I’ve become an avid fan of Thomas Paine in recent years, and found his writings to be an inspiration. This morning, after a night which has shaken the very foundations of the United Kingdom, I thought of him.
These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.
– Thomas Paine, The Crisis No. I (written 19 December 1776, published 23 December 1776)
56 SNP MPs. The greatest support from the Scottish electorate in our nation’s history, with 1,454,436 votes. That’s 50% of the vote share in Scotland, and 4.8% of the entire UK – in a proportional representation system, that would still make the SNP the largest Scottish party by far with 34 MPs. So profound, so paradigm-shifting, so cataclysmic a result has been indicated by poll after poll after poll, yet even in the light of day it seems a dream. And even with the iniquity of First-Past-The-Post, every single SNP candidate was elected on a comfortable majority of thousands – many with outright majorities of 50% or more. Even the three seats which resisted the Golden Horde were close shaves for the lone UK parties, with less than 5,000 votes altogether deciding the result – two of which were under 1,000.
And Inverclyde? 24,585 votes, 55.1% of the vote, a majority of 11,063, and a swing of 32% may be only average for the SNP in this election, but it soars through the SNP’s previous records both in the constituency, and nationally. Aye, in 2015 terms, I think everyone in Inverclyde SNP will happily settle for an average SNP result!
The electorate of Scotland are jubilant in a way that would have seemed impossible just eight months ago, but it is tempered with a sense of despair in the rest of the UK. The Conservatives have an overall majority with 330 seats, with New Labour trailing at 232. Already cries of a Scottish betrayal are being heard, but another 58 seats would have only taken New Labour to 290 – which, you’ll note, is still 40 seats behind the Conservatives.
41 Scottish Labour MPs didn’t stop a Tory government in 2010. 49 Scottish Labour MPs didn’t stop a Tory government in 1992. 50 Scottish Labour MPs didn’t stop a Tory government in 1987. And, as if it needed further proof, even 59 Scottish Labour MPs wouldn’t have stopped a Tory government. Let’s put that to rest right now: voting New Labour instead of SNP in Scotland would not have stopped David Cameron. It was up to the people of England & Wales, and they made their choice.
But there are several very important things which give me hope for the coming years.
- Even though at first glance it looks like the Tories are experiencing a momentous triumph, in practicality, they’re in a much weaker position than they were in 2010 due to the deflation of the Neoliberal Democrats. The Coalition commanded 363 (306 Tories, 57 NeoLibDems); now they have only 338 between them, and if the Liberty Birds find their spine following the resignation of Mr Clegg as party leader, they may even refuse to back Cameron – forcing the Tories to look to the 8 DUP & 2 UKIP for support, though that would only bring them to 340. Despite being the majority party, the Tories have less clout than they did this time five years ago.
- Even in the opposition, 56 SNP MPs could wield considerable power and influence in a variety of means: they can form and become involved in committees as chairmen, including select committees; they can propose amendments to legislation, and they have access to civil servants and parliamentary resources unavailable to the Scottish government.
- In 2010, there were only two dozen or so MPs with a remotely left-wing, anti-austerity, anti-war agenda: 6 SNP, 3 Plaid Cymru, 1 Green, and the more left-leaning members of New Labour. This year, we can add at least 50 more rebels against the neoliberal consensus, and could easily make the difference in close votes.
- As the third largest party, the SNP would have considerable automatic speaking rights within the commons: they would be able to table debates, and even be permitted to ask questions every Prime Minister’s Questions. Imagine the enlightenment the voters of England would enjoy when they hear Mhairi Black on the enfranchisement of younger voters; Phillipa Whitford on the destruction of the NHS; Brendan O’Hara on Trident; Alex being the nightmare the British Establishment have feared for decades. Every. Single. Week. David Cameron never debated with Alex Salmond for a damned good reason, but this time, there’s nowhere for him to hide. Isn’t that going to be fun?
- It’s easy for the UK media to twist and turn and misrepresent 6 MPs – but 56? Even after the relentless smears and scaremongering about SNP influence at Westminster, the Scottish electorate saw through it all. And even though the Tories are triumphant for now, votes for the Greens has risen, and New Labour (still seen, rightly or wrongly, as left-wing) has remained mostly steady in terms of votes, if not seats. The potential is there.
- Remember how Angus MacNeil was one of three MPs who uncovered the Cash for Honours scandal, and how it turned the establishment upside down? Remember how Alex Salmond rocked the establishment within a few weeks of his election? Messrs MacNeil & Salmond have 54 friends joining them down south, in a time where the UK establishment is embroiled in investigations into historic conspiracies and cover-ups of the most appalling crimes.
- If you add the Greens’ vote share, the pro-independence parties took 51.3% of the vote, and with 56 seats that means 94.9% of all Scottish MP seats have been taken by pro-independence candidates. Naturally neither the SNP nor the Greens ran this election seeking a mandate for a referendum or anything to do with independence, but I think it’s significant in showing that when that is taken out of the picture, the people of Scotland still find much in the SNP and Greens that appeals to them.
To the people of England and Wales and Northern Ireland, I say this: hold on to hope. The UK establishment stopped at nothing to keep Scotland in the union. They talked a great talk about unity, familial ties, pooling and sharing resources, even as they lied through their teeth about subsidies and taxes and grievances. So the electorate of England, Wales and Northern Ireland as a whole were happy for Scotland to stay, if that is what they wished. Yet even though support for independence has continued to grow slowly but steadily, even though studies have shown that the unionist parties’ threat of a second referendum have actually strengthened support for the SNP, even though there were any number of reasons the SNP could have pushed for independence in another way, they have respected the outcome of the referendum.
They wanted us to stay. 2 million decided to stay – but not to prop up the neoliberal consensus. Not to ensure austerity continues while people die in their droves. Not to let millionaires dominate the lives of the millions. A vote for No may have been a vote to facilitate David Cameron & the Tories’ destruction of civil liberties and human rights in practicality, but it most assuredly was not a vote for that in sentiment – in the hearts and minds of the vast majority of those who voted that way. David Cameron no more “won” the referendum than Alex Salmond “lost” it, and no amount of crowing by the right-wing press will make it so. Never forget that.
Many of the stances made by the Scottish Government in the White Paper are borne of this same concern for the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland as they do for the same demographics which arguably lost them the referendum. Scotland could have survived without a currency union – indeed, the Adam Smith institute says it could have thrived with sterlingisation or a new currency – but the rest of the UK would have seen the pound’s value plummet by 10%. Scotland could have survived without being part of the EU, but the many migrants who dwell here would face uncertainty and turmoil as a result. Scotland could easily have adopted a scorched-earth policy, but they didn’t – because to do so would have hurt the people of England & Wales. Never forget that.
It’s often said in studies that if you exclude the elderly, Scotland would have voted for independence. Others say that if the franchise was restricted to Scotland-born residents, Scotland would have voted for independence. The SNP’s response to these suggestions? That they are irrelevant. The referendum was a matter for all the people of Scotland, regardless of age or birthplace. It would be little short of a crime against democracy itself to exclude any resident of Scotland from a say in the future of their nation. It is the fact that the SNP have been resolute in supporting this, never once playing the “ethnic votes” card nor punishing the elderly, which makes me so proud to be a member. The SNP do not believe in “independence at any cost” – for if they were, Scotland would be independent already. Never forget that.
England & Wales, hold on to hope. As a supporter of Scottish independence, I still believe we can be better together while standing apart. But for as long as we share a parliament, we will make that parliament work for the many rather than the few. When the London bubble say the SNP are going south to “cause trouble” or “wreak havoc,” what they mean is the SNP will tear down their privileges, their inequalities, their tyranny. Any trouble or havoc caused is not put upon the people, but the result of those who would exploit and pervert their positions for greed and power. We are not coming as destroyers, but as protectors of everything the electorate of England & Wales have been denied by a centuries-old cabal long past its time.
Hold on, folks. We’re coming.
O! ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose not only tyranny but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the Old World is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia and Africa have long expelled her. Europe regards her like a stranger and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.
– Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776)