01 Feb 2015
February 1, 2015

Scots populism


There are 3 political parties in the UK with 6-figure membership. Of these, the SNP has a concentration of members in Scotland (some live  outside) that equates to Labour or the Tories having a million members across the UK. Moreover, the great majority of SNP members are very new, very enthusiastic, relatively young and very likely to help out during the election campaign. You don’t need to be an MP to know how signifiant those multipliers are.

So, for UK MPs with non-Scottish constituencies to get a sense of what their non-SNP colleagues in Scotland face in theirs at the moment, they have to imagine the local effect on their constituency of a mass party with several million members across the UK coming to get them.

Some polls suggest the SNP will end up with pretty much all of the seats in Scotland and probably, if that party feels like it, a few in England too. The bookies are more reserved, but for now many people expect that the SNP group at Westminster after the election may well be larger than the Lib-Dem one. With the election likely to be a close-run thing, there is a good possibility of it resulting in a Labour-SNP coalition. This might help UK Labour into government. But it could kill off Scottish Labour at the same time.

Jim Murphy’s gambit on using the largely-London mansion tax to fund extra nurses in Scotland angered Labour folk in London but was simply a fair reflection of the status quo – UK tax funds Scottish public services. A UK Labour Prime Minister dependent on Deputy Prime Minister (or whatever) Salmond would certainly need to up the ante on that sort of offer. And, of course, the great risk for Labour is that the SNP Deputy Prime Minister and SNP First Minister of Scotland would together claim credit for every ‘extra’ acquired for Scots. Jim Murphy is one of the ablest politicians in the UK today, but even he would find it hard to demonstrate to Scotland that it was Scottish Labour rather than the SNP who was really delivering the goodies. Some might even argue that rational choice theory should lead “don’t knows” and “don’t cares”, with no medium term fear of independence now, to vote SNP in order to help deliver both a Labour prime minister and a larger share of the UK cake for Scotland.

My own instinct is that the SNP won’t do quite as well as some think, nor the Lib Dems quite so badly across the UK. A Labour administration, whether in coalition with the Lib Dems or not, would give Jim Murphy some space to show the difference Scottish Labour is making – to put together some coherent public policy that might serve as a counterpoint to simplistic populism. A Tory administration would likely help the SNP work on a new referendum, of course. For now, though, don’t expect to see meaningful public debate in Scotland around Education, Health or hard choices around taxes or public expenditure. Scots are to be treated as chicks with open mouths, at least until 8 May. But maybe that’s what they want.