Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The SNP's Cleft Stick

Despite their defeat in the Scottish referendum, the SNP seem to have enjoyed some recent success. Their membership has risen sharply in recent weeks, and if the opinion polls are to be believed, they seem to have gained electorally, at Labour's expense. Indeed, if those polls are to be believed Labour faces decimation in Scotland, in the General Election next May, at the hands of the SNP. I doubt things will turn out that way, but even if the SNP does take a large number of seats from Labour, it will find itself in a cleft stick, rather than the driving seat some pundits are suggesting.

The effects may not yet have been seen politically, but the sharp fall in the oil price, must be making many Scottish “Yes” voters, very glad that they were outnumbered by the “No's”. An independent Scotland, today would not be facing the kind of prosperity and end to austerity that the SNP was promising them, just a few months ago. The SNP's economic strategy relied heavily on the continuation of high oil prices, and an increased share of oil revenues going into the coffers of a Scottish government. It was from the beginning the economic policy of a gambler. With the price of oil now half what it was just a few months ago, and heading for at least another 20% fall, and possibly for as much, at least temporarily, for another 50% fall, that gamble would have been exceedingly costly for the Scottish people.

Instead of an end to austerity, it would have meant that Scotland's finances would have faced a massive black hole that it could not have filled other than by austerity on a far more draconian scale than even Osborne has so far implemented, or plans to implement. In fact, even the proposal for giving Scotland more financial independence, ought now to be seen by the Scottish people for the trap that it is, for the same reason. The Scottish people should be highly indebted to Labour, and all those other socialists who warned of precisely that kind of danger ahead of the referendum, and who thereby saved them from the catastrophe that would have followed.

But, there are other reasons why traditional Labour voters in Scotland, are likely not to desert to the tartan Tories of the SNP, in the numbers that are currently being predicted. There are reasons for voting for minority parties in more local elections. In some areas, small parties, like the Liberals, had some potential, to win enough seats, to win control of local councils, particularly on the basis of small turnouts. Even the BNP, at its height, came close to achieving that, in one or two councils. But, there is no chance of any of these small parties winning even a sizeable number of seats, in a General Election, especially given the much larger turnout of the voters of the main parties, which thereby overwhelm the votes of the small parties' core supporters, that are always overstated in low turnout polls. Much of the votes for those small parties is then soft, and always flows back to its natural base in a General Election.

If I were a traditional Labour voter in Scotland, my main concern, whether I voted “Yes” or “No”, in the referendum, would now be to ensure that the Tories were prevented from being elected in Westminster next May. In fact, given the political reality, that Scotland will remain part of the UK, even were I an SNP voter, I would be likely to take a similar attitude. No one, in Scotland, is going to want to be seen, and be held responsible for, allowing Cameron back into No.10, let alone Cameron backed by Farage, or the Ulster Unionists. And, make no mistake, if the election is close, and Labour is deprived of a majority, allowing Cameron back in, because of a loss of seats in Scotland, those Scottish voters will be held responsible, by workers in England, particularly by workers in the north of England, who have suffered, if anything, more from austerity, and without the concessions that Scotland has been given.

But, if Labour is the largest party, its argued, they may be able to form the Government, on the basis of “confidence and supply” provided by the SNP. In other words, there would be no formal arrangement between the two parties, but Labour would be allowed to govern on the basis of SNP MP's voting for Labour's budget proposals, and giving their support in any vote of confidence. This its suggested would give the SNP great leverage, because they would be able to demand further concessions from a Labour government in return for such an agreement.

But, in fact, the SNP would have no such leverage. They have already ruled out the possibility of a coalition or similar agreement with the Tories, because they know, for the reasons set out above, that any such agreement would be toxic for them, for at least a generation, and probably more. They only need to look at the coming liquidation of the Liberals as proof of that. But, a Labour government would have no reason to give any concessions to the SNP under such conditions. The SNP would be holding a gun containing only blanks.

If the SNP refused to support Labour, that would be tantamount to putting the Tories back in government, and would be equally toxic for them, as if they had just given open support to Cameron. In other words, if they win they lose. If the SNP wins a large number of seats and finds itself in this position, it will be forced to support Labour, and may then be held accountable for any austerity measures that a labour government implements. If they refuse to support such a government, they will be held responsible for creating the conditions under which Cameron, or someone worse like Boris Johnson, will be installed in No.10. In any event, under such conditions, there would be another election, in which the SNP would lose votes in Scotland on a huge scale, and not only lose support for the Westminster Parliament, but for the Scottish Parliament too.

1 comment:

David Timoney said...

Spot on. It has been amusing to see the London media insist that Scottish voters plan to "punish" Labour in 2015, as if the Scots are too small-minded to see beyond the end of their parochial noses.