Britain Isn’t Working
On Wednesday night the Home Office were run out of Edinburgh, escorted out of Nicholson Square by the city’s polis as a large crowd gathered to demand the release of immigration detainees. It was a significant moment of solidarity almost a year on from the Kenmure Street protest and plaudits go to the organisers. The hope must be now to organise and strengthen the networks in much the same way as the Poll Tax was resisted whenever Warrant Sales were threatened.
The authority of the British State is being regularly and publicly undermined, and in this case social media is both organising tool and broadcast medium, even if traditional media ignore these events. But if the protest was symbolic and powerful, the elections on Thursday bring more difficulties to the Union and the Conservatives. While results are still coming in as I write a few trends are certain: the SNP won the election and their electoral grip is still mighty; the Scottish Greens have surged and had their best ever local election; and Scottish Labour have probably leap-frogged over a discredited and rudderless Scottish Tory party. To be fair if the Conservatives didn’t take a massive kicking after the last two years there would be something deeply wrong, but there is more than mid-term protest going on.
Across the water our Irish cousins were causing shock as Michelle O’Neill was elected and Sinn Féin became the largest Northern Ireland Party and have the most seats in Stormont. That would mean O’Neill becoming the First Minister of Northern Ireland.
Alongside this constitutional earthquake its significant too that the Alliance party is the biggest party in east Belfast for the first time ever in an Assembly election. This is highly significant because alongside the rise of Sinn Féin (north and south) you also have the emergence of new configurations and the slow demise of the loyalist vote. This has huge consequences across these islands. As the journalist Neil Mackay wrote: “Something to consider as Sinn Fein prepares to take NI. A border poll is built into the Good Friday Agreement – *if* a majority wants one. If (and it’s a big if) that happens, then how could Johnson grant one in NI, and then refuse one in Scotland? The sun is setting on the union.”
It may be more complicated than that. As Adam Ramsay has pointed out Sinn Féin campaigned less on the constitution and more on the economy. As Ramsay points out the first section of the party’s manifesto – launched this week – reads: “Rising living costs and fuel and electricity price hikes are placing huge pressure on ordinary people.”
“Over a decade of Tory austerity has left workers, families, and public services less able to deal with crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic and now the spiralling cost of living. Boris Johnson has done little to support people through this crisis and while people continue to struggle, big corporations and energy companies’ profits soar.”
The Union is dying, its true, but its dying because in the face of the worst social crisis in decades its ministers of state merely shrug. It’s ironic that the death-knell of the UK might be Elsie as much as Michelle.
If nationalists and republicans are in the ascendancy the election proved disastrous in Scotland for the Conservatives and for Alba. While the Tory blame-game can begin – with Douglas Ross trying very hard to pin all of the lost votes and voter-turnout on the shenanigans at No 10 – that doesn’t really wash when their most enthusiastic supporter is, er, Douglas Ross. He may survive this disaster purely by the lack of any credible alternative. The Tories attempt to hide Ross behind Baroness Davidson looks like having been a spectacular failure.
These elections were a disaster for Alex Salmond’s Alba party as Chris McEleny – who quit the SNP to join the party last year – failed to keep his seat on Inverclyde Council. In Aberdeenshire where they had hoped for a breakthrough but scored only 5.4%. Alba failed to win any MSPs via the regional list system in last year’s Holyrood election, even though it needed just 5 or 6 per cent of the vote to do so, polling just 1.7% nationally.
Unremarkably Salmond responded saying: “Alba is undaunted and will continue to press hard on the urgency of independence.”
He continued: “In a number of wards the Alba vote came in at over 5 per cent but the instruction from the SNP leadership not to use preferences to support other independence candidates now condemns most Scottish councils to control by unionists.”
“Alba is also focused primarily on the tactic of maximising the pro-independence votes at Holyrood and the next Holyrood poll is our number one target.”
This combination of blaming others, avoiding any self-reflection and the retread of failed cliches (‘max the pro indy vote’) is a terminal failure. The other combination of activating extreme hostility to the SNP while simultaneously demanding and expecting solidarity and support is not plausible. The gamble that they could represent a sort of socially conservative working-class nationalism doesn’t have any traction. This is a failed political experiment.
Chris McEleny, the former SNP group leader on Inverclyde Council, had been seen as Alba’s best prospect in the election. But he picked up just 126 votes in the Inverclyde West ward, the second lowest of the seven candidates standing. This is rapid descent for Salmond who in a quote that sums-up a pitiful lack of self-awareness said: “We will continue to make the positive case for the urgency and primacy of independence with launches of the Wee Alba book across the country.”
Such are the silos of modern life and algorithms and such is the level of hatred and loyalty that Alba may stagger on ‘undaunted’ but it is a failed political project and the Yes movement will be better without it.
These elections produced the best ever result for pro-independence parties and the Union is now under attack on three fronts. But the lessons from both Scotland and Ireland are that the forces driving resistance and rebellion are living standards and social conditions not flags and toilets. The culture wars may be good for toxic social media wars but they often don’t translate into everyday concerns.
Partygate may have provided the backdrop to the Tories disaster but the electoral success of the Greens, the SNP and Sinn Féin comes more from the emerging reality that Britain is a dysfunctional place where people are struggling to feed their kids and heat their homes. The Union is disintegrating before our eyes and the funny thing, the really funny thing is it is only Tory ideology that prevents them lifting a finger to help people out. We have moved quickly from “Now is not the time” to “our time has come.”
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