Tag Archives: SNP

Initial reflections on the General Election

Well that was a bit of a surprise, which caught nearly everyone out. Unlike 2015 this time we do have a hung parliament, just. A well deserved mess for May and the Tories. No more strong and stable, just a shaky deal which relies on the DUP for any kind of majority.

The results in Scotland were also unexpected, at least in degree. Everyone expected the SNP to lose seats and the Tories to win some. But the extent of the changes caught most people out. What factors lie behind the voting in Scotland? Here are a few initial thoughts.

  1. The Corbyn bounce was real and Labour secured one of their best ever results, particularly in terms of their share of the popular vote in England. This was around 40%. The party did not do so well in Scotland, with hardly any increase in their vote. However the party did win six seats. Almost certainly as a result of Corbyn’s appeal to younger and radical voters. Many of whom support Scottish independence, but like the idea of a Corbyn government at Westminster.
  2. Though Brexit did not feature prominently in the debates during the campaign, it was undoubtedly a significant factor for many voters. Especially in those parts of the country where the leave vote was relatively strong – in the north east for example. As the only party to campaign on a hard Brexit platform, the Tories were the best placed to sweep up those leave voters for whom Brexit was the key issue.
  3. In Scotland independence and a second indyref was one of the dominant issues in the campaign. While opposition to indyref2 took most of the headlines, the real factor was opposition to independence itself. In practice this amounted to opposition to the SNP. All three Unionist parties co-operated on this. There was clearly an informal Unionist pact among Labour, the LibDems and the Tories. They vied among each other as to who was best placed to defeat the SNP. And quite effective it was too. Which makes the SNP success in holding on to 35 seats even more amazing.
  4. Though this was a UK election, most of the debates and campaigning in Scotland was about devolved issues. Education and the NHS came up in programmes again and again. Did this also happen in Wales?  Which is a bit strange as the outcome of a UK election has no practical bearing on what happens in the Scottish Parliament. The relentless focus on devolved issues was of course a deliberate tactic of the three Unionist parties. It clearly put the SNP, as the government in Scotland, on the defensive. This meant that the abysmal failures of the Tory government at Westminster – on the economy, defence, no Brexit plan etc – got pretty much a free pass. As with the independence issue we had the three Unionist parties all trying to make the election about the SNP and not about the Tory government at Westminster. In this of course they were ably assisted by the media, including the BBC.
  5. An intriguing question is why did the LibDems and Labour agree to this informal pact with the Tories. I could understand this if it was a Holyrood election, after all the SNP is the government and deserve rigorous scrutiny. But this was not a Scottish election, but a UK one. I can also see why the Tories would want to focus on the SNP as they would have had a harder time if they had had to spend more time defending the record of the Tory government in London. But what was in it for the LibDems and Labour?
  6. As regards the LibDems it may be that they realised that the Tories were going to win big in England and therefore they would have no influence at Westminster. So why not just attack the SNP and try and win back a few seats from them. If the Tories were going to be returned with an increased majority anyway, what difference would it make if the Tories also made gains in Scotland.
  7. In the case of Labour this may also have been what motivated them to indulge in an informal anti SNP pact. However if true it may turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory for Labour in Scotland. If, as seems likely, they did not believe in a Corbyn victory, that does not augur well for the future relations between Scottish Labour and the UK party. What is potentially worse may be the dawning realisation that if the SNP had held on to even six more seats then the prospect of a Labour minority government would be a reality.  If only Labour in Scotland had relentlessly exposed their real enemy, the Tories, and campaigned with a stop the Tories message!
  8. Returning to the UK results, it is worth remembering that these elections are conducted with the First Past the Post system (FPTP). This system is notoriously undemocratic and rarely, if ever, accurately reflects the votes cast. It was no different this time around, with both winners and losers. The winners were the Tories, DUP and SNP.  The Tories benefitted the most with fully 6.4% more seats than their share of the vote, which was only 42.4%. Yet they ended up with 48.4% of the seats. The SNP and DUP benefitted to a much lesser extent. The losers from FPTP were the LibDems, Greens and UKIP. The LibDems suffered the most, their 7.4% of the vote returning only 1.8% of the seats. Interesting to note that for both Labour and Plaid Cymru their share of seats matches almost exactly their share of the vote. FPTP can work in strange ways.

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Will the SNP 56 change England?

The return of 56 SNP MPs to Westminster has generated much comment on just what they can hope to achieve. 56 is a lot in Scottish terms, but still a small minority in the grand scheme of things at Westminster, where they make up less than 11% of the total. Most, if not all, the focus has therefore been on what they can achieve for Scotland. Or more accurately what they will not be able to achieve for Scotland – stopping Trident, reversing austerity etc. However there is another aspect to the increased presence of SNP MPs at Westminster – their potential to change attitudes and perceptions in England.

56 MPs, though a minority, nevertheless represents a quite significant visual presence in the chamber. Particularly if they sit together and turn out in numbers to support each other, as seems to be the case. Such a presence is difficult for the media to ignore completely. The print media will probably try to, unless it is to highlight something they regard as improper behaviour, clapping for example. However the broadcasters will find it more difficult to ignore this presence. Angus Robertson will get two questions every week at PMQs, while there will be SNP members on every select committee. TV and radio will find it very difficult to simply not show this in their reports. The SNP should also find that one of their number appears much more frequently on Question Time and other discussion programmes.

The question then is what effect might this increased visibility have on people and politics in England? The Tories are unlikely to be impressed by anything the SNP do or say, so they can be discounted. Their voters may react differently and more positively, but in the end Tory voters or UKIP voters are most unlikely to change their votes due to anything the SNP say or do. This is not the case though with the Labour party or their voters and potential voters. The same may be true for the remaining and potential LibDem voters, assuming they can ever recover. I suspect that it will be the broad swathe of Labour and LibDem voters who are most likely to be impressed and surprised by the increased coverage of the SNP.  What might impress them?

The first surprise will probably be that the new Scottish contingent looks and sounds a lot like them. A variety of Scottish accents will be heard, but all will speak in ways that will be clear and understandable to everyone across the UK. Taken as a whole, the SNP group is probably more reflective of the country than either Labour or the Tories. They represent a better  balance in terms of gender, age and previous experience.

A particular and in many ways the stand-out example of this is that there are no Oxbridge graduates in the SNP group. Unlike Labour, which seems to have been taken over by an Oxbridge and London elite, at least at its leadership level. Many Labour members and voters may begin to ask why the Labour party has allowed itself to become dominated by such a narrow and restricted base.

The most important difference of course will be in the political message that the 56 will articulate with clarity and passion. They will challenge the Westminster consensus on austerity, immigrant bashing, punishing the poorest etc. They will also vigorously oppose the attempt to revoke the Human Rights Act. In general they will put forward a more positive alternative. Not based on the narrow individual aspiration that Labour seems to have borrowed from the Tories. But a positive vision that is more collective, people working together to improve the public services that benefit all of us. Dare I say it, a kind of pooling and sharing of resources. But one that involves the rich and better off contributing a bit more, and finally challenging the damaging dominance of the UK economy by an out of control financial sector, that only seems to benefit London. And only some Londoners at that.

While the SNP will of course continue to present the case for independence, during the life of this parliament they will also argue for more powers for Scotland within the UK. This too is likely to strike a chord with many people not just in England, but in Wales and Northern Ireland too. For greater powers for Scotland can be presented in the context of fundamentally changing the UK into a Federal country.

There is thus every possibility that many Labour voters will begin to ask why the Labour party is not more like the SNP in terms of its progressive and challenging policies. This will take time and any change will come too late for the current Labour leadership contest. But five years is a long time in politics and if the SNP get the coverage their numbers merit, their presence and actions can only be a positive force in England.

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General Election 2015 – Groundhog Day!

The closer the election gets the more the debate gets stuck in a seemingly immoveable groove. It’s getting to be a bit like the film Groundhog Day, only this time every morning we get to hear the same tired old patronising insults. At least as far as Scotland is concerned. All the Unionist parties are at it. They seem to be collectively unable or unwilling to get beyond their Project Fear mode of operating.

Labour for example is still churning out the lie that only the largest party gets to form the government at Westminster. That Jim Murphy & Co are stuck repeating this lie is further evidence that Labour treats us as if we are a bunch of idiots. We need more journalists to challenge the likes of Ed Miliband to confirm that if Labour has less MPs than the Tories, but could form a government with the support of other parties, he would just stand aside and let David Cameron continue as Prime Minister.

Then we have Labour MP Rachel Reeves boasting that the Labour party is not the party of people on benefits.  She went out of her way in an interview to stress that, “We don’t want to be seen, and we’re not, the party to represent those who are out of work.” Now the really, really sad thing about this is that Rachel is probably telling the truth here.  Labour no longer wants to represent the poor and disadvantaged it seems. Much better to just insult lots and lots of people. Not to mention insulting the memory of countless thousands of Labour party stalwarts who did think it was their job to represent all working people, including those who became unemployed and had to rely on the welfare state.  Seems the Labour party has decided that the only way to get elected in England is to insult and cast off as the new untouchables the millions of people who continue to suffer the ravages inflicted on them by our nasty coalition. Does this mean that Labour is now just as nasty?

Unionists and it seems most of the media in London are equally happy to indulge in a bit of repetitive insulting. Only this time it is Scots who have to bear the brunt of their ire. How dare we presume to have any kind of influence over the next UK government. Or even worse, God forbid, actually become part of the next UK government. While the Tory party is the most vocal in this almost daily repetition of anti-Scottish bile, neither Labour nor the LibDems are immune from this. All three Unionist parties are determined to rule out any kind of post election co-operation with the SNP at Westminster.

It is all so depressing and shows just how hollow were all those protestations of love coming from the Unionist parties before the referendum. The truly unexpected follow-up from the referendum campaign is that it is the Unionists who are stuck in referendum mode. The Yes campaigners have accepted the result and want to move on. To move on to reforming the UK, if that is possible, and to building a progressive UK wide alliance to bring an end to all this unnecessary austerity, which has caused so much damage to the economy.

One would have thought that the Labour party would want to be at least part of this, if not actually leading. What would be more natural than for the Labour party to be trying to build a progressive coalition with the support of other parties across the UK? But no, it seems that Labour remains trapped in its very own Groundhog Day. The SNP must be opposed and derided at every opportunity and at all cost. Even if the cost includes more Tory rule and more suffering for the poor and disadvantaged. Yet again, if the likes of Rachel Reeves represent Labour thinking, the party hardly deserves to be part of any king of progressive alliance.

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The English Question

As the UK general election inches ever closer, the more feverish becomes the media’s outpourings. All eyes it seems are on Scotland and the implications of the projected SNP surge for coalition building at Westminster. What however seems to go unmentioned is the consequences of the results in England. Put simply, do future UK governments need to have an overall majority in England? This has always been the norm up till now, and pre devolution did not really matter much anyway. It does now, as can be seen from all the furore over the various attempts to introduce some way to ensure that only English votes determine English laws – EVEL to its friends and foes. The problem at heart is of course the lopsided nature of the current devolution settlement with parliaments or assemblies for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but nothing for England. Which means that the UK government is also, for all devolved matters, the government of England. Which in turn begs the question, do UK governments need to have an overall majority in England in order to govern in England? Another way to put it would be to ask for how long would the majority in England tolerate “their” government being dependent on Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish votes?

This is an English Question that is possibly even more important than any Scottish Question. It is particularly relevant right now as just about all current opinion polls indicate that it will very difficult, if not impossible, for either Labour or the Tories to form a government with an overall majority in both England and the whole of the UK. The difficulty is different for our two main UK parties. The Tories are likely to emerge with an overall majority in England, but will find it very difficult to construct a stable majority in the UK as a whole. While for Labour their problem is the opposite – they are most likely to be in a minority in England, but find it possible to form a majority across the UK.

In England the magic number is 267, the number of seats that ensure an overall majority. The Tories currently have 294 of these seats and even with any losses in May are still likely to emerge with 267 or more MPs from England. This is in large part due to the party’s continuing unpopularity in Scotland and Wales. With only one MP from Scotland and merely eight from Wales, the Tories are effectively already an English party. Even if, against all the odds, the party was to increase its representation in Scotland and Wales, it is most unlikely to be by much. Let us assume, for the purpose of illustration, that the Tories emerge with a total of 13 MPs from Wales and Scotland. That means that with a total of as low as 280 MPs, the party would still command an overall majority in England. Of course if, as expected they do not make any progress in Scotland and Wales, then 275 MPs in total could be sufficient to ensure an overall majority in England.

For Labour, it is looking very grim in England. Currently the party has 191 English MPs and while this number is likely in increase considerably, it unlikely to increase enough to ensure an overall majority in England. This of course is partly due to the party’s strength in Wales and Scotland. While the SNP look like eroding Labour’s Scottish bastion, they may not be quite as successful as the latest polls indicate. Which paradoxically is bad news for Labour in England. By way of illustration, let us assume that Labour in Scotland hold on to 11 seats, retain their current 28 seats in Wales and win a total of 300 MPs. Take away the 39 non English MPs and Labour are left with just 261 seats in England, still a minority. If Labour were to win 300 seats across the UK, their best chance of securing an overall majority in England would be for the SNP to win just about everything in Scotland. If there are only two Labour MPs from Scotland, Labour would then have a comfortable overall majority of seats in England. What this little illustration shows, is that it is more important for Labour to do better in England than in Scotland.

For the UK as a whole, the magic number is 326 or 323, if you assume that Sinn Fein continue to not turn up at Westminster. This is where the projected collapse of the LibDems complicates matters greatly, or adds to the excitement if you prefer. With around 20+ MPs, it is most unlikely that they will be in a position to ensure an overall majority for either Labour or the Tories. Only if one of the large parties win 300 or more seats will the LibDems on their own come into play. Currently most polls show neither Labour nor the Tories getting much above 290, if even that number. Again to illustrate the options, let us take 290 as the figure for both the Tories and Labour. Both then need to find another 36 MPs in order to secure a minimum overall majority.

It is somewhat simpler for the Tories in that they are likely to have an overall majority in England and as the SNP have ruled out any deal, their options are reduced. The only viable option would seem to be a tripartite coalition with the LibDems and the DUP from Northern Ireland. That might just take them over the winning line, but just as likely might leave them a few seats short. Support from any UKIP MPs might help, but on the other hand might put the LibDems off. With 290 MPs this coalition is possible, but with anything less, say just 285 MPs, the Tories would find it almost impossible to lead the next government.

When it comes to Labour, their first problem will probably be to secure an overall majority in England, which almost certainly will mean reaching an agreement with the LibDems. However that would still leave a projected Lab/LibDem coalition around 12 or so seats short of an overall majority. As with the Tories a deal with the DUP would not be enough. The other Northern Irish MPs – the SDLP for example – might be sufficient, but their inclusion might create problems for the DUP. At the margins any Green MPs might help, but again it is unlikely they would want to be involved in a formal coalition. For Labour the SNP are likely to provide enough votes on their own to form a coalition, but without the LibDems Labour would remain a minority in England. A Labour/LibDem/SNP coalition would provide the most stable outcome in terms of numbers, but is probably the most unlikely, given both Labour and LibDem hostility to the SNP.

All the above, and most of the media commentary is base on the assumption that the next government needs to have an overall majority at Westminster. However minority government is not uncommon in many countries and was successful in Scotland from 2007-2011. This is where perhaps the SNP has its clearest role in the next parliament. Abstention by the SNP on a confidence motion would then be crucial in who does get to lead the next UK government. The SNP would remain free to vote against Trident and would not need to actually vote for any of the alternatives. The question then would be what price would the others be willing to pay for SNP abstention?

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