The ‘Grand Coalition’ of Lifeless Packaging (with apologies to Peter Gabriel and Genesis)

So, here we are, 100 posts down the road, and that is certainly 50 more than I was expecting to do. Not because I was confident we would win (otherwise it would have been called ’50 Days TO Yes’), but because it was just a need to externalize and articulate things – shout into the darkness, regardless of whether anyone heard or not. The origins of the idea are tellingly contained in the heading on the original document that I started working on – ‘Referendum Topics for the Undecided’ – to be an information (rather than an opinion) resource, to direct people to sources of information. And I would do basically one a day until the Referendum. I certainly could not have envisaged any desire to continue after that date – as I suspect many of the online ‘Yes’ content creators also could not have imagined that scenario. Surely, then everything would be finished – one way or another?

And yet – no. A ‘No’ happened, and yet no we did not finish. Again, ask me now, and I cannot imagine continuing past May 7th, but already, woth Cameron postponing the return of Parliament until May 27th there are some chilling scenarios in the works for that extra-long period, when the right wing press might attempt to bring down any non-Cameron government (read Adam Ramsay’s piece on ‘Our Kingdom’ if you don’t want to sleep tonight – helpfully copied on WoS at this address: )…so things might ‘stay interesting’ for just a little bit longer.

So, how to select what to do for the 100th post? I could have done yet another couple of dull polls – although, with Nicola’s performance on Thursday, and the Establishment Counterstrike on the Friday night, it will be the polls taken AFTER then that will be the ones of real interest.

Nevertheless, I can report to you that PanelBase’s poll for the Sunday Times on the 5th April showed SNP up 4 at 46%, and Labour down 2 at 29%. Today’s YouGov poll of 1,800 Scots for The Sun also shows SNP 46% and Labour 29%, with the Conservatives on 16% and the LibDems on 3%. Same old same old.

But no – not polls (unless something came up that was truly remarkable). I wanted something special, that I hadn’t dealt with before.

When I looked at the topics that were coming up on my list to cover, I could have dealt with a number of issues that have been accumulating on the backburner for a few weeks, that I have not really mentioned in any detail before: – the Green Surge, Political Reinvention (no clues who that might be about), Trident. But there is one that is so truly astonishing that even as recently as December, it would have been unthinkable – and yet now has been advocated by several ‘old lags’ at Westminster as a perfectly sane and reasonable response. The ‘Grand Coalition’, between the Conservatives and Labour.

Several voices started to raise this as a serious option, once no ‘dream Jim Murphy rebound’ effect started to appear. At first it was columnists in the (almost universally right wing, these days) press, with reactionary rants about how to close down this rising tide of effluence from the Grim North. Since then, Labour’s Lord Lewis Moonie and Birmingham’s Gisela Stuart MP have both advocated doing coalition deals with the Conservatives rather than the SNP, in order to become part of government, Tory grandee and former Conservative Party Chairman under Thatcher, Kenneth Baker (sorry, Lord Baker of Dorking…) has advocated it, and even the generally respected LibDem (that term is not quite an oxymoron – just yet) Vince Cable has spoken of “a grand coalition between Labour and the Tories”.

In Scotland, we have a somewhat different perspective of the implications of this – and this has heavily coloured our view of events, past and present. Paul Sinclair noted a few months back (see ‘SpAd-U-Like’: Paul Sinclair Talks Openly of Labour’s Westminster Navel-Gazing) that the Blairite New Labour revolution didn’t ever need to come to Scotland, because, by and large, we voted fairly solidly Labour anyway. The problem is, that to sell themselves (for less than extortionate prices…well, save for their prospective expense accounts, eh, Jim?) as a viable party to the SE of England, Labour marketed themselves very heavily as right of centre – in Scotland we regarded this as something of a ‘Scooby Doo’ scam, where, upon election night, Tony Blair would pull off the cheap rubber mask with that trademark smile and show them ‘no – only kidding – still Labour…’. Imagine our surprise, when it was the other way round – Labour was actually now a right of centre party – and in 13 years did nothing to repeal any of the anti-union legislation of the previous Conservative administration, that they spent so much time in opposition complaining about.

You see, the lack of need to ‘reform’ the Labour Party in Scotland, because it already solidly delivered seats, meant that Labour became a Janus-like being, one face south of the border, and a completely different one presented north. Never has that divergence been more evident, than to see Jim Murphy volte face on everything he espoused while serving in Westminster – he knows the London narrative does not work here, and has to turn the other face of Labour  (the one that is the REAL rubber mask) to Scotland. Perhaps that mask became the most obvious – causing support for Labour to fall away, at the point of the protest in Glasgow on February 15th 2003, with 50,000-80,000 from all over Scotland marching against the Labour Government playing poodle to the US and going to war in Iraq. The protest, in Scotland, was perhaps as much about ‘this is NOT what Labour is’ as it was anti-US intervention.

Which brings us back to ‘The Grand Coalition’. In Scotland, it may have been for so long unthinkable that Labour, sworn enemies of the Conservatives, would go into coalition with them – but it is perhaps less of a surprise south of the border, where the electorate has been less blinkered and more able to discern the diminishing difference between the policies of the two parties. There is no bite in Labour down south anymore, everyone’s a sales representative, trying to look as unthreatening to the SE as possible. This poses a problem for Miliband in the run-up to a General Election where in arguing ‘vote for us, we are just the same as the Conservatives, so no risk in changing your vote’, the reply comes back ‘then why change the incumbent government?’ This leaves him with little choice but to start making left wing noises, to the alarm of both the SE electorate and significant chunks of the post-Blair Labour Party.

Meantime, his party in Scotland has done its best to oppose the Referendum on independence, letting more of its rubber mask show than it normally does…and further alienating its traditional Scottish electorate. Leaving the SNP to hoover up left of centre support, as Labour supporters desert a party that left them behind years ago. This has been the powder keg sitting under Westminster, that just needed a fuse…which was kindly provided by Westminster’s abrupt abandonment of any promises to the electorate in Scotland, as soon as the ‘No’ vote was secured.

So in Scotland our ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to the idea of the ‘Grand Coalition’ might be laughter, and speculation on the damage that Labour would suffer in political credibility in doing so – yet that might simply be us being out-of-touch. If they are indistinguishable establishment parties, differing only in style and colour of their lifeless packaging, rather than substantive content…then why would they not go into partnership, to preserve their two party monopoly at all costs? Enough of the Labour Party MPs are so pathologically opposed to the SNP, that a deal with them might terminally split the party – albeit possibly on relatively left and right wing criteria.

The idea of the SNP in an electoral deal with Labour is, apparently, ‘abhorrent’ – and yet no one bats an eye at the Conservatives doing deals with the Democratic Unionist Party, with their established links to paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland. The attempted exclusion of the SNP is not due to its aspirations for independence, but because of its social justice agenda, so antithetical to the wishes of the establishment.  But that is what ‘political union’ means – the political union that, in isolation from the other five unions (union of the crowns or the royal union of the monarchy, the financial or currency union, the defence union through NATO, the EU and the social union with the rest of the UK) was the one that ‘Yes’ wished to surgically cut, is the one that Westminster is so passionately objecting to having now. The real national emergency that these London parties are uniting against, is public widespread loss of confidence in the Westminster system, across the UK: Carolyn Leckie beautifully quoted Brecht in this context in The National the other day, referring to the idea that when the people forfeit the confidence of their government, the government should simply dissolve the people and elect another. If only they could…

There is, of course a great deal of hypocrisy on the necessity of a ‘Grand Coalition for national security’, as it has been hysterically touted: after telling us how important Scotland is and must stay part of the Union last year, our prospective electoral choices are ruled ‘null and void’ and subject to dismissal. The policy in this general election of systematically demonising the party that 45% of Scots voted for in 2011 (and supposedly around 46% are currently intending to vote for in May)is as mindless as demonising Alex Salmond as the face of ‘Yes’ when he was continuously the most popular politician in Scotland: telling people that who they voted for was wrong (a ‘No’ vote, of course, is not a vote for an individual…only kidding) rarely succeeds in persuading people of the wisdom of your argument, as much as it convinces them that you are more likely to be wrong, because you have not listened to, let alone accepted, that they might have valid reasons for their political choices. And yet, it DOES lead to more and more alienation of the Scottish electorate, through further exposure to what the Union ACTUALLY means to those in power – not a family of nations or a respected union of equals, but ‘do as we say, or we take our toys away’. If the exclusion of Scottish MPs, on grounds of political party, occurs, then, I see no sign of free will: Scots are disenfranchised, and democracy in the UK is exposed to be the farce that it is.

And this, at a time when Unionists should be trying hard to ‘win the peace’ after the Referendum…yet are inevitably acting to bring ‘Yes’ slowly closer to crossing that final finishing line.

So, yes, I would see a benefit to the movement for independence in such cack-handed political manoeuvering at Westminster – in the same way as I could imagine it if there was another Conservative-led government. People on the Labour benches jumped on the Telegraph’s ‘FrenchGate’ non-story leak, because the idea that Nicola Sturgeon would sell out to the Conservatives plays to their paranoid conspiracies, saying that a Conservative-led government would give a better chance for a ‘Yes’ result next time. They failed (as Paul Kavanagh noted) to recall that there was a Conservative-led government during the last referendum on independence – and that did not exactly work out perfectly for ‘Yes’.

I do not deny the argument that any leader of the SNP could see mileage in the Conservatives getting back in again – the point being missed is that right now, there is mileage for the movement towards independence in EVERY result from this General Election…Conservative/UKIP, Conservative/Labour, Labour/SNP. But the worst one of all those from which benefit can be derived, is the Conservatives getting back in again, because although it might serve to show Scots how powerless they are within a supposed democracy, it means living conditions for many Scots and others across the UK will continue to get worse, as their ideologically-driven agenda progresses, decoupled entirely from any plan for financial recovery in the UK. And that outcome is not something that she wants at all, or is planning for.

Better to have an opportunity to try to end austerity and cancel Trident, get some more powers for Holyrood, and continue to demonstrate the SNP as the now definitive party of ‘good governance’ in Scotland – the fact that a UK government department had to make up a story over the weekend, rather than leak something that was actually true, indicates how good the party’s – and Nicola’s – record actually is.

Think of the potential benefits to ‘Yes’ of the hideous monster that would be a ‘Grand Coalition’. Firstly, it would let the people in Scotland know how little their electoral choices mattered – even with the (usually) trivial number of MPs that they have. Secondly, it would lead Labour to become perceived as something akin to a masonic guild, with the advancement and protection of its own members as its primary aim, and of little difference from the Tories that they pretend, pantomime-like, to despise. More likely and interestingly, on current polling it would result in the SNP being the ‘official opposition’ at Westminster! How bizarre would that be? Not only a serious boost for the SNP’s credibility at home, but also down south…perhaps even leading to a progressive alliance with parties down south to build an agenda for UK-wide SNP policies. Some have even argued that such a move to form a ‘Grand Coalition’ would so discredit Westminster, that it would pave the way for UDI: a unilateral declaration of independence (which is apparently how most countries have gained independence since the second world war, rather than through referenda), but I think that this is highly unlikely, given the rabid press reaction that would have to be contended with. It is more likely that the SNP would become a proscribed organisation, than that they would choose that option…unless they had a REALLY strong sense that the Scottish people were with them.

Last week, Nicola Sturgeon offered an organ donation programme to Labour, of a backbone and some guts, if they would do an electoral deal with them. While thinking about this offer, Labour should also consider the potential evisceration that they would face were they to do a deal with the Conservatives, going the way of the Libdems in the process…because nobody believes for a second that Ed Miliband would be the dominant leader in any partnership with the Conservatives: Nick Clegg had more chance of that, and look how he ended up – in the shade, as he watched his party crucified for complicity in the Scottish election, barely a year after his rose garden honeymoon at Downing Street with his big friendly cuddly mate Dave Cameron.

Certainly, he might also risk being a junior partner in any relationship with Nicola Sturgeon – but he at least would have a chance at marketing himself as the dominant one to the press. (Not that anyone in Scotland would believe it.)

But the donor offer of a backbone has been a long time coming for the Labour Party – and they never know when they might get such a telephone call from the donor office again. Best take the opportunity – it is likely to be the ‘last great adventure’ left to Milband.

Or face electoral annihilation after going into coalition with the Conservatives.

Potayto, potahto.


“A shudder went through the Scottish members of Parliament frantically looking for a spine to run up.” (Oliver Brown, commenting on Winnie Ewing’s victory to win the Westminster constituency of Hamilton for the SNP in 1967)

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