The Second Game in Town, apart from Nicola’s (see previous post) is, of course, the Daily Mail’s.
Widely-trailed by many press outlets including the Guardian and the Financial Times towards the end of last year (when a ‘Jim Murphy feelgood factor’ reversing the SNP’s rise in the polls was failing to manifest), and advocated by a few second league politicians to give it some credence, the idea that there should be a ‘Coalition of National Unity’ between the Conservatives and Labour, in order to shut out any progressive influence from Greens, Plaid Cymru and the SNP, seems a most desperate and myopic measure. Surely, it not only discredits Labour (more than the Conservatives) but undermines the sense of Westminster as being a seat of safe and solid democracy. Of course, it beats the numbers impasse of 273/273/49, but wouldn’t the damage in credibility to the system (never mind at least one of the two participating parties) be a mortal wound? Possibly even fuelling further calls for self-determination, and bringing the British state even closer to disintegration?
And yet you would be wrong to dismiss the idea. It is not just in the UK that this has been trailed in the media: the pattern of ‘national unity governments’ (against what ‘national threat’ exactly? Who is at war with whom?) has also been proposed in France and Italy, in attempts to exclude rising popular parties from the ‘old boys club’ of established parties that perpetuate a system that failed to see a reason to prosecute bankers in 2008. It would seem that this exposes the lie of left and right packaging distinctions between notionally different (but practically identical) political parties…a Labour Shadow Chancellor who after Osborne’s budget last week says he would do nothing differently? Not even pretending to even slightly reduce the 30 billion budget cuts? This seems like a party so desperate to appear indistinguishable from the party of choice of Conservative voters (perhaps particularly in the SE of England?) that…it actually IS indistinguishable. Repeating the Blair mistake, all over again – trying to get power at all costs will corrupt you and remove any chance you have to change anything.
In this context, it seems less surprising that in a Survation poll 37% of Scots are saying voting SNP is the best way of keeping Cameron out, compared to 35% advocating the ‘old tired way’ of voting Labour to attempt to achieve that end. Labour tends to get into Westminster when SNP support is at its highest – perhaps traditionally this is because the dissatisfaction with the Establishment manifested in an SNP vote in Scotland just as it triggered a Labour vote in England. The difference now is not just the presence of a solid SNP vote, but as Labour has become more indistinguishable from establishment Conservative policy in its zealous conversion to and embrace of austerity, UKIP has sprung up to split that ‘dissatisfaction vote’ down south, in diametric opposition to the Greens. The system appears to be panicking: as Patrick Harvie has noted, first-past-the-post works fine if people are only allowed to choose between two competing parties. But when those two parties only command a third of the vote each, with a plethora of new parties taking the rest, the system breaks down.
But how could such a move towards a ‘government of national unity’ (surely a final admission of the indistinguishability of Conservative and Labour – much like the end of ‘Animal Farm’) be justified in the UK? Governments of national unity are the stuff of international wars or terrorist assault (although similar rhetoric was also deployed when the coalition with the LibDems first came about). So who is the enemy – without or within – now?
One might (as is being touted now) float with faux rage the idea that the SNP gaining seats in Westminster in some way means that Scotland will become independent and ‘Break Up Britain’…but any cursory analysis of this, in terms of getting legislation through the first chamber, never mind the nakedly regressive House of Lords, shows that this is a hollow claim. There are only 59 seats in Scotland, of a possible 650 across the UK – the SNP cannot progress anything radically outwith the policy of the existing two (or even three, if the LibDems still retain some influence after May) unionist parties.
So what is the threat that requires this ‘national unity’? One remembers the odd manifestation of ‘Siol nan Gael’ – an organisation that (perhaps curiously) arose when SNP political progress in Westminster was increasing, supposedly representing the ‘armed struggle’ for an independent Scotland …whose activities seemed to be largely linked to material (eg explosives) supplied to activists by representatives of the police, in order for them to later be arrested by (presumably different) police officers for possession of the aforementioned explosives. A sort of ‘supply and demand’ relationship, perhaps? The strategy is simple, discredit your enemy by pushing him to consider excess, so that he – and his wider political aims, whomsoever they be supported by – can be discredited. As Alasdair Gray recently remarked – it was almost as though it was being done by people in order to make Scottish independence look stupid and discredit it. As an ‘organisation’ (if they ever truly existed as a real entity, separate from the British state) they were largely regarded as a joke – and undoubtedly there was some associative damage, even just in conceptual terms, done to the idea of independence in general and the SNP (as the then only visible embodiment of the independence movement) in particular.
The SNP have moved so far forward that the idea of an association with such a movement (especially when – as in the seventies – their electoral strategy is reaping such massive rewards) is simply not credible. Thus the paper tiger is presented, of a threat to ‘Break up Britain’…when there is absolutely no such risk whatsoever. So a black op – if, as appears, that was largely what ‘Siol nan Gael’ substantively was – is extremely difficult to link to the SNP now. In Scotland, they are seen as a responsible party of governance (the most popular since the return of the Parliament), with trust ratings soaring: a PanelBase poll at the end of August last year on who was trusted to make the decisions for Scotland gave 60% to the Scottish Government and only 16% to Westminster. In the rest of the UK – see the polls in the previous post – there is less hostility to the SNP having some role in the forthcoming government, although undoubtedly they could be swayed by ‘Siol nan Gael’-style trumped up terrorism nonsense in a few usual suspect tabloids.
But what about the impact in Scotland, were this government of ‘national unity’ to go ahead? Surely this would be the most naked manifestation of the truism that for a government, Scotland gets whomever England deigns to vote for. We can participate in their democracy…as long as it matches with what they are saying – otherwise they will take their ball back and not let us play.
Because this is not a question of blocking some imagined road to Scottish independence through Westminster – the fact that the strategy is echoed elsewhere in Europe gives the lie to that. This is about a rise in politics across Europe that is rejecting a hegemony run by two parties, and actually responding to concerns and beliefs of the People. Democracy has not had to do that for a while in most of Europe…and the system does not like it. This is about making sure that no reforming parties (and especially the SNP – as they are the largest prospective progressive block…ringleaders, if you like) gain ground to break up the status quo and disrupt the investments of the vested interests. So…we can participate within your democracy – as long as we agree with what you are saying – otherwise we can’t play anymore? Ah, so long as we vote for LONDON-controlled parties, I see…
If the Westminster establishment had realised how different politically we were – that actually the ‘No’ campaign in the Referendum would have the effect of pushing people emphatically towards the SNP (not that anyone would have been predicting that as an obvious ‘No’ outcome…), would they really have fought so hard to keep us in the Union, realising that we had a chance of upsetting their precious and cosy little private party?
Maybe they would have – but I’d like to think that they would have been smarter about HOW they fought that Referendum battle, in order to contain the damage to themselves afterwards.
No, they wouldn’t have, would they?
So, there we have it. I would say that there are only two games in town should the 273/273/49 scenario result: Nicola’s, and the Daily Mail’s, with Ed the unwitting ball in between them.
Perhaps Nicola should be calling on Ed to rule out a coalition between Labour and the Conservatives?
“…Scottish National Liberation Army looks like the work of folk trying to make the move for Scottish independence look dangerous or ridiculous. This cannot have been the work of MI5, MI6 or other UK state security force, because they would have surely been more efficient.” (Alasdair Gray, 23/2/2015)