“I want to speak to those beyond our party ranks, to no voters as well as to yes voters” – Nicola Sturgeon
By Peter Arnott
I have seen two kinds of expert reaction to Nicola Sturgeon’s own “vow” on Saturday that the SNP will under no circumstances “put the Tories in power” in the event of a hung parliament after the general Election next year. One, of straightforward puzzlement from the Westminster games players, who cannot see why anyone would nail their colours to the mast like that. After all, the rules of the Coalition game have been set for years by the Liberal Democrats…that the party will await the “will of the electorate” before sticking their opportunistic colours to whichever ship seems to be heading for governmental waters. By the rules of that game of tease, it makes no sense to declare in advance what you will or will not do.
It would seem that the declaration from Nicola Sturgeon was announcing a different game with a different set of rules.
We have also heard from several commentators their analysis of the next concomitant step along the path that the SNP would help Labour to form a government – and why would an elector who wanted a Labour government not just vote Labour.
Again, within the rules of the game as it has hitherto been played, up till and including the last Holyrood election, where the anti-Tory Scottish vote distributes itself tactically distinctly between “local” and “national” elections, that logic cannot really be faulted.
It follows then, I think, that Nicola Sturgeon’s version of the Vow must be part of a different game with different rules. It is in fact based on a gamble on the intangible. (Who knew that Nicola liked a flutter as much as her friend Alec?) The bet in question being whether or not,having declined to change itself profoundly on the 18th of September, Scotland really did profoundly change on the 19th. That the game is not the same any more. Not that tactical voting has ceased to differentiate between Westminster and Holyrood elections, but that voters now tactically calculate that the best way to defend ourselves from the Tories, and , crucially, from neo-liberal Tory values , is no longer to participate in the UK while hedging our bets in Scotland, but to move all of our electoral chips onto one side of the table. And vote SNP in both
If the Scottish electorate go for the pitch that an SNP vote in Westminster and Holyrood elections is better tactics than a Labour vote in one and an SNP vote in the other, then there really has been a profound change. That tactical choice would reflect an existential understanding on the part of the electorate that Scotland is now and forever politically both entirely distinct from the UK and entirely its own polity, and its own democracy. And that therefore the relationship with the UK has itself transformed. Labour’s own gamble that devolution would consolidate its control of Scotland while maintaining a loyal block of votes in Westminster will be proved, to use an old 7:84 word, a bogie.
To get classical, the die will be cast, Scotland will have crossed the Rubicon. (Or the Solway) Make no mistake, if the SNP can cross the threshold where the first past the post achieves electoral system stops suppressing the small party and rewarding the big one, if they can keep their current level of support in the polls and the Central Scotland,Labour seats really do start falling like nine-pins, then on a far deeper level than mere electoral fortunes, we will be living in a different country.
On one level, it may well be that the “No Pact with the Torys” pledge is mere electioneering. That it is intended to force Jim Murphy to take Scottish Labour further to the left even while the two Eds down South do their best to impersonate Osborne on economics and Farage on citizenship. Murphy will then be an easy target for the accusation that he is promising a socialist government in Scotland when his entire Unionist position means that he can offer no such thing. Indeed, the logic of labour as a socialist alternative to the SNP only makes sense in an independent Scotland. Sturgeon is also gambling that the Scottish electorate are savvy enough to suss out that the left opportunism that jolly jim seems to be offering currently is either the crassest and most obvious hypocrisy or is actually a declaration of Indy by an unexpected pathway… It may be, machine politician that she is, Nicola Sturgeon is simply continuing the superior tactical nous that the SNP have used to make a succession of Scottish Labour Leaders look silly for getting on for a decade now.
But their tactical superiority indicates a deeper truth, and it is this truth that I think the SNP are now “acting as if” they believed. That they bring their A game and their A team to Holyrood because it is now Holyrood that matters. The SNP, at the time of devolution were, like the others , a Westminster-model Party. They were formed through Westminster politics, and still had that shape in the uneasy first years after devolution. But they have now adapted themselves in to being a Holyrood Party that plays tactics at Westminster. They are doing this now with complete conviction because they believe in the depths of their bones that the Westminster game has finally become someone else’s business. That keeping the flame of social justice burning in the UK as a whole is no longer best served by holding our noses and voting Labour. That it is only a matter of time and a tactical nip and tuck till Scotland achieves home rule in some shape or constitutional form and within all the caveats and conditions of our interdependent islands and continent and world.
The Anti – Tory Vow is a manifest interpretation of the No vote as being a vote for “Not Yet”, as a vote, without any real conviction,to give Westminster one last chance, just to be on the safe side. It is a vote then , based on a belief in something. And that in itself may well be enough to make the current rather wild poll predictions come somewhere near to coming true in May.
I believe that people on both sides of the Yes/No divide want to believe that we can change the country and ourselves. And that if we act as if we had faith, we might just pull it off. And that might just be enough