Ed Balls was in Edinburgh yesterday and together with Mr Hi Jumpy AKA Jim Smugurphy visited an engineering factory in Glasgow. The visit was mainly notable for its absence of anything of note, and as such was a perfect metaphor for the Labour party in Scotland. I’ve never been entirely clear why politicians visit factories, it’s just one of the traditional things that they do. It’s the only traditional thing that they have left when out on the campaign trail, now that they can’t kiss babies in case they get mistaken for a 1970s BBC radio presenter.
Perhaps Jim and Ed, who’d changed his surname to Baws in an effort to blend in with the Glaswegian ambience, were visiting the factory in order to see what real jobs looked like since neither of them have ever had a proper job outside politics. Ed Baws wants to be the next chancellor of the exchequer, which means that if he’s successful then the red briefcase traditionally waved before the press cameras at budget time will be a Bawsbag.
However it is just as likely that Baws and his Murphbag were hoping to discover a new manufacturing process for creating Labour voters out of discarded Barbie dolls. Real live human beings have wised up to Labour, but the party does seem to have cornered the market in plastic airheads – at least if the braying backbenchers of SLAB and their cheerleaders in BBC Scotland are anything to go by.
In a desperate attempt to make out that the visit was more than just a photo opportunity for two not especially attractive men, the Guardian splashed with the story that Ed Balls had used the visit as an occasion to almost but not quite rule out the possibility of Labour going into a formal coalition with the SNP after the next Westminster election. This still failed to elevate the story from a non story, since the SNP have already said that they would not enter into a formal coalition with Labour, but rather would support them on a “confidence and supply” basis as a minority government. Strangely the Guardian’s ace Scottish correspondent forgot to mention this. Perhaps he doesn’t know, since the Guardian’s definition of unbiased when it comes to reporting Scottish politics appears to be “publish a Labour press release”.
In the interests of clarification, this blog does not pretend to be unbiased. It wears its bias on its sleeve. Especially where Magrit Curran is concerned.
Of course the reason it’s not mentioned is because Labour’s strategy is to conflate a coalition with other forms of support, or indeed with the SNP holding a metaphorical gun to their heads. They need to do this so they don’t scare off voters in England. Meanwhile they’ve already got enough problems with alienated Scottish voters as it is. What’s on offer is confidence and supply – which is more like holding a gun to Labour’s head than it is getting into bed with them.
Confidence and supply is a peculiar turn of phrase, but then Westminster is a peculiar place. Confidence and supply does not mean that the SNP would supply confidence to Labour, although it might be interesting to watch Alicsammin try and boost Ed Miliband’s self-esteem. Perhaps he might show Ed how to eat a bacon sandwich. What it means is that the SNP would not vote against Labour in a vote of confidence, that’s the confidence bit, and would not oppose a Labour budget, that’s the supply bit. This would allow a minority Labour government to continue in office, even though the Tories – who would also be short of an outright majority – might have more seats than Labour did.
Many sarf of the Border are outraged by this prospect. It means that England might not get the government it voted for, splutter assorted columnists – mainly on the right. Usually the spluttering is accompanied by a demand that Ed, the other one not the Balls one, rules out any coalition, alliance, pact, understanding, or breathing the same air as the SNP. Tories don’t want Scottish voters to vote for the SNP, they’d much rather we vote Labour instead. Labour plays the same game as the Tories. So we get the Tories warning us that if we vote SNP we get Labour, whereas Labour trots out the old scare story that if we vote SNP we get the Tories.
Why Scottish voters should care about any of this is harder to understand, we’ve regularly had governments we didn’t vote for. We get governments we didn’t vote for all the time. And even when we do get the government we voted for we get one which has tailored its policies to attract Tory leaning voters in the rest of the UK. Ed and Jim know all about that. But that’s what happens in this wonderful Union and aren’t we all Better Together for it? If England does get a government it didn’t vote for the response from Scotland can only be: welcome to our world, suck it up.
I don’t know about you, but I’m getting pretty fed up of being told to vote Labour because people in England won’t. It should be known to every politically literate person in Scotland by now, and thanks to the referendum campaign that’s a large majority of the electorate, that it makes no difference how Scotland votes. We get the government that England votes for. This is not an anglophobic point, simply an acknowledgement of the reality that England is far far bigger in terms of population than Scotland is. And in turn this means that if Labour can’t get elected it means then it’s the left in England that has a problem. Voters in Scotland can’t fix that problem for them. We deserve better than to be the perpetual airbag that gets burst in England’s frequent Tory car crashes where the only choice we’re offered is to vote for the Red Tories in order to stop the Blue Tories. Don’t dream, don’t aspire. And for god’s sake don’t hope. Leave all that silliness behind, all that matters is that Labour gets to wave its Bawsbag in the Commons.
But the SNP is poisonous, it kills the germs of a Tory government stone dead. It kills the infection that keeps dragging Labour to the right. And this is all the more reason why Scottish voters are all the more inclined to vote for a party which will go through the lavatory of Westminster like a laxative and a gallon of bleach. Vote SNP get Labour? Vote SNP get Tory? The real political equation facing Scotland’s voters in May is simple: Vote SNP, get Dettol.
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