You might not know it from some of my posts, but I’m an eternal optimist. Some say there are people out there who would never vote for independence: that they either identify too strongly with their British identity to even consider a vote that they feel could jeopardise it, or because they think Scotland is incapable of making a success of what literally hundreds of other countries around the world do right now, or simply because they believe themselves to be “anti-nationalist.” I refuse to believe that anyone can be immovably anti-Independence, any more than anyone can be immovably pro-Independence. We’ve already seen movement from both sides – people I could’ve sworn would never turn suddenly joining the SNP, and others who seem hell-bent on undoing decades of struggle for a cause we used to share.
Yes, of course it’s more useful – in a cold, tactical sense – to go to the undecideds and “soft” electorate on both sides. All we need is another few hundred thousand more than the last official record. But I worry about those we write off as inconvertible – those who we view as lost to the clutches of a mad party which has taken leave of any sense they had after the chaos of the EU Referendum result. They are going to shape the future of these islands.
This election is not like others that have come before. It is not a matter of parties, of policies, of the nuts and bolts of democratic governance. It is nothing less than a national emergency – a keyframe of the story of the 21st Century. It’s a moment that we Scots will, as ever, only be able to significantly alter in the event of a close contest. We have a way out. But what of our fellow Britons?
All through the past three election campaigns, there was a recurring theme: don’t bother about the Tories. In the first two elections, you could understand the sanguine response: under the First Past the Post systems used to elect our MP and constituency MSP, any vote for the UK Government’s Party was a vote against the Other Party, who for so long were the swiftest horse in the two-horse race of Inverclyde. Given the SNP were, at best, distant runners-up until 2015, voters in Inverclyde saw no point in tactical votes against the Other Party, so they could vote for the blue rosette in peace. Since 2015, though, the party to beat has flipped – and with the Other Party’s collapse, Theresa May’s voters have swelled.
I was never comfortable with this. Out canvassing, I would try and convince everyone to Yes (and later the SNP) no matter their background or politics, for one simple reason: despite the furious caterwauling of political opponents who have absolutely no business calling anyone else incompetent, the SNP are doing a good job in government. If politics are about breakfast, then a party which does the best job of making sure you have breakfast – or at least are unmolested while you eat – is vastly preferable to a party which promises ambrosia and nectar that it never delivers, or pretends that everyone has to cut back on breakfast while they gorge on caviar and truffles. The SNP are, in a word, doing their damnedest to make sure everyone has breakfast, & let them get to it. Literally, as it happens.
Understandably, everyone has been at pains to point out that the Other Party is no longer the party of Keir Hardie, Nye Bevan, or Clement Attlee – it’s barely the party of Neil Kinnock, despite the heroic attempts by the Blairite crew to destroy their own leader’s chances. “Don’t vote Labour for your grandparents: vote SNP for your grandchildren.” “I didn’t leave Labour: Labour left me.” “They’re just Red Tories now.” Given the stranglehold that party had in Scotland for decades, its collapse all across the nation in the past ten years has been breathtaking.
Yet if Blair and his neoliberal cabal ripped the heart and soul out of his party, then what of the UK Government’s? The grim shadow of Thatcher suggests to people that the current party is simply returning to its dark, cruel old self – yet, horrifically, even Thatcher would not do what Theresa May’s UK Government is already undertaking.
I don’t know where to begin when it comes to what Margaret Thatcher has done to Scotland, and the people of the UK as a whole. But even Thatcher dared not privatise universities, the Royal Mail, or the NHS. Even Thatcher didn’t reduce the police to 1970s numbers despite the huge increase in UK population. Even Thatcher at her worst didn’t treat Irish citizens during the Troubles as May treats Muslims now. Thatcher at least stopped at milk, and later said she regretted it – she never took children’s food off their lunch tables. Thatcher, it now transpires, was not the Event Horizon of British Conservatism. If anything, Thatcher was simply the beginning of something much worse: an infiltration of UK politics – or, perhaps, simply revealing the truth that was always deeply hidden – which aims to upend everything that the people of the UK have built for decades. All those hard-fought rights and institutions and monuments to a UK which emerged from the Second World War now risk being subsumed by an elite which does not have our interests at heart.
Look at what Blair did to his party: ousting or marginalising the left wingers, the socialists, the abolitionists, the people who made the party what it was, and replacing it with a cynical, neoliberal, superficially “reasonable” core, riding Neil Kinnock’s rebuilding before utterly squandering it with each of his consequent “victories.” He dragged the party rightwards under the false name of “centrism,” to the point where Thatcher – supposedly representative of his idealogical opposite – claimed him as her greatest success. They made a neoliberal wilderness, and called it New Labour.
We saw the usurpation of the party now so hopelessly adrift in the Upper Right Quadrant that the moderately left-wing leader has had to battle his own MPs. But what of the party running the country? What would an extremist right-wing takeover of the UK Government look like?
We’re looking at it right now.
I recall a lot of people in previous campaigns telling me that “you can’t just go out and try to convince Tory voters:” it would look “bad” to socialists and other left-wing social democrats, after all, to court people who voted for David Cameron’s cohort. The SNP have to deal with the “Tartan Tory” label to this day. So I didn’t. I concentrated on the Red Clydesiders, the habitual Red Rosette voters, people who I agreed more than disagreed with politically, and hoped that we’d just manage to overcome eighty years of voting tradition less than a year after the most devastating polling night I pray I’ll never experience again.
The result: the Red Rosettes are on their last legs. Gargantuan majorities have been overturned across the Central Belt within elections. They’ve fallen so low they consider 3 constituency MSPs in 2016 a heroic comeback, and 3 2017 councils where they’re the largest party – none even close to an overall majority, and pointedly, only one with a majority of first preferences – proof of the SNP’s honeymoon ending.
But the Blue Rosettes been picking up the pieces too: not all former Red voters went to the SNP. And now, we go into a General Election where a party which has only ever had at least 1 Scottish MP at a time since 2001 – indeed, only two individuals have represented a Scottish constituency for that party in the UK Parliament in all those 16 years – has now become the major opposition in all but a handful of Scottish Constituencies. A party which oversaw a historically low turnout in 2015 looks to be the second largest party in Scotland – at least in terms of votes, and possibly in terms of seats. And it sickens me to the pit of my stomach, because as surely as the Other Party – at least in Scotland – isn’t Labour any more, I don’t think Theresa May’s government can even be called the Conservatives either.
You are not voting for the party of Harold Macmillan, whose postwar reforms made measurable improvements to public health, life, and happiness. You aren’t voting for the party of John Major, who attempted to undo some of the worse extremes of his own party with the Citizens’ Charter, his part in the Northern Ireland Peace Process, and abolition of the hated Poll Tax. Good grief, you aren’t even voting for the party of David Cameron any more, as evidenced by their complete jettison of even a hint of his superficially progressive pretensions. Instead, you will be voting for a party that claims to be responsible, yet has overseen the greatest rise in debt and worst financial governance in living memory. You will be voting for a party that claims to keep us safe, yet has wrought more harm through deliberate policy to its people than every terrorist attack in UK history. You will be voting for a party that claims to be “strong and stable,” yet has caved to pressure and abruptly U-turned on all manner of positions.
You’ll be voting for a party that feels comfortable in suggesting the families of severely disabled children should consider the guillotine, and that we should stop being so bloody sentimental about the plight of child refugees. You’ll be voting for a party that sees nothing wrong with making light of assault, murder, slavery, and wartime atrocities. You’ll be voting for a party that relishes the ruin it has brought to the people of these islands, under the guise of fostering “charity” and “hope.” They celebrate the heroes pulling survivors from the wreckage of a disaster they caused. They make a wilderness, and call it peace. And they look utterly bewildered when the people suffering from their decisions do not thank them for it.
Vote for Theresa May’s party, and you vote for this.
I initially wondered why the SNP didn’t just boycott this election. The way the UK Government is going, the UK will be crashing out of the EU in the most damaging, costly, dangerous, petulant, and reckless manner short of besieging Gibraltar. It’s clear they don’t have the slightest interest in respecting Scotland’s existence as “a nation within a nation” when that nation’s interests don’t coincide with their own. We have the mandate for a new independence referendum, which is what the people of Scotland voted for, in these exact circumstances, with both a stronger mandate than the current UK government, and in fact a stronger mandate than the previous SNP Government in 2011. Why would we even bother putting up candidates to a Parliament we aim to decant before this decade is out?
It’s for the same reason the SNP stood in 2015, when another referendum looked to be a long time away – the first SNP manifesto in ages which did not promise a referendum on independence. It’s simple: for as long as Scotland is part of the United Kingdom, the SNP will seek to represent the interests of the people of Scotland – and those interests are not all that different from those of the people of the rest of the UK. The SNP are not rats in a sinking ship, even if rats would be wise to escape the earliest opportunity. We know that what happens in a neighbouring nation will impact on an independent Scotland. We know that a prosperous, friendly neighbour is vastly preferable to an impoverished, hostile one.
So if we can do one last thing for the people of Britain as a whole – not the Establishment, not the Lords and Ladies, not the Royals, not the politicians which manipulate our English, Welsh, & Northern Irish family, but the millions and millions of ordinary citizens – then we can do everything we can to stop the ruin which the current UK Government seems hell-bent on unleashing. We might not stop it entirely. We might not even stop it at all. But we can show our fellow Britons that there is always an alternative. This election is not about Labour vs Tory, Red vs Blue, Left vs Right – it is about damage control, collateral management, and disaster prevention. It’s about stopping the forces seeking to control us from knocking any more dominoes down.
Scotland will become independent. Someday, very soon: I have never been more convinced, even as it seems so far away to others. But before we step out into the light, we’ll do what we can. We can’t leave people behind – even those who we thought beyond saving.
Nobody should be written off. Nobody should be considered beyond reason, beyond salvation, beyond hope. Nobody deserves to be abandoned to the robber barons stealing everything precious to us.
And once we’re independent, we will still do everything we can – because it’s about breakfast for all of us.