The State of This (Union)

It’s only hubris if I fail. – Julius Caesar

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On the 18th of April, Theresa May called an election which was not required, so she could increase a majority she already had, so that she’d have a mandate she didn’t need to negotiate with an EU delegation which doesn’t care about such mandates.

She ran a Presidential campaign designed to distract from the impact of her party’s absolutely horrific policies and her draconian plans for the future.

Of course, that Presidential style didn’t exactly extend to showing the strength and stability one needs if one bothers to turn up to debates and her efforts to show that in more controllable situations ranged from shaky at best to outright farcical at worst.

And on the other side of the fence, Corbyn’s surprisingly effective performance in both person and policy attracted voters in their droves and even convinced great swathes of the under 25 population to get out and vote. From the day the election was called to the day it was held, poll after poll told us an incredible story.

May wasn’t going to get that thumping majority she was aiming for. In the final few days, some half-heard pollsters started to whisper about the possibility of a hung parliament…

The Results

…and, for the second time in a decade under an electoral system specifically designed to prevent such things, that’s what we got.

And even at that, First Past The Post was stretched to its limits. On a UK level the Tories managed to win 49% of the seats in the House of Commons based on 42.4% of the popular vote.

Even in Scotland, where the SNP’s suffered significant losses (they’re still on their 2nd highest seat count ever but velocity – speed and direction – of travel is, of course, important), they still benefited hugely from FPTP, winning 58% of the Scottish seats based on 37% of the vote.

The actual results across the UK were as follows.

GE2017result

From which the Conservatives, with 318, are now looking to the DUP, with 10, to form some kind of alliance to bring them to the 326 seats needed to form a government.

May has managed to shrink her majority even AFTER forming that alliance. And yet she clings to power…

Now, we could instead look at what the results *could* have been had the UK used a more proportional voting system. There are a few caveats here. The largest being that people may vote differently if they think their vote actually might count for something. The other being that we can’t just apply national vote share across the entire UK. The UK can no longer be treated as a single constituency. The SNP and the DUP are examples of this as they don’t stand candidates outside their home nations and in the case of Northern Ireland, most of the “UK” parties don’t stand candidates within there.

So let’s think instead of a kind of “Federal Solution” that might be of interest to Scottish Labour if and when they finally get round to coming up with some ideas for their plans for the federalisation of the UK. We’ll treat the four nations – England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales – as their own separate constituencies and apply vote shares across them. Do this, apply the General Election results as they landed and we get a national picture which looks more like this:

GE2017resultprop

Obviously this doesn’t particularly help with forming a majority government. In this case neither a “Progressive Alliance” nor a “Right Alliance” could form a majority government in this case without the assistance of the Lib Dems.

I’d go so far as to say though that such a situation (assuming it passed its first hurdle of a Confidence vote) may actually be more stable than the majority government we’re in. In a minority government situation – such as the one the Scottish Parliament is in – government tends to restrict itself to policies which are either popular across the board or are immediately essential. Even if the Tories remained the party of government many of their worst and most illiberal policies (such as tearing up human rights or trying, somehow, to lock down the internet) would fall to the wayside.

As it stands, with the DUP propping things up, I can’t see May doing anything less than charging headlong into the most authoritarian government Britain has known in the modern age…until she trips and falls.

Because this surely cannot be anything resembling a “Strong and Stable” government. Even within the new alliance, factions are emerging. If the DUP don’t pull the rug the moment May tries to moderate their wishes then it may be that the group of 13 Scottish Tories are the ones to bring about the collapse. After all, their leader stands for almost the diametric opposite of the DUP by being a proponent of gay rights, equal marriage and religious liberalism as well as leaning towards as soft a Brexit as she thinks she could get away with. I know just how strange this hypothesis might sound but given the events of the past year, would anyone rule it out?

I do worry for Northern Ireland in all this. I’m very far from expert in such matters but it does look like the Good Friday Agreement’s binding commitment that Westminster should be neutral on matters may very well be compromised by bringing the DUP near  – if not actually into – government. Nor has it escaped my notice that every one of the border constituencies have been won by Sinn Féin. I doubt they will break with their tradition and principles and actually take up their seats in the Commons but with the knowledge that their mere presence may be enough to bring down the government and with the very real possibility of the EU negotiations turning sour it must, surely, be very, very tempting to make an exception. Again…dare anyone actually rule it out?

Scotland

I should now talk about Scotland and the results up here. Had this result happened in 2015 it would be hailed as a historic victory for the SNP but, as said earlier, velocity is important and they will have taken this as a poor result. The loss of many of their senior Westminster team, Robertson, Salmond, Mullin and others, will have hurt particularly badly – perhaps more so than the overall numerical loss of MPs – and it may take time for the group to find its feet again in London.

The voting swing in Scotland appears to be as dramatic as it is peculiar. I know many Leftists and Nationalists who were attracted to Corbyn’s manifesto even more than they were to the SNP’s and were certainly tempted to vote for it. I certainly was although, as I laid out immediately after the vote, I couldn’t do it in the end due to my mistrust of Scottish Labour and their poor choice of candidate in my local area.

 

And yet a detailed analysis of the results shows little to no evidence of a Labour surge in Scotland. Indeed, a surface look at the numbers might even give the impression of a movement directly from SNP to Conservative.

Intuitively (if such a thing is of any use any more in UK politics) this seems unusual. I wonder if an alternate hypothesis is that for every SNP voter who moved to Labour, there was a Labour voter who moved to Tory either for “tactical” reasons or because of the latter’s stronger sentiment for Unionism (that last Scottish Leader’s debate and Sturgeon’s disclosure of Dugdale’s post-EUref phonecall couldn’t have helped that).

I’ll be watching the polls closely in coming weeks and months to try to tease out some of the cross-party movements as I did with the demographics of independence support a few months ago.

Pol Compass

I do think the dramatic outflanking on the Left of the SNP by Labour has played a role in the sinking of support for the SNP. Hopefully during their period of reflection the SNP will realise that a) Left politics can win by getting disenfranchised folk out to vote (the “didn’t vote” block is still larger than any group winnable from another party) and b) Scottish Labour is still a significant anchor against that movement within UK Labour.

If the SNP or anyone else would like some assistance with coming up with revised policies then I might know of at least one think-tank who may be able to assist. We already know how popular our ideas are with the membership.

As others have pointed out, many of the policies between the two manifestos are very similar and, especially on policies like Universalism and nuclear weapons, the SNP do maintain an edge but I think the issue isn’t just the policies on offer but the vision behind it. When I read the SNP manifesto I just couldn’t get a sense of the underlying narrative. It was patchwork and sounded very much like a collection of potentially nice things whereas the Labour manifesto, whilst it contained items I disagreed with, made me come away far more with a sense of what kind of country they were trying to build. The same could even be said for the Tory manifesto (though – to paraphrase a certain Batman villain – whilst it said it would take me places, I don’t think it would take me to the place I would want to be). This is an ongoing issue within Western politics as a whole. Governments have become far less good at coming up with a coherent narrative of purpose. This must change.

Independence

So where does this leave the “independence movement”. If you listen to the Tories, their gaining 12 MPs means that independence is completely dead and that we should all just shut up about referendums (I hope they’ll be the first to take that advice but they won’t)

I’m already a bit late to the analysis from the Common Weal team. Robin McAlpine and Ben Wray have already hit the salient points better than I could here so I’ll merely reiterate a core thrust. I agree that we should stop talking about referendums for a bit. There’s no need to. The Scotland Bill to hold one was passed and the timetable (“Once the Brexit deal is known”) is set. There’s no need to talk about referendums anymore.

Let’s start talking about independence. What it means. Why we want it. And what we plan to do with it. Let’s talk about currency. Let’s talk about borders. Let’s talk about debt and assets. Let’s talk about investment. Let’s talk about political reform. Let’s talk about pensions. Let’s talk about all these things and more. Let’s talk about all the things we’d like to do in Scotland but currently cannot do because we either don’t have the powers or have the powers but lack the ability to use them effectively. Let’s challenge those who DO have the powers but WON’T use them to say why they won’t. And let’s force those who defend such people to tell voters WHY they shouldn’t get the things they want or need. We know how vulnerable the Tories are to being actually challenged on their policies so let’s do it more and let’s do it louder. This goes for the impartial media just as well as it does for our activists.

Policy will be important and I’m as keen as anyone to see the SNP’s vision for independence continue to evolve but we’re now more than ever ready to decouple independence from SNP policy and give space to people who want it for different (and sometimes even mutually exclusive) reasons. I’m not talking about trying to offer all things to all people in this, though. That won’t work – especially if one party tries to offer it. We do have to recognise that politics will continue beyond independence. Different parties will have different ideas and push them forward. We needn’t fall out over them either (not even if  the Tories for Indy put up a manifesto) because we know that the actual deciding won’t happen till after the referendum. We can talk about potential visions and why ALL of them would be better than what we have just now.

We cannot take independence off the agenda. Not with the “weak and wobbly” table of May’s government being propped up by the bent and soggy beermat of the DUP. We’re only a nudge away from spilled drinks and another round of elections. In times of great uncertainty such as these, great opportunities can be born and seized.

Another independence campaign is coming. It’ll look different to the one which came before. It’ll be (even) better. It’ll win.

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4 thoughts on “The State of This (Union)

  1. For Corbyn and Labour, if destroying a social democratic party like the SNP is at the centre of its purpose, and that’s what Slab would want the Labour party to do, then it is doomed to failure.
    It will rot from the centre.

    Like

  2. Pingback: Still sifting – Scottish Snap

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