The howling backlash against Alex Salmond announcing that he will stand for the Westminster constituency of Gordon (about to be vacated by long-term occupant LibDem Malcolm Bruce), has been enlightening. Not so much as an indication of how much animosity there is towards him (we kind of got that idea already), but as to how much fear the Establishment has of him: he came so unexpectedly close to winning the Referendum that they were sure they could not lose, that they panicked and were forced to throw in a faux devolution soundbite package at the last minute (which is now something of a headache for them)…when they really didn’t want to. So…they must be wondering what exactly he will have in store for them – if elected.
Well, to be fair, he made it quite clear within 9 hours of the Referendum result on the 19th September, when during his speech announcing his intention to stand down as both First Minister and party leader, he said the following: “We now have the opportunity to hold Westminster’s feet to the fire on the “vow” that they have made to devolve further meaningful power to Scotland. This places Scotland in a very strong position.” Holding Westminster’s feet to the fire…so I find it surprising that the SNP are subsequently criticised for saying that Smith’s recommendations are not nearly enough: isn’t that their job? I mean, they are clearly going to push for more powers for Scotland wherever possible, with every single one a step closer to independence, and anything less is not going to be satisfactory. That is the obvious starting point – based on their reason to exist. [It could – however, be argued as more bizarre that Labour is so critical of the outcomes of Smith – they have no similar raison d’etre to guide such an opinion, outwith their participation on the Commission, especially if they are still trying to pretend that they are truly ‘the party of devolution’.]
But going even beyond those fundamental underlying philosophical principles that should have them arguing for more, the Scottish National Party have a far more current and immediate need to criticise how far short those recommendations fall from people’s expectations. The SNP know that the Smith Commission, in representing Westminster’s initial act to supposedly ‘deliver the Vow’, has to be held sharply to account for its final utterances: is this the promised ‘near Federalism’, DevoMax, Home Rule, all those phrases that were bandied about as consequences of a ‘No’ result in the last hours before the vote? If not, then the SNP have a responsibility to say it loud and clear – hold Westminster’s feet to the fire, indeed – because none of the union-supporting parties have any interest whatsoever in drawing attention to any shortcomings in Smith (I dealt with the vested interests of Labour and the LibDems in portraying the outcome as positively as possible in ‘Powering Down the Parliament?’), when held up to compare with the expectations deliberately raised of what would come from a ‘No’ vote because of ‘The Vow’.
And everyone knows that the likelihood is that from the initial starting point of Smith’s recommendations, the proposals are liable to become progressively more and more diluted – heavily – in their passage through Westminster. So…fight early, fight often, and draw attention to the feeble offer to buy off Scotland’s aspirations for greater self-government.
But back to some of those faux outraged reactions to Alex Salmond’s announcement as candidate for the Westminster constituency of Gordon. His standing seems to be regarded, by some, as an act of great temerity. Why? An individual, who was previously an extremely successful MP, standing again for Westminster?
‘Gordon is not a consolation prize for losing the Referendum!’, squeals the 14 year old Labour candidate for Gordon (ex Northumbrian nationalist, now OneNation Labour bootboy). In what way is it a consolation prize, if it is a seat (albeit of somewhat different constituency boundaries) that he held as an MSP, and when he has been a successful MP elsewhere before?
“I don’t want him to make decisions about England” said the wonderfully uninformed Petrie Hosken on the BBC’s newspaper review. As the SNP have always steadfastly refused to vote on legislation that does not affect Scotland (and have similarly declined to nominate individuals for the House of Lords), and there is no prospect of that changing, this seems a straw man at best. The SNP has never had any interest in voting on matters that do not affect Scotland – because they pioneered the policy of English Votes for English Laws a long time before anyone came up with EVEL as an acronym. It is the MPs from other parties in Scotland that you need to direct your wrath towards, Ms. Hosken. Do please try and keep up.
(Incidentally – do you know how big an impact EVEL would have? A report just released in the House of Commons Library ran the numbers, to see how many of 3,600 parliamentary divisions between June 2001 and September 2014 would have had an altered outcome with Scottish MPs excluded. Answer? 22. That is an impact on 0.6% of the votes in the House of Commons. Remember that, when it is held up as a ‘major concession’ for Scottish MPs to either vote or not vote on Westminster policy…)
But – perhaps inevitably – it is a Labour Party representative (Tim Stanley stood as a candidate in the 2005 General Election), on that same BBC newspaper review, who perhaps gets to the nub of the issue: “I actually find him pretty hateful.” Whoa, strong emotive words indeed! But why this strong reaction? Perhaps the part that they really dislike is that – far from Alex Salmond neatly heading into the sunset as though (according to the dreary unionist narrative) he had lost some big personal gamble, his return is consistent with the perhaps more unexpected outcome of the Referendum campaign – as an affirmation of the national rise in support for more powers for Scotland up to and including independence. The polls showing 54% Yes that slipped to 45% on the day, have been the biggest endorsement of Salmond’s strategy of the long consultation process of the Referendum (before it was sidetracked in the last 48 hours by that ‘Vow’ – on which more later). Even a substantial chunk of those that voted ‘No’ wanted substantially more powers devolved to Holyrood (see earlier posts on Conditional No). Far from being ‘one man’s obsession’ as the unionists have continually tried to argue, ignoring the 50 year rise of the SNP and the 45% that voted ‘Yes’ in the face of stiff media intimidation, this is now a very popular mandate for change. Far from killing independence ‘stone dead’, this Referendum campaign has made its support far more solid and over a far greater section of the population than could previously have been hoped for. Everybody knew that DevoMax was the most popular option at the start of the campaign – but now people don’t just like the idea of that option – they actively WANT it, and are perhaps even politicised enough to go for it, too…maybe even as a stepping stone to something far bigger and better.
More than this, the prospect of the election of more SNP MPs this time around than ever before (including the experienced Mr. Salmond) also serves as a renewal of the popular mandate that he had to keep fighting for as much for Scotland as he possibly can. And – potentially – for the SNP to have the numbers in Westminster to be able to improve on Smith’s paltry offering. This, my dear friend Tim, is the consequence of holding us within that Union that you fought so hard to retain. Perhaps – just once – Scotland might be the determining influence on the final complexion of the Westminster Government, as opposed to regularly looking south and not recognising anything of what it voted for, in the party(ies) in power in London. The boot on the other foot – for once – one might say. And – unless you want to come clean and say that you feel Britain is in reality ‘the English Empire’, therefore all other regions are subject to that centralist perspective (and not just through numerical advantage), then your attitude towards Westminster democracy is quite unbecoming for the supposed ‘Mother of Parliaments’. A friend of mine, discussing Salmond stepping down in BrewDog Edinburgh with me, a couple of days after the event, reminded me that ‘all political careers end in failure’. You are, of course, entirely right, Neal. I just suspect that Alex Salmond has not yet reached that particular ‘failure’ – not just yet.
So, Westminster. You wanted us – you got us. Now, take your medicine…and, please, can you smile while you do so?
“Alex Salmond’s announcement yesterday is a double win for Scotland. More wide-ranging powers…and more entertainment while we wait for them. Westminster won’t know what has hit it.” (Richard Walker, Editorial in ‘The National’, 8/12/2014)