A Mixed Bag
Posted on May 6th, 2016
By Rab Bruce’s Spider
Everyone is putting forward their initial reaction to the result of the Holyrood election so here’s my contribution.
So far, the media headlines concerning the Holyrood Election begin with phrases like “SNP fail" and “Tory Revival". No doubt this will continue for some time but there is, when you look at the results, a more nuanced appraisal required. No doubt various statistics will be quoted by all the Parties but a few things stand out.
First the good news. UKIP did not earn a seat. Hooray! The Greens increased their presence and Scottish Labour have turned into a rump Party.
One odd feature is the survival of the Lib Dems. It seems some voters don’t mind being represented by a Party with a proven track record of lying and also of facilitating Tory rule in Westminster. Odd, but that’s democracy for you.
The not so good news for those of us who want Scotland to become a normal country is that the SNP did not reach the magic 65 seats required for a majority despite gaining around 156,000 more votes than they did in 2011 and earning more votes than both Labour and Conservatives combined in both Constituency and Regional votes. This, of course, is a feature of the voting system which is specifically designed to prevent any one Party gaining a majority. The fact that the SNP managed it last time was a bit of a fluke but they still came within two seats of repeating the virtually impossible. However, the system worked as intended and the SNP now face the issue of how to proceed in Government; either as a minority, in coalition, or in some sort of Confidence & Supply arrangement.
The greens are the obvious choice for any coalition or informal alliance. Many on the Yes side are consoling themselves that the overall pro-Indie majority is now slightly greater than it was before the election but there are a couple of issues surrounding that view.
First of all, the greens, while supporting Indie in principle, are not as keen on holding a referendum as the SNP. It is conceivable that even a brexit in the EURef might not be sufficient to prompt the Greens to support a call for another IndieRef. There is also the issue that the Tory Westminster Government will regard the lack of an SNP majority as a reason to ignore calls for another IndieRef because, in the Unionist mindset, the Yes movement is entirely concentrated in the SNP and they will claim that Scotland does not support independence because the SNP failed to gain a majority despite the system being rigged to prevent them doing so.
The other issue is more complex and could go several ways. One thing the Greens may well be able to do is exert influence on the SNP on issues like Land Reform, Fracking, Renewable Energy and Council Tax Reform. On all of these, the SNP have been fairly cautious and many of their own members might welcome a more radical stance for which the greens can take the blame if things go wrong and both Parties can try to take the credit if they work.
The problem which might arise is that these more radical policies which the Greens will undoubtedly push for could harden the attitude of the Right Wing voters if they see Scotland diverging even further from UK policies. That stance is hard enough already as yesterday’s vote confirms. It seems that many voters are prepared to support the Conservatives simply in order to continue waving the Union flag and are quite prepared to put up with the policies Ruth Davidson never wants to talk about, like charging for prescriptions, charging students for university tuition, privatising the NHS, cutting Scotland’s budget, refusing to help Scottish industries like steel and shipbuilding, cutting social security benefits, closing down public services, allowing fracking, overseeing a proliferation of food banks, vilifying the Disabled and Unemployed, refusing to aid refugees from warzones where the UK has been involved in bombing their homes, pandering to tax evading Corporations and making the wealthy 1% of the population even richer at the expense of everyone else.
Now, I can understand why someone who is relatively well off thanks to having prospered under the current UK social model would want to preserve that model and would therefore vote Conservative. You may regard that attitude as selfish and greedy but most people look out for themselves first so, while it might be distasteful to some of us, the attitude is at least understandable. What is harder to empathise with is the attitude of the hardline Unionists who seem to have voted solely in order to prevent another IndieRef, irrespective of the consequences. The expression about turkeys and Christmas springs to mind.
Fortunately, though, the Conservatives are not in power in Scotland so we don’t need to face the double whammy of both Westminster and Holyrood attempting to slash public spending. It may be more difficult for the SNP to get every Bill passed but, with cooperation from the Greens, we will hopefully continue to see policies which help mitigate the worst excesses of Westminster cuts. The chance of another IndieRef is virtually gone now so the best we can hope for is another five years of pretty decent government. Despite the claims of the hostile media, the SNP have done a fairly decent job in many areas, especially in improvements to infrastructure such as the Borders railway and the new Forth crossing. Scotland’s NHS is the best performing in the UK and continues to be exempt from the wholesale privatisation in England & Wales, not to mention the Junior Doctors’ strike action which continues south of the Border. Failing shipyards and steelworks have been saved, the worst impact of the Bedroom Tax has been offset and there are advances in childcare provision which should help more women return to work. The SNP are not perfect and they have misjudged a couple of things but no Government is perfect so I’m not going to get too hung up about that, especially because they have accomplished these things despite massive cuts to the Block Grant which Westminster graciously allows us. In general, their policies have been designed to aid the majority, especially the less well off, while not overly upsetting the better off.
As to where we go now, time will tell. It is apparent that the constitutional issue is paramount. That’s down to the Unionist Parties, especially the Tories, who have not stopped banging on about another IndieRef and the need to prevent it. That call has clearly been heeded by some voters. As I mentioned, more radical policies over the next five years, spurred on by the greens, might make the case for Indie even more difficult as the Unionist support digs in against more Left Wing policies.
On the other hand, Ruth Davidson will now lead the main Opposition and this will allow Nicola Sturgeon to highlight the Tory policies which are designed to wreck the universal social benefits the SNP have already introduced. Ruth Davidson, for all that the media love her, isn’t all that impressive when put under pressure on these sorts of issues and some voters may begin to see the reality of Tory rule.
Another interesting feature is how the BBC and STV will react now that the Greens have pushed the Lib Dems into fifth place. Will TV panels now be more balanced when it comes to the inevitable constitutional arguments? Instead of three Unionist MSPs shouting down one SNP MSP, will it be two v two? I suspect not because the TV companies, especially the BBC, have little interest in balance when it comes to the pro-Indie movement.
And, finally, what of Labour’s Scottish Branch Office? Labour, both at UK and Scottish levels don’t seem to have learned the lesson that you can’t out-Tory the Tories. They were used as stooges by better Together and they have suffered from losing pro-Indie supporters to the SNP and anti-Indie supporters to the Tories. They are, in effect, caught between the two and unable to appeal to either. Their only chance of revival would appear to be changing their entire stance and supporting the case for independence. That might regain them some support but trying to be more Unionist than the Tories simply isn’t going to work. But, of course, Scottish Labour won’t change tack because they are controlled by UK Labour who are staunchly Unionist. In a Scotland where the constitutional issue dominates, that has doomed them.
So it’s been quite an election and we now face an interesting future. What was all that we used to hear about Uncertainty?