Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Sinister Salmond's deeply divisive democratic diddling

If you were to sum up the general attitude at Westminster to the prospect of the SNP sending down a legion of MPs, with Alex Salmond apparently leading the charge (because he's the only one whose name they can remember), it's basically a noisy, spluttering, barely coherent shriek of "How dare he? How dare they?"

These prospective SNP MPs can only be elected by the Scottish people in May. So what this really all translates to is: "How dare the Scots?"

The Establishment fear of Salmond and the SNP - and, in turn, the Scottish electorate - has manifested into a rampage of barely concealed bigotry from elements of the UK press, ranging from anti-Scots polemic to outright sexism against Nicola Sturgeon. It's fair to say the SNP probably enjoys this fear; thrives on it, even. Every blustering Tory who tells Alex Salmond that his plans for nuclear disarmament and propping up a Labour government fill them with "absolute horror", the wider the political gulf between Holyrood and Westminster seems.

The Conservatives, a party so blindly lacking in self-awareness one wonders if they should be given politically-astute guide dogs, have slammed as "deeply sinister" the SNP's intent to use their probable parliamentary clout to block a minority Tory government. They even went as far as to call it "sabotaging the democratic will of the British people". This from a party with a single Scottish MP, which nonetheless controls Scotland's social security, the vast majority of its taxation, and its defence. Of course, Salmond's words to the New Statesman were merely a reiteration of longstanding SNP policy. Here's Nicola Sturgeon in November of last year:

The SNP would not impose a Tory government we didn't vote for on Scotland... The SNP would never, ever put the Tories in government.

They've been pretty unequivocal about that for a long time, showing just how bleeding slow Westminster and the media are.

The reason for the lack of compromise is obvious. Scotland doesn't vote Conservative. Scotland doesn't want a Conservative government. It's in the SNP's interest to be seen to prevent a Conservative government, even if the cynic in me argues 5 more years of Tories is more in their long-term interest. But they have to be seen to be willing to block a Tory government. That is essential. It would be a huge electoral blunder not to.

As much as an increasingly irrelevant-sounding Labour Party continue to claim a vote for the SNP is a vote for the Tories, the London media's drive to strike fear into the heart of the common Englishman, at the thought of a king-making horde of Nats sweeping into the Commons, says all that needs to be said to the Scottish people. We've had decades of voting Labour and it basically never mattered - we've only got the government we voted for if England agreed. We've voted Labour and got the Tories so many times that, really, Labour's assertion that voting SNP lets the Tories in is almost impressive in its audacity. Unfortunately, they've not fully understood what Scotland already has: the game has changed.

On the current predictions by Electoral Calculus, a hypothetical Labour/SNP/Plaid/Green agreement would actually command a fractionally higher percentage of the vote than Tony Blair did in his landslide 1997 victory.

More importantly, they would command a clear majority of seats. In fact, by the Calculus' count, Labour wouldn't even need Plaid or the Greens for thatIt's who can command a majority of seats - not who is the largest party - that ultimately decides who forms the eventual government. If it were true that the largest party always forms the government, then why was Nick Clegg in coalition talks with the Labour Party at all after the 2010 election, talks which reportedly only fell apart because Gordon Brown refused to step down as Prime Minister? 

It is patently less democratic to allow a minority Tory government to govern even if they are unable to build a majority coalition, than it is to give two parties, who do carry a majority of seats between them, a crack at it. Especially if you're ardent proponents of the First Past the Post voting system, as the Tories are.

I'd advise the Tories not to hate the player. Hate the game.

Salmond is clearly loving the game at the moment, and why shouldn't he? His prior status as bogeyman during the referendum has placed him perfectly to reprise the role, this time with little to lose and everything to gain. Even leaving aside the running joke that he stopped being leader of the SNP over six months ago.

As for Scottish Labour, what can you say?

A Labour spokesperson said in response to Salmond’s New Statesman interview: “This is not a news story. Alex Salmond has been saying this for months. The only way to get rid of the Tory government is to vote Labour.”

The first part of that is right. Well done Labour, gold star, smiley face. But just saying that last sentence must have given the spokesperson a near-fatal nosebleed.

All the polls uniformly suggest there will be a hung parliament, a near dead-heat between the two largest parties. All the polls suggest the SNP will be the third largest party. The SNP have just said, again, that they will block a Tory government, and have also said they will back Labour unconditionally. Scotland has voted Labour for decades, and wound up with Tory governments over half the time. Why do Scottish Labour keep trying to sell a message that has no credibility? Haven't they learned yet that it's the lies and scare tactics that have got them to where they are today? It's a page out of the old Better Together playbook: keep hammering away at the negative messaging, irrespective of the facts, and hope that some of it sinks in.

Christ almighty, how about giving us a good, dare I say it, positive reason to vote Labour?

The attacks of the Conservative Party and the London media on the SNP - the fear, the outrage that we might make our voices heard in a way that could upset the apple cart, the pressure Miliband felt to rule out a formal coalition with the SNP - it all points to one thing. A vote for the SNP is a vote to rock the establishment. It is not a vote for more of the same. It is not a vote for the Tories; nor is it a vote for an easy life for Labour.

Is Salmond trying to rub Westminster up the wrong way? Most likely. But keeping us in the "family of nations" has its price. That price is the SNP at Westminster - if they get put there at the ballot box, that is. That's not what I'd call a "sabotage" of democracy. That's what I'd call democracy.

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