A poll today says the SNP might win every Scottish seat at the UK elections. I find the oddest thing about it all the attempts by commentators to place that rampant nationalism into the context of regular arguments about public policy.
The Iraq War, for example, had no effect at all on the Scottish vote in the two subsequent general elections. Indeed at the last election the SNP, with under 20% of the vote, did only marginally better than the Tories on 17%. Since then, spending on Health in Scotland under the SNP has gone up less than in England under the Tories (although the Scottish spend is obviously higher). Oil revenue is projected to be a fraction of what the SNP thought it might be before the oil price collapse. The SNP has provided no coherent response to the IFS’s view that fiscal autonomy – effectively independence – would create a huge hole in the Scottish budget which could be filled only by a long-lasting austerity package (albeit with a less severe spike than the Tories’ plans).
But none of that matters. Scots are behaving in the way any nation gripped by nationalism does. Artists, poets and writers are gazing skywards and telling us of ‘a new start’; unionist opposition isn’t just disagreed with but routinely vilified. Few folk are listening to reason, because reason is too painful and these are difficult times. The SNP has, adeptly, switched in the last year from being a party of the centre right (lower corporation tax, mildly authoritarian public policy around police powers, alcohol and the rest) to a party left of Labour. The leadership’s still essentially the same, of course, but this switch is entirely coherent because the SNP’s objective is independence by any peaceful means and a lot of Scots aren’t keen to face economic reality.
I think a lot of Scots feel that they can back the SNP now for a bigger (and wholly unreasonable) share of the UK cake, then save the union when the inevitable second independence referendum comes a year or so after next year’s Scottish elections. But they can’t, because by then the English won’t be having it. The union’s done now, and neither possible election result now can save it. With a Tory government, the union’s done right after 2016 – with a Labour one there might be a stay of execution for a year or two while the SNP holds vast de facto power over the English without any concomitant responsibility or accountability whatever – then chooses the ‘best’ moment to kill the UK government.
Perhaps it’s time for people in Scotland to start wondering if they want to live in a place where it can be seriously projected that a single party might take all of the seats at a general election, and where well-educated and intelligent folk would actually celebrate such a state of affairs. Or maybe it’ll take a few years of independence before Scots are prepared to face up to reality.
The general historical trend with nationalism, I’m told, is the latter.
PS: After I posted the stuff above quite a few people tweeted (and Davie’s comment is below) that Scotland has been a one-party state until now under Labour. I guess that illustrates perfectly what I’m trying to say above. Labour hasn’t been in power in Scotland for 8 years. Even such realities are treated as ropey quibbles by people who seem to wholly embrace the notion of a one-party state. Welcome to Scotland.