Well that was a bit of a mixed bag, wasn’t it. The election was the proverbial curate’s egg, good in parts. On the one hand we can be relieved that the Scottish parliament still has a majority of pro-independence MSPs and we’re going to get another SNP government which this time is going to have to rely on the Greens and that should ensure that it tacks to the left and takes a firmer line on issues like land reform or opposition to fracking. This is a good thing. On the other there’s the horrible rise of the selfish Tories, the party of austerity, of privatisation, of cuts, of tax breaks for the rich. The party of cereal eating, stale cereal at that.
The SNP was bidding for a third term in office, and that’s always a big ask for any party. They didn’t only ensure that they were returned to office, they also increased the number of votes that they received. That’s pretty amazing. The SNP continues to defy political gravity and the independence movement has not been sidetracked or set back. But they were buggered by the voting system. This time the SNP didn’t break it.
The Greens have overtaken the Lib Dems as the fourth biggest party and now form a second pro-independence bloc in the Scottish parliament. It’s going to be harder now for the media to pitch the independence campaign as a fully owned subsidiary of the SNP, and that’s only going to benefit the indy movement as a whole. It’s not clear yet whether the SNP will do a formal deal with the Greens in order to govern, or they will govern as a minority administration propped up by the Greens as necessary. Either way, the Greens are going to be a much more important player in the independence movement than they have been to date. Rise, despite the hype on certain pro-independence sites, went nowhere.
Labour was all but annihilated. They’ve done far worse than predicted. Kezia Dugdale, interviewed on the telly as the counting tables were packed away behind her, said that it was always going to be a long struggle to renew the party. It seems that she’s renewing them by packing them away entirely. The truth is that you can’t renew something that’s already dead. Perhaps someone somewhere knows what the point of the Labour party in Scotland is, but it sure as hell isn’t anyone in the Labour party in Scotland.
All Labour have proven over the past few years is that they are incapable of forming a government, and they are incapable of providing an effective opposition to any party other than themselves. South of the border they continue to tear themselves apart in their internecine warfare between Corbyn supporters and the Blairites. There’s no prospect of them replacing the Tories as the government in Westminster any time soon, and that means that their remaining supporters in Scotland need to ask themselves whether there is any point in continuing to resist independence or substantial home rule that actually means home rule.
The only possible role left for Labour is as a party that supports Home Rule in the original sense of the term, a Scotland that is self-governing in all aspects with the exception of foreign affairs and defence. But Labour’s support for devolution has been grudging, half-hearted and characterised by a dedication to Labour’s self-interest and not what the voters of Scotland want. Even if Labour did announce it was going to go full out for real Home Rule, the chances are no one would believe them.
Kezia Dugdale claimed that she was trying to move the constitutional debate on, but you can only do that when people are content with the settlement you’ve achieved. The hauf-airsed Smith Commission clearly hasn’t pleased anyone. One lot of Labour voters don’t think it goes far enough and went off to the SNP or the Greens, another lot want Unionist retrenchment at any cost and have opted for the self-harming choice of the Tories.
There’s only so long that any party can waffle on about how it’s going to listen to the voters and renew itself. Eventually there comes a point when it needs to start making some gains. Labour hasn’t managed that, instead it just gets worse and worse for them. They need to start opposing the Tories instead of their constant repetition of the SNP bad mantra. The austerity that they claim to oppose doesn’t come from the SNP, it comes from the Tories. Labour needs to remember that.
But we now have the truly appalling prospect of five years of the Ruth Davidson for Leader of the Ruth Davidson Don’t Mention We’re Tories Until After the Election Ruth Davidson Party. The increase in votes and seats for the Scottish Tories is even more disappointing than the news that Boaty McBoatface isn’t going to be the name of the new Antarctic research vessel after all. And we should also be relieved that we might finally get a stop to the ongoing nonsense about Scotland being a one party state. Although I’m not going to hold my breath.
It’s a salutory lesson for the independence movement that you can have the highest of ideals, the most noble of notions, you can ask people to think of the future of their nation, and there’s always going to be some folk who will think about the price of their car insurance instead. There’s always going to be a fearful and negative vote, there’s always going to be a vote founded in selfishness and self-interest. The Unionist movement in Scotland is now coalescing around a reactionary conservatism.
It is no coincidence that the Tories made their gains in the better off parts of Scotland, the parts of the country where people do reasonably well out of the current settlement and who are more concerned abour preserving what they have got themselves than they are about addressing the inequalities and and injustices that scar our land. And without a shred of irony, these people, who seek to deepen and profit from the divisions within our country, are the very same people who decry the independence movement for dividing Scotland.
Progressive liberal forward looking independence, or backwards looking, negative regressive Unionism. That’s the choice facing Scotland now.
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