Tuesday 21 April 2015

Watching the car crash

If I understand the latest statements from ex-PM John Major correctly, compromising Tory policies in exchange for Lib Dem votes to secure a parliamentary majority, and having Lib Dem ministers in just about every department of government to keep an eagle eye on what their Conservative colleagues are doing, is a perfectly acceptable thing to do.  But if the Labour Party were to enter government committed to negotiating some compromises on a much looser basis (and taking it vote by vote) with the SNP, that would be tantamount to being held to ransom.  (And the sky might fall in as well.)  And that seems to be not far away from Labour’s own position – doing a deal of some sort with the Lib Dems is fine, but the SNP are regarded as being untouchable.
I struggle to see any logical difference - in both cases, it’s simply a question of recognising that any party which cannot command a parliamentary majority by itself will need the support – or at the very least, the considered abstention – of members of one or more other parties if it is to carry its legislative programme.  In most European countries, that is simply the accepted norm; it’s the way things work, as National Left discussed earlier today.
At this stage however, both parties are being driven more by electoral logic than by any real thought about what happens afterwards.  They’re reminding me of an attitude I came across in one of my many jobs over the years, where the sales team were prepared to make just about any wild claim in order to close the sale, and simply assumed that those of us charged with delivery would be able to talk our way out of the commitments later.  It’s not honest in business – and it’s not honest in politics either.
I don’t know if Major and the rest really believe what they’re saying, or have given any thought to the longer term consequences, but somehow I doubt both.  It hints at desperation – a last throw of the dice in an effort to convince all of us – and the Scots in particular – that we should vote for whichever of Labour-Tory we dislike least, rather than think more positively about the future that we want.
For them, and their cheerleaders in the press, it’s the only way of preserving the status quo of a political battle fought between two parties who agree on just about everything, but occasionally pretend to be slightly different for electoral purposes.  The Lib Dems are - from this perspective - part of the same cosy consensus.  The last thing that any of them want is a block of MPs who might actually believe that a different way forward is possible, let alone having to depend on their support.  In that sense, it’s nothing to do with that block being from Scotland or from a nationalist party; the ‘Scottishness’ of the SNP merely makes them easier to demonise as ‘outsiders’.
Labour suggests that the Tories are deliberately talking up the SNP to damage Labour.  It sounds almost credible, but assumes that the Tories are being driven by strategy rather than panic.  I suspect that the Tories are panicking as much as Labour; they both want to return to the cosy two party politics of old, but neither of them really understands how to achieve that.  The result is that they attack the symptom (the growth in support for the SNP) rather than the cause, which is that the Scots have seen through the two parties, and have been offered an alternative which they seem to rather like.  But by doing so, they merely reinforce the conclusions which the Scots have already drawn about the pair of them.
At the start of the election, I thought that it was at least possible that the SNP surge would start to dissipate, and that the suggestions of 50 plus seats would be shown to be an impossible dream.  Perhaps that will still happen; but everything that Labour and the Tories do seems almost calculated to persuade the Scots to turn in ever greater numbers to the SNP.  The Labour-Tory campaign feels like watching a car crash in slow motion, with the drivers unable to bring themselves to do anything to avoid the collision, not because they can’t but because they won’t.
And they haven’t even begun to think about how they talk themselves out of the hole after the election.


Anonymous said...

The ‘mad, bad and dangerous Scots’ rhetoric, from both parties to be fair is certainly driving voters in to the SNP’s arms, I’ve seen plenty of comments on Scottish news sites and blogs from those who were going to vote SSP, Green and Labour stating they’ll vote SNP because of the hatred being shows towards the Scots, just over 2 more weeks of this and the SNP might win all 59 seats.

And don’t forget the Tories have form, the Conservative PM Andrew Boner Law used similar language and tactics against the Irish Parliamentary Party at the beginning of the 20th century and that ended with the Easter Rising in 1916, will history repeat itself with the Scots cast as ‘other’ this time?

Anonymous said...

Why don't you examine why support for the SNP has shot up. No fear of independence; frozen council taxes; free prescriptions; free tertiary education; more money for NHS nurses; and so on.

And how can the SNP afford all this? Because, despite the dramatic fall in oil tax revenues the remainder of the UK makes good the financial shortfall.

Now, as and when the SNP raises the prospect of an independent Scotland again I suspect support will return to a more modest level.

Plaid Cymru could and should have learnt lessons here. But their current dwindling support suggests otherwise.

John Dixon said...

"Why don't you examine why support for the SNP has shot up."

Actually, it hasn't. In the 2011 Holyrood election, the SNP had around 45% of the vote; the predictions for the 2015 UK election are at around the same level. What's happened isn't so much a sudden increase in their support, as a transfer of support at one level to support at another level. Different phenomenon entirely.

"... the remainder of the UK makes good the financial shortfall."

That's a gross oversimplification, I fear, based - as with so much of the media comment on the issue - on a snapshot in time. A more reasoned approach would be to look at the position over a longer period; that's particularly necessary for any economy which has a high level of revenue dependence on a product, such as oil, whose price is volatile. Over the longer term, revenues raised from all sources in Scotland far exceed the revenues returned to Scotland through the block grant.

Furthermore, when you say that the remainder of the UK makes good the shortfall, you are omitting a key issue about where the UK revenues come from to do that. They come, in essence, from borrowing, not from 'English taxes' as the media like to claim.

" as and when the SNP raises the prospect of an independent Scotland again I suspect support will return to a more modest level."

Support for the SNP was about 45% before the referendum, around 45% voted yes, and support for the SNP is now around 45%. To which 'more modest level' are you referring, and what is the basis for your assertion?