A Tory MP decided that his party no longer reflected his political beliefs; left said party to join UKIP (that voice of reasoned and measured political engagement in 21st century Britain). At the by-election triggered by his defection, UKIP achieve their first representation at Westminster with an increased majority in Crapton-on-Sea, thus obtaining the political legitimacy that they have craved for so long. The BNP in suits storm the Big House.
In a far-flung corner of the empire: the Highlands and Islands of the largest geographical region of UKplc to be precise, an MSP who left the SNP back in 2011 when they signalled a policy u-turn and declared their commitment to staying in NATO if Scotland were to choose independence, throws his lot in with the Scottish Greens at the start of their annual conference.
What does all this say about the state of the political landscape?
There are some obvious conclusions that can be drawn from these events: some superficial similarities, but more significantly, glaring differences that underline the huge gulf between the south-east of England and the geographical area formally known as a nation(sure, 307 years ago but still)going by the name of Scotland. There is a gulf between these nations that has existed since the blight of Thatcher in the ‘80s, but has developed into a chasm since the referendum in September.
So, the seeming similarities first of all. Two establishment figures jump ship to join peripheral parties: possibly after a sudden attack of conscience and principles; possibly because they sense the way the political winds are blowing. Either way, their actions do illustrate the general disenchantment felt by the majority of the population, whether they reside in Scotland or England.
However, that is where all parallels end, for although both scenarios involve two people moving from the parties in government of their respective countries, as well as two parties that are often cited as examples of nationalism, these mini-dramas are, in actuality, indicative of why Scotland is not England. Despite the depressing referendum result, it is not a case of UKOK and business as normal. Flux is the order of the day, but what kind of change is afoot?
A dismantling of the cosy neo-liberal consensus that has held sway for the past three decades is underway in Scotland, while a belligerent xenophobic emergence of an English nationalism that will in reality lead to a retrenchment of the established order gathers force down south. When you have a bankrupt political system that panders to an increasingly narrow demographic- defined by marginal constituencies- ordinary people react to this in one of two ways. Complete disengagement with the duopoly that is the political scene either through refusing to vote, or by voting for the faux outsider that is the fag smocking, beer swilling Nigel Farage. Up here we have seen a resurgence of political engagement, as evidenced by the both the SNP- who are, remember, the party of government- and the Scottish Greens who have both trebled their membership. The referendum saw a blossoming of political activism because it was perceived, rightly, as a chance to create a better world: a rejection of the same old, same old lies and platitudes that have been spun by Labour and Tory party alike(the Lib Dems are of course irrelevant) . And despite victory being denied by the closing of unionist ranks, both official and unofficial, the battle is ongoing.
This is why Labour are condemned to, at the very best, form a weak and ineffectual government in 2015 committed to pursuing a monetarist economic agenda (look out for an increasingly shrill anti-immigrant agenda in the wake of UKIP’s success), or, much more likely, they will continue to languish on the peripheries as the Tories and UKIP form a marriage of convenience to maintain hegemony. While up here, Labour is finished and will now join the Tories in the dustbin of history, as we pursue a socially progressive and genuinely egalitarian society. Self-determination is coming: maybe not tomorrow, or the day afterward, but rest assured it is coming.
On joining the Greens Finnie said, “I’ve been a Green all my life; I just didn’t know it.” For a lot of Scots, as the good ship Britannica drifts further and further towards splendid isolationist shores somewhere to the right of Enoch Powell, it’s a case of “I’ve been an (inter)nationalist all my life; I just didn’t know it, ”and Scotland steams ahead to a land somewhere to the left of Jimmy Reid.