Disparate Thoughts from the Wee Sma’ Hours…a Troika of Pandas Coming Over the Hill

….5 hours sleep later, and leaving my bedroom I felt a little like Judy Garland approaching the doorway, wondering if it was going to be technicolor on the other side or not.

I checked my phone – a text from my brother gave me a small heads-up ‘Bye Jim Murphy, we won’t miss you’. Well, that was one scalp. But there were others on the list.

Putting on the television, and it was clear that the exit poll was looking pretty much spot-on, with the Conservatives heading towards a majority, as the SNP had cleared 50 seats in its own majority. Perhaps as part of the new realpolitik that his former classmate was not going to be deposed as Conservative leader in order to make way for his predicted ascendancy, Boris Johnson was making noises offstage that some kind of offer of ‘federalism’ had to be made to Scotland in the wake of his ‘Ajockalypse Now’ prediction.

Stats were being reeled off in the BBC studio, with the biggest single party vote in Scottish political history of 1.4 million for the SNP; Alex Salmond notes that the results in Scotland represented the biggest political swing in the UK since records began in 1835, with an average of 24% from Labour to SNP; within that, Willie Bain, architect of ‘The Bain Principle’ (The Bain Principle, the old Royal High School building on Calton Hill, and 30% of Labour Party Members going for Yes or http://wp.me/p4SdYV-1c ), predicted just over a week ago to be the last Labour MP standing in Glasgow NE, had fallen with a 39% swing to the SNP, producing Sturgeon’s ‘magnificent seven’ in a clean SNP sweep of all of Glasgow; Brian Taylor noted 60 years ago a 50.1% Scottish vote for the Scottish Unionist Party has now been eclipsed by a 50.2% vote for a pro-independence SNP.

6am saw a revision of the 10pm exit poll: Conservatives 325, Labour 232, SNP 56, LibDem 12, UKIP 2, Greens 1.

I scanned the results with some mixed feelings – although turnout was apparently up by 10% in some constituencies, figures of 70-74% turnout are disappointing after the Referendum turnout at 85%.

At the pundits table, Kevin McKenna of the Observer comments on the loss of very able Scottish MPs as part of this near-wipeout.

In the studio, Paul Sinclair (‘SpAd-U-Like’: Paul Sinclair Talks Openly of Labour’s Westminster Navel-Gazing or http://wp.me/p4SdYV-5L), former Labour adviser to Johann Lamont and Douglas Alexander (the Labour campaign manager beaten by a twenty year old student for the SNP) acknowledges that over the years the SNP had done two things very successfully: firstly, to convince Scots that Scottish Labour wasn’t Scottish, secondly to convince them that it wasn’t Labour either. Which was pretty much how the Conservatives were dismissed from Scotland in the past.

Eventually, there was only one seat still to call, as Berwickshire went to a recount. Michael Moore – the LibDem Secretary of State for Scotland – had acknowledged that he was no longer in the running for his seat, which was now being fought over between the Conservatives and SNP…and it fell, ending 50 years of liberalism in the area, begun with David Steel: Calum Kerr, the former chair of ‘Yes Borders’ wins the recount with 328 votes. [I noted Jessie Rae – eighties one hit wonder with ‘Over the Sea’, check it out on YouTube, it’s good for a laugh – if only to see how far Scottish identity has moved beyond this in 30 years: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOad0FU9zF8 – acquired 131 votes in that constituency.

With the final tally of 59 MPs in Scotland, 56 SNP, and one each of Labour, LibDem and Conservative, Carolyn Leckie (whose writing I do enjoy in The National) refers to the Troika of Pandas in Scotland, reflecting the old joke that Scoaltnad has more pandas than Conservative MPs. Except now, that honour can also be extended to two other parties: David Mundell remains the only Conservative Panda MP in Scotland, and Alistair Carmichael the incumbent LibDem Panda Secretary of State for Scotland retains his Orkney and Shetland seat. Perhaps, within that, the final irony or insult is that the last Labour MP standing is Ian Murray – in Edinburgh South, the constituency where I did most of my (admittedly limited – on this occasion) campaigning. Murray had the slimmest majority of any Labour MP (albeit not over the SNP), and retained his seat with an enhanced 2,500-odds majority. Despite the plethora of little tactical voting wheels (guides that told you who to ‘lend your vote to’ in order to keep the SNP out) distributed beforehand, it may only have been in Edinburgh South where they were actually employed, with the Conservatives appropriately propping up Murray’s seat for him to become the Labour Panda. That would be preferable to the idea that three year old misrepresented tweets (‘Thick and Fast They Came at Last’: Labour Unhinged in the Incoherent End of Days for the 2015 General Election or http://wp.me/p4SdYV-9e) might have swung anything against him.

All of which begs the question, with a Conservative majority government about to be confirmed, what does it all mean?

Before Holyrood, it was taken as gospel that if the SNP won a majority of Scottish MPs, then it had a mandate to call for a referendum on independence. With the Scottish Parliament in place, and the established process of 2011-2014, that is no longer the case, and the SNP can convincingly campaign for a stronger voice in Westminster without calling for a referendum. If you go along with that, and don’t accept this SNP surge as a ‘de facto’ declaration of independence or for a referendum (which, to be fair, has continuously been stated by Nicola throughout the campaign, when the other Scottish parties were trying to make it a general election issue) – then you have to accept that this vote is very far from an endorsement of what the Smith Commission came up with as proposals for ‘enhanced devolution’.

One can argue that it is a second chance for the Union – yet another one, after the botched Smith Commission proposals were watered down. It is the ‘feet to the fire’ that Alex Salmond called for before he stepped down as First Minister and party leader – a call for significant rather than token devolved powers. Of course, Westminster can ignore a Scottish voice, as always – but can it really afford to, if it truly genuinely does value the Union? Cameron has the arithmetic on his side for a Commons majority – but it means that his euroskeptic backbenchers are empowered by his majority being so marginal, and this hints at a more anti-Europe sentiment in the run-up to the promised EU in-out vote scheduled for 2017.

The scale of the Labour collapse in England, although regrettable, does make it clear that even if Scotland had given every seat to Labour, they would not have stopped a Conservative majority. Can one blame the SNP for this? Is the late Conservative surge very much part of a xenophobic anti-Scottish push, as orchestrated by Cameron with his poster campaigns featuring the SNP as pickpockets and thieves? Perhaps…but if that is the case, then Cameron has to think carefully over how to deal with those fears that he has stoked to win an election – does he maintain them, and risk alienating even more Scots in the process? With one poll saying that 54% of Scots had noticed a more hostile response from UK politicians and media towards Scotland SINCE the Referendum, Cameron will have an interesting balancing act to retain that fear in the public for his own support, yet ameliorate it for more practical government – and in the longer term interests of preserving the Union.

Labour has been rejected as ‘the party of Scotland’ as Miliband boldly claimed it to be barely 24 hours ago, when he made himself the only party leader not to visit Scotland the day before the election. Both Labour and the LibDems will have lost their leaders by lunchtime, I would guess – and even Jim Murphy should be gone over the weekend.

As ever, the UK gets the government that England votes for – the difference is that this time, Scottish MPs are not sunk within a party where the party comes before the constituents’ wishes. That is positive. In the meantime, a lot of new SNP MPs have to go to London and keep their noses clean, as part of the run-up to the (in many ways) far more important Holyrood elections next year. Their London stock is untried and therefore vulnerable, and as such critical for how the party will be viewed this time next year.

And yes, now we have to look to those Holyrood elections next year. A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times said that 1 in 8 ‘No’ voters intended to vote for the SNP yesterday – and they probably did. It also indicated Labour losing 7 seats at Holyrood next year, with the SNP taking 70 of the 129 MSP places available. Again, you have to look back to that October 2013 poll (All Those ‘Wee Things’: The Loss to Labour or http://wp.me/p4SdYV-1h), which suggested that only 47% of 2011 Labour voters would vote again for them in the next Holyrood election in the event of a ‘No’ vote in the Referendum, as opposed to 55% with a ‘Yes’ vote. Now that the old guard is well and truly gone, Labour have to move fast to start rebuilding – even although this morning Paul Sinclair was saying Labour has to effectively give upon Holyrood for next year.

If Labour were smart, they would devolve their party in Scotland to a similar relationship to the one that they have with the SDLP in Northern Ireland – a ‘sister party’ – and give them that clear water necessary for Scottish voters not to think that Labour have a ‘conflict of interest’ with regard to Scottish representation.

IF they were smart.

 

“English colleagues should consider the reasons why Scotland demanded a Scottish Parliament in the first place: it wasn’t for reasons of nationalism or national identity; it was because it was patently unfair that our contingent of MPs could easily be outvoted on any issue by even a small fraction of English MPs. England could never, ever be in the same position. Even if every Northern Irish, Welsh and Scottish MP wished to foist an unpopular policy on England, they could not do so unless they were joined by at least 209 English MPs. And the occasions when Scottish MPs have made the difference in policy areas affecting England have been so vanishingly rare [21 Commons votes out of 5,000 since 1997], they hardly justify such a constitutional upheaval.” (Tom Harris, Labour MP)

 

 

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