2015 General Election, Austerity, David Cameron, Democracy, Ed Miliband, First Past the Post, Liberal Democrats, Mhairi Black, Nationalism, Nicola Sturgeon, Nigel Farage, Opinion, Politics, Scottish National Party, Scottish Nationalism, SNP, UKIP
I had previously promised that if the SNP won over fifty parliamentary seats, I would leave the country. So this morning the jet plane which I had boarded after Charles Kennedy and Danny Alexander had lost their seats descended over the dazzling turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea. It came down with a thump, on the smooth silver sands of a beach island. Beaming girls, each of them in a bikini like two crescent moons, flocked out of the doorways of thatched huts to greet me. They smiled and murmured sweetly and held out split coconut shells filled with mojito. Stripping to my waist and affixing my snorkel, I waded out into the warm surf with ten giggling girls clinging to each arm. But before I wash all memory of Scotland from my mind, let me gaze back for a second over the racing foam, at the election results.
It is scary and also a bit exciting. The UK now has a government which is further to the right than any in recent history – indeed, I am not sure if the awfulness of this has quite sunk in yet. Yet there is still a whiff of revolution in the air with the new opportunity to have a referendum and amputate the European Union. The results have been so devastating and unexpected for Labour that it is hard to see how this party can continue in its current form, but it also remains painfully lacking in the wherewithal which is needed if it is ever going to reinvent itself. The Labour and Liberal Democrat parties are reduced to quaking shells of what they were yesterday, with their MPs gibbering in a dazed way about how they can pull themselves back.
Election night has been mostly demoralising for the smaller, more idealistic parties, particularly the UK Independence Party which has increased its share of the vote almost fourfold, but halved its number of parliamentary seats. There is, however, one small, supposedly left-wing party which appears to have done exceptionally well.
For the Scottish National Party has become the third largest party in the UK parliament. If one goes by the votes cast, UKIP is the third most popular party in the UK (on 12.7%) and the SNP only the fifth (on 4.8%), but the former has procured only one seat and the latter fifty-six! Sometimes my favourite first-past-the-post, winner-takes-all system can operate with exquisite brutality, but perhaps we should grow solemn, if only for a moment, over the price of this beauty. The conversion of the popular vote into parliamentary seats resembles the work of a cross-eyed schoolboy with a faulty calculator, rather than that of thousands of election officials painstakingly counting millions of votes. This is not in essence undemocratic, I believe, but it always takes a lot of explaining to defend.
The fortunes of the SNP do not greatly interest me – it is an authoritarian centrist party, with much the same policies and PR manoeuverings as its Tory and Labour stablemates. Nationalism, however, horrifies me and it is a source of infinite nausea. This distinction between the SNP and nationalism is itself part of the problem: the enthusiasm for the SNP, which has lately bloated into a mass enthusiasm, is nothing other than sheer tribalism. It has no intelligible basis in politics or economics. People in Scotland had previously voted Labour because the party was meant to do things which might change their lives. The SNP just reflects who they are. In the SNP, nationalism – that most miserable, most banal and most backward of ideologies – meets identity-politics, the very worst of all politics. The result for the people of Scotland is to slip on a completely pointless layer of needlessly politicised identity: the fantasy that people in Glasgow are somehow strangely different from those in Manchester, with their own unique identity-issues which a politician standing in Manchester is existentially prohibited from representing.
The SNP has also been damned lucky. If Labour had procured more of the vote in England, then the SNP’s subtraction from Labour’s count would have been an embarrassment that even Nicola Sturgeon would have struggled to blink away. SNP candidates had wanted to comport themselves as backbench Labour MPs, indulging in bouts of highly visible but ultimately inconsequential rebellion against a Labour administration which they would have in their hearts supported. Alas, the SNP is finding itself increasingly occupying the same place that the Liberal Democrats had done, the wasteland that exists between the Tories and Labour. This will work for only so long as they do not have to clarify which side they are really on. When the Liberals did this, they became horribly superfluous. Unlike the Liberals, though, the SNP can always rely upon the tribalism of feeling Scottish in place of any political justification for their existence.
Years ago, if the SNP had taken 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats, the Union would have been put to bed. The case for independence might have been made anew last night, with Scotland seeming to be politically splitting from the UK almost as an inevitable natural process. Yet this nation also emerged from last night’s election looking profoundly immature. It did not look like a general election in Scotland – it looked like a bunch of by-election results. No more was this obvious than in the election of a twenty-year-old, Mhairi Black, for Paisley and Renfrewshire South and the eviction of its senior Labour MP Douglas Alexander. That 23,548 people in this constituency voted for somebody who has not even graduated yet – and whose own party once believed would be too immature to purchase alcohol – as their parliamentary representative! – indicates that they have opted out of serious political engagement in favour of supplying a two-minute YouTube clip of the Labour man losing his seat. The cynicism is outrageous.
I hope I am wrong. Black may have been an outstanding candidate and maybe she will become a mastermind in scrutinising parliamentary legislation, in between proofreading her dissertation. Nonetheless, one suspects that the SNP, in growing ever more Blairite, has at last, along with the Murdoch backing, acquired that most Blairite of attributes: a Blair Babe, somebody who looks good and who does what the party tells them and who is too young to challenge party authority. That dissertation will have to be probably okayed by the party spin men.
And so to next year’s Holyrood election and what it means for the Union. Regardless of the result, the entire political feasibility of an independent Scotland will come down to whether the turnout is as low as in previous Holyrood elections.
But starfish are kissing my toes. A parrot flies down to drop another mojito into my hand. I can no longer even remember what Irn Bru tastes like.
[Previously on Tychy: “Why aren’t Stem Cells an Election Issue?“]