We’re back…after a week in the Perthshire hills we return to the Watershed Election. Did I miss much?
I saw glimpses of those leaders’ coconut shies of which we probably need one or maybe two, fully spaced out from campaign start and then again towards the end, but really, haven’t we had enough of the same fairground fun? They have now dominated the coverage and haven’t left the public much endeared to the political leaderships of our country, I fear.
Jim Murphy caught my eye as the domineering candidate – skeletal, tall, shouty, starey-eyed and talking over everyone as if nothing had progressed from his student politics days when the bully, contemptuous of others, usually prevailed, his mob baying from the floor. I suspect his energy is cheering for the remaining Labour loyalists who just need someone to stick it to the Nats but utterly useless for winning back the disaffected – a point rather confirmed by the opinion polls which placed his performance below that of Ruth Davidson.
Intrigued by Ms Ruth, who could be said to be growing into the job – in all senses. Not to be unkind, I hope, she has changed shape somewhat which detracts from gawky kid image she started out with by making her look more mature – an Annabel mini me – and she does look comfortable ‘in her self’ as they say. I’m still not sure what Scottish Conservatism is though, or even if such a thing exists, and this feels like a good time to redefine what the membership is voting for – before they die off completely. Do they accept every single Osborne cut? Do they prefer jobs without a living wage, security, normal hours, or holidays and pensions? Would they like their own job to be like that? When would they be content for the UK to use its nuclear weapons independently? Why have they lost the support of small business. Why would I vote for them?
On the other hand, I thought Nicola was business-like and competent and conspicuously small amid it all. She is blessed with an appeal that disarms and draws you figuratively to her side allowing her to be both doe-eyed in retreat and firey in attack and still command your support. It’s an odd phenomenon which can lead to the viewer rather accepting what she says without scrutiny simply because she says it, and is, therefore potentially dangerous. (The contrast is with Murphy, who couldn’t hand me a cheque without my doubting his sincerity.)
When I see those photos of her almost submerged among a throng, or relaxed playing with a child and realise this working class woman, who made it to university without any of the privileges we expect of Westminster leadership, is now First Minister of Scotland, my country, I want to burst with pride. She’s what I want my own girls to become. She is living, breathing proof of what anyone in our country can achieve – and why it’s important that we remove all the blocks of class, prejudice, money and inertia to let everyone else follow her…
And, damningly, that’s exactly what Labour believes too, or at least used to. I haven’t a moment’s doubt that Labour voters have the example of Nicola Sturgeon in their mind (or someone they know just like her) when they think of the Scotland they desire. It’s just that their party has decided society can’t afford to pay for it – cuts in public spending, for the seventh year in a row (and confirmed by Ed Balls this morning), are needed as well as charging kids a mortgage just to get a degree. This neo liberal miserablism is crushing low-paid families, creating a malleable workforce stripped of rights and minus work/life balance. Curiously, it doesn’t seem to have curtailed the comforts of the well-off.
It is worth remembering that as we divide for voting purposes into different tribes, the aspiration of most Scots is similar and, notwithstanding those affiliations, is made explicit in the SNP’s offer to support a Labour government. Indeed, I suspect the SNP objectives of moderate extra spending and cancelling Trident’s replacement, are much closer to Scottish Labour instincts than are those of the bombastic Mr Balls. And, whether he likes it or not, it seems clear the same Ed Balls will indeed only have a career as Chancellor so long as he accepts those SNP votes in parliament. However the mechanics work, Nationalists will effectively be part of the British government (unless there is a late Tory surge) working together with the – until now – hated Labour Party.
SNP folk might like to dismiss that idea and take solace that they will instead be holding Miliband’s feet to the fire but both the Opposition and the media will view it entirely differently…it will be portrayed as the Labour/SNP government working against the interests of Britain. To work effectively this unholy alliance will require corridor confabs and back-of-the-hand agreements and, however strident he sounds today, the understanding that Miliband must deliver for Scotland. The SNP will be working with Labour. Read that again and contrast it with the Red Tories and the 45 and the remember the fury that may of us reserve uniquely for Labour and its leadership. From around the middle of May we – the Scottish Nationalists – will be effectively in government with sworn opponents Labour. They will be our new chums. (Do try and smile nice.)
I believe that once the unease and acrimony dies away into a pattern of behaviour at Westminster, a working relationship will emerge, one that makes our current war of words obsolete. It will still be justifiable to point up differences but much more difficult to decry Labour as somehow against the interests of Scots. The same will apply to Labour rhetoric against the SNP – the instant counter is a question: So why are you working with them at Westminster?
It then only takes a look at the diary to May 5, 2016, 12 months after the General Election, to see how things could change at Holyrood too. That’s the date of the Scottish election when the SNP will contest with Labour for power in Edinburgh. An deal in London will necessarily curtail the critical language between the parties in the Holyrood campaign and is another reason why Labour will feel the heat to deliver early for the Scots – failure to do so is bound to damage the party’s chances further and leave the SNP free to rack up another overall majority.
There has always been an alliance of interest between the SNP and Labour and many of the policy differences – independence apart – are either designed to dovetail with inappropriate English positions or are contrived differentiation.
We may be entering an era when acrimony gives way to rapprochement along the old fault line of our politics. The creation of a left-of-centre realignment based around Devo Max and shared interests both at Westminster and Holyrood could render redundant much of the antagonism that marks our debate. It may even be that, in redefining relationships and shedding the bitterness, in the longer term, a new coalition of interests about independence emerges. This kind of changed outlook will demand an altered approach and the generation of a new politics which looks for dialogue rather than damage and country before criticism. It may sound naïve today but with any deal in Westminster this is where we are headed and with compromise on both sides, the prize could be a Left Alliance and the end of auld sang…