in Holyrood strengthens calls for a second independence referendum, which in terms of perception is interesting. Incredibly while this view was most commonly found among those who voted SNP at the last election in May (68%), it is also shared by a majority of those who voted Labour (58%) and some of those who voted Conservative (37%). Despite some misgivings amongst Greens that I have heard 53% interviewed say that the deal strengthens the Scottish Green Party’s standing in Scottish politics, including an overwhelming 9 in 10 Green list voters (90%).
So what does this tell us?
We have a trusted leader in a fresh popular coalition with a strengthened and unquestionable mandate for a referendum and a commitment to do so. They have a Programme for Government that includes a series of urgent and popular polices that will gain widespread support if implemented properly, amongst them:
- Hold a referendum on Scottish independence after the Covid pandemic has passed, within the current parliamentary session
- Investment for at least £1.8bn over course of this parliament to allow decarbonisation of 1m homes by 2030
- Nationalising ScotRail in 2022
- An additional 110,000 affordable homes in Scotland, at least 70% for social rent, by 2032
- Implement an effective national system of rent controls, enhance tenants’ rights and deliver 110,000 affordable homes by 2032
- Free bikes will be provided to children in Scotland whose families can’t afford them. The Greens have control of the ‘active travel’ portfolio. Sturgeon announced plans to “ensure that at least £320 million or 10% of the total transport budget goes on active travel by 2024‑25, ensuring greener, cleaner and better connected communities”.
- “Tackling the drugs death emergency with £250 million investment over this Parliament, ensuring better outreach, treatment, rehabilitation, and aftercare services in every local authority.” Scotland has the worst drug death rates in Europe.
- Everyone in Scotland under 22 years old will be eligible for free bus travel from January 2022
- Significantly increase the level of the Scottish Child Payment, in order to maximise the impact on child poverty, with the full £20 payment being achieved within the lifetime of the Parliament
- Expand free early learning and childcare to 1 and 2 year olds – starting in this Parliament with children from low-income households.
All of these – but most of all the last commitment – is heavily dependent on how it is implemented.
These polls and policies emerge into a political landscape where two things are important. First the Yes movement is more united than it has been for a very long time. Second the fantasy of the “end of covid” is as strong and delusional with some senior conservatives as is their belief that Brexit has been a huge success and is wildly popular.
As John Harris writes: “As summer withers away and politicians and journalists prepare for the return of party conferences, a tantalising fantasy is in play, mostly in Conservative circles. The worst of the pandemic, we are told, is now over. In England employers are starting to reduce working from home, and schools are reopening with hugely reduced Covid protocols. A large part of the public in England seems to believe that life has at last been uncoupled from Covid and its effects, and is somehow being returned to normal, although Brexit-related shortages are twisting reality in yet another unsettling way. At the top of the Tory party, meanwhile, the political optimism ignited by vaccines is still alive, and there remains a hope that ministers might somehow slip free of the Covid crisis and begin to leave the whole mess behind.”
This seems at best unlikely and at best deeply delusional.
The eternal lesson of politics is not to conduct the previous campaign you remember but the one you’re actually in.
The Yes movement has a massive task ahead – persuading the 17% undecided (54% of which are under 45). But we start from a refreshed prospectus with a population ready for change after an immersive universal experience with a 51% pro-indy lead.
Anyone feeling lucky?
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