The Corner

It’s Time to Worry about Scotland, Again

As election day approaches, the clock is running out on David Cameron. With a month to go, the polls are looking bleak for the Conservatives, who don’t, incidentally, seem to have gained much/anything from signs of a faltering in UKIP’s support. But the outlook is looking very bright for the Scottish National Party:

James Forsyth, writing in The Spectator:

The SNP has the resources to mobilise its ‘45 per cent’ [the percentage that voted for independence in the referendum]. With more than 100,000 members, it has enough activists to run an old-fashioned canvassing and get-out-the-vote operation. In another political throwback, it also has a popular leader: 62 per cent of Scots think Nicola Sturgeon, who is a far less divisive figure than her predecessor Alex Salmond was, is doing a good job as First Minister. Voters talk about ‘Nicola’ with almost proprietorial pride. She is an authentically working-class girl made good — she was the first in her family to go to university — and her story seems to resonate with people here.

At the last election, Scotland was Labour’s silver lining; there was actually a swing to Labour here, even though the SNP went on to win a majority at Holyrood the following year. But the referendum appears to have collapsed the difference in voters’ minds between UK and Scottish elections. They seem to be treating this general election the same way they would a Scottish Parliament one.

One estimate has Labour losing 28 of its 40 seats to the SNP. People on both sides find these numbers hard to believe. One Labour candidate told me that the polls just don’t tally with what he’s hearing on the doorstep. Privately, senior SNP figures admit that they’d be satisfied with a gain of 30 seats in total: that would still mean they held the majority of seats in Scotland.

What is most alarming for their opponents is that nothing seems to hurt the SNP. The collapse in the oil price has demolished the economic case for independence; this fact barely registers in Scottish political debate. The nationalists’ poor record in government (neither health nor education are better as a result of rule from Edinburgh) also bounces off. As even senior Labour figures now admit, New Labour’s devolution model has a fatal flaw: it allows the Scottish government to blame Westminster for every failing.

Tony Blair’s catastrophic legacy just keeps giving…

And as for the fact that the facts don’t seem to count for much with SNP voters, Chris Deerin at CapX has something to say about, well, let’s call it the closing of the Scottish mind:

[T]he country is stuck in a terrible ideological rut, one so deeply engrained that the wheels of national progress feel permanently locked into a dismal Via Dolorosa. The fact that Margaret Thatcher remains the prominent political bogey figure, some 25 years after her departure from office, tells you something about the stunted nature of the political debate. Ed Miliband, surely as left-wing a leader as you’ll find outside Central America, is seen as some kind of neoliberal thug. David Torrance, the biographer of Nicola Sturgeon, says she told him last year that it all started to go wrong for the Labour Party when Michael Foot was replaced with Neil Kinnock – this is the woman in charge of the country that gave the world Adam Smith. As for the mild-mannered centrist Tory that is David Cameron, he appears to inspire many to spittle-flecked apoplexy.

Of course, not everyone thinks this way. But if you’re reading this from outside Scotland, I suspect it is the visible part. It is certainly the viewpoint that dominates our polity and media – an unholy alliance of Nationalists, Greens and socialists. I’m sure many consider themselves to be all three….

As the [Scottish] journalist Bruce Anderson wrote at the weekend, ‘the Scottish Enlightenment represented the triumph of rationalism, always in a calm and restrained fashion. Its philosophers and economists believed in using reason to improve the human condition, not to reshape human nature’. Our separatist movement isn’t violent, thank goodness, but it is bluntly dumb, faith-based and irrational. Unenlightened. And increasingly, it feels like it is dragging all of Scotland down to its level. What, I wonder, would Adam Smith or David Hume make of what has become of their once world-beating little nation?

The whole of Deerin’s piece is a must-read, incidentally, and for anyone who cares about Scotland profoundly sad.

Back to Forsyth:

The question now — for Scotland and the rest of Britain — is what this boatload of SNP MPs will do at Westminster if they hold the balance of power. Nicola Sturgeon has repeatedly declared that she’ll never put the Tories in. But she is also clear that Labour will have to pay for nationalist support. She claims that she would make Labour increase spending, not cut it…

And she’ll demand a lot more than that including, it seems pretty clear, scrapping plans to renew Britain’s nuclear deterrent, something that Labour will be unlikely to put much effort in resisting. That’s just one way in which her ascendancy will push Labour (even further) to the left, and it won’t be the only one.

Then in 2016 there will be a general election for the (Scottish) parliament. If the SNP, still on a roll, wins again, it would be unwise to rule out Referendum 2.0 within a year or so, with all that that might bring in its wake. 

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