Many have found it difficult to understand why Labour is so absolute in its rejection of working with the SNP in Scotland on the grounds that the SNP wants to remove part of the UK from the union, yet so relaxed about working with the SDLP in the north of Ireland, which also wants to remove part of the UK from the union. I think that Daran Hill, in his article in Tuesday’s Western Mail, explained it very clearly when, arguing that Labour was making a mistake in rejecting Plaid as well as the SNP, he said “… you can work with another party if it is annoying you, but not destroying you”.
The line about not working with the SNP because they want to end the union is just a very poor rationalisation for a much more visceral reaction against a party which really does seem to be on the verge of destroying them. From that perspective, Plaid is a mere annoyance; maybe doing well in six seats in Wales which are strongly Welsh-speaking, but hardly going to have any impact elsewhere. An SNP similarly limited to the Western Isles would also be looked at more as an annoyance than the nemesis which threatens Labour’s traditional heartlands.
In the case of the SDLP, it’s not even an annoyance. The Labour Party treats this particular nationalist party as a sister party, and allows it a free run, knowing that any MPs elected are likely to be voting in accordance with the Labour whip most of the time. And that made me wonder – could we see a similar situation developing in Scotland? Could the Labour Party in Scotland simply give up the ghost and leave the social democratic field free for the SNP, thus allowing the two parties to work together effectively at UK level (only for as long as the union holds, obviously)?
The answer to that probably depends on two factors: the extent of the annihilation of Labour by the end of today, and the extent to which Labour believe that the situation is a permanent one rather than one from which they will recover in an election or two. As long as they believe that they can recover, the enmity will continue – probably with increasing bitterness. But if what we’re seeing turns out to be a generational shift, as I suspect that it will, and if English Labour responds intelligently to that shift, then two bitter enemies might find it quite easy to work together after all. A good dose of reality can often turn worst enemies into best friends.