Thursday, 26 February 2015

Different contexts

In a comment on a previous post, one of my anonymous friends took issue with my suggestion that the SNP/Plaid/Green Party bloc ruling out a deal with the Tories had more to do with electoral considerations than with putting the needs of Wales first.  His (or her, one can never be sure with an Anon) argument was that failing to rule out a deal with the Tories wasn’t just about electoral tactics, because failing to secure the maximum possible number of SNP MPs would itself weaken the bargaining power of the SNP/ Plaid/ Green bloc.
I can see the validity of that point, but it does also highlight a difficulty with the bloc itself, which is that it is being driven largely by what happens in Scotland, where the situation is very different to the position in Wales or England. 
Given the position in Scotland, ruling out a deal with the Tories may well be an electorally sound strategy.  The SNP is now in a commanding position, with the Labour Party’s support apparently in freefall, and the party’s leaders looking increasingly panicky.  Reassuring Labour voters that the journey from their past voting habits to voting SNP is a very short and easy one makes a great deal of sense in terms of delivering the coup de grace.  And there is no longer a single constituency in Scotland where it is credible to argue that the SNP can't win.
But the same is not true for the Greens in England or for Plaid in Wales.  Outside a handful of seats, it is not credible to argue that those parties are in with a serious chance of winning.  Can anyone seriously see those two parties having more than around 6 seats between them come May?  Whilst it makes sense to tie the post-election narrative for those two parties to the strength of the SNP, does it make sense to tie their electoral narrative into that of the SNP in the same way? 
The potential effect of knowing in advance that those parties favour a Labour government – and that’s what they’ve effectively said – could all too easily backfire.  For those of their supporters who would prefer to see a Conservative Government than a Labour one (and there are more of those than many would care to admit) it could encourage them to vote for one rather than against one.  And if people do prefer a Labour government, why not simply vote for one directly?
It’s too easy for people to convince themselves that the Wales of today is like the Wales of yesterday, with large swathes of the country inhabited by voters harbouring a fierce and instinctive hatred of all things Tory.  But that is a narrative whose primary effect is to help Labour maintain its hegemony.  And it’s becoming increasingly less true, however much some of us might wish that the old values still prevailed.  It’s a narrative from which Labour may continue to benefit in their heartlands in the short term, but it’s not an assumption on which it’s possible to build a longer term alternative.
Insofar as the SNP has managed to displace the Labour Party in Scotland, it’s been by taking that party on directly, not by treating it as a largely benign influence which has temporarily lost its way.  And in Wales this raises a question which goes to the heart of the debate which Plaid has managed to avoid for decades, despite Dr Phil having raised it many times – does Plaid see itself as a party which seeks to deliver directly, or does it see itself as a party which seeks to push another party – Labour – into doing the delivery?  Words usually state the former, but actions usually imply the latter.

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