23 Jul 2015
July 23, 2015

The inexorable Labour/SNP deal


In the Labour leadership election, Scotland has more ‘constituency’ nominations that actual parliamentary constituencies. That’s because Labour in Scotland organises around the Holyrood constituencies, and these in turn are the ‘old’ UK parliamentary constituencies (with Orkney and Shetland split, too) and are therefore smaller and more numerous (73 instead of 59). In the olden days – i.e. until May – Scottish Labour’s disproportionate voice was tolerated by the English and Welsh because of Scotland’s consistent return of a huge Labour group. Today, however, in return for around 11% of constituency nominations (and a slightly lower share of the actual voting entitlement), Scotland provides less than half a percent of all Labour MPs.

Meanwhile, the SNP is in general putting forward what appears to many Labour folk in England to look awfully like an effectively fought, anti-Tory, social democratic agenda. Of course, the SNP doesn’t tax and spend as yet so many of its words are just that; that party would presumably swing right if that’s what independence demanded; it (sensibly) makes pro-business noises which contradict its ‘leftist’ stance, and so on. But any possible political significance these critiques may carry lies in the future – for now the SNP is where it is and it isn’t going away. Moreover, 45% of the Scottish electorate is unusually, historically, solid for independence – many of the other 55% less so (especially the non-Tories). It doesn’t take Nostradamus to work out what’s going to happen to Scottish public opinion during an extended period of Tory government. Next year’s Scottish parliamentary election will be an important, if predictable, indicator.

The new leader of the UK Labour Party, whether JC (not Christ himself) or someone who’s managed to curry enough support by actually saying he’d serve in a JC cabinet (AB), will be on a hiding to nothing in unambiguously right-of-centre England. The prospect of a formal relationship between Labour in England/Wales and the SNP in Scotland, which in practical terms means tacitly accepting Scottish independence, will look more attractive to leader and members with every passing day.

Ironically, Labour in Scotland, currently campaigning against ‘billionaires and fracking’, is hoping to go left of the SNP, while the SNP’s ambiguity on such issues comes about exactly because it knows how many jobs in Scotland’s oil and gas economy – and votes – rely on such rich folk and such technologies. So with it’s leftist approach, Labour in Scotland (with even its entitlement to  use ‘Scottish Labour’ presently disputed) risks alienating tens of thousands of regular working people who work in the extractive industries, putting-off folk in the political centre and, as a near-irrelevant contributor to the politics of winning a UK election, being trumped by a England&Wales Labour/SNP deal.

Uh oh.