The SNP: The Beginning of the End? – Conservative Article
The Scottish National Party (SNP), despite the mathematical gymnastics they will undoubtedly attempt, have not won a mandate for a second referendum. A new swell of separatism in the electorate has failed to materialise. Indeed, all they have essentially proved is that little has changed in the mood of the Scottish voters since 2014. The party as a whole is looking like it’s past its peak, with years of sub-par governance beginning to catch up with them.
As a Unionist, it is, of course, disappointing that the SNP remain Scotland’s dominant party, continuing to cling to power. Voters in Scotland are bitterly divided. They seek both a scapegoat and saviour that the SNP have attempted to provide. But, despite Westminster being successfully portrayed as indifferent and apathetic to those north of the border, the union is far from lost. The recovery from coronavirus, along with a re-think of unionist policies and attitudes, can strengthen and reaffirm what has long been a close, successful, and mutually beneficial relationship.
The SNP now claim that support from the Greens provides the mandate they are so desperate for. This is despite the rejection early in the campaign of a pro-independence super-majority. However, even after combining the Green, Alba and SNP vote, their share still averages below 50%. To demonstrate that their new government is the custodian of the predominant will of the Scottish people, the SNP needed, at the very least, a substantial majority. But to really be convincing, a vote count exceeding that which voted against separation in 2014 is needed. They have neither. Instead, this election has indicated that the nationalist vote is stagnating. Their poor governance, and several other more pressing issues, are most important in the minds of the electorate.
Polling has shown that voters wish for economic recovery to be the main concern of the new government. Even before the coronavirus hit, only a small minority of Scottish voters believed independence to be a high priority. But Nicola Sturgeon, to her credit, is an excellent communicator and an adept manipulator. She has her personal ambitions and is willing to openly contradict herself to achieve them. Despite telling everyone that recovery is to be her only focus, the primary message of her first days has been the impending certainty of a new vote on separation.
Collusion with the Green party is, socio-politically, a good move. It gives credibility to the principle of independence in the eyes of a new wave of young, environmentally conscious voters. This is a demographic the Greens have seen rising support in across previous election cycles. Political practicality wise, however, several issues need to be addressed. North Sea Oil is viewed as the forefront of an independent Scotland’s economy. This is vehemently opposed by the Greens, who favour a total transition to renewable energy as soon as possible. With a government ruling without a majority, passing acts of independence will be difficult without concessions. Moreover, a confession that the post-split economy will be substantially weaker than they are willing to admit is needed.
The new Scottish parliament provides the perfect opportunity for unionist parties of all colours to refresh their message. Labour and the Conservatives have new, young and energetic leaders. If they learn from their mistakes, this could be the last in a long chain of unsuccessful SNP governments. Without descending into a lengthy criticism of their record, it is at least worth saying that, politically and economically, they do not deserve the votes they’ve received.
Yet Boris Johnson also needs to take the opportunity handed to him. Whether or not incumbents of Downing Street really have the union high on their list of priorities, being labelled as the Prime Minister who watched their country fall apart is something no one desires. Johnson’s 2019 manifesto was full of promises to “level-up” regions of the country and was hugely successful in breaking down the red wall. However, this needs to be extended UK-wide. Furthermore, building on the success of the UK vaccine roll-out, he must prove to Scottish voters that the Union can work for them.
At its most basic level, the arguments in favour of independence are ideological. They are based around fundamental distrust of “external” rule and the belief that the sole responsibility of governing Scots should be held by Scots. Successive Downing Street incumbents have largely failed to recognise the strong strand of national identity that permeates the Scottish psyche. As a result, “Scottish identity” has been pitted against “British Identity”, encouraging conflict, division and misunderstanding.
The arguments against independence are largely practical. Numerous economic studies have shown that an independent Scotland would have to pay a significant economic price. Crucial questions continuously remain unanswered: what would happen to the currency? Would there need to be tax rises? And does Scotland risk becoming like a divided Ireland? This is where regions that voted to remain in the UK are, to coin a popular SNP phrase, “dragged out against their will”.
The failure of both sides to provide sufficient arguments against one another from their respective perspectives is one of the reasons that the Independence question remains. Current and future governments valuing the union must emphasise and prove that they respect Scots and Scottish identity.
Proving to separatist voters that the union is mutually beneficial is difficult. Currently, it would certainly seem that they would accept a worse situation if it meant control over their own providence.
The result of the 2014 referendum was not the curtain call on independence that at the time it was thought to be (and, perhaps, should have been). A vote to remain was indicative more of an aversion to the uncertainty immediately following a separatist vote. Successive English-born Prime Ministers need to understand that, whilst many English residents consider themselves “British”, this is not the case for the other composite nations. Finding a way to allow the Scottish people to express their identity within the structure of a strong, powerful, economically vibrant, united country, has to be a central consideration of Westminster policy-making. Now, more than ever, is the time to be making that change.
Written by Guest Conservative Writer, Alex McQuitty
Point of Information
An Independence Referendum is a Matter of Time – A Liberal Response
The results of the recent election are definitely not as clear cut as Alex proposes. On paper, the pro-Unionist parties’ votes outnumber those of the anti-Unionists. Yet, this has to be clarified. By some feat, Alex skirts around noting that the SNP and the Greens have a parliamentary majority when combined. This means a technically pro-independence Holyrood. On the surface, it is a question of whether we trust the aggregate vote, or what that vote produced. But there’s more to it than this.
For all the criticism Alex dishes out (much of it being very fair), the SNP did relatively well at the 2021 elections. Under Scotland’s much more democratic MMPR system, it is extremely difficult for the SNP to win a majority, let alone Alex’s substantial majority. Indeed, many could use their list vote to elect a different party to their constituency vote. In which case, there is no doubt that many supported both a ‘pro-Unionist’ and a ‘pro-Independence’ party at the same time. Regardless of whether people voted for motives aside from independence, this fact alone should throw Alex’s hasty call into deep questioning.
Alex is right regarding the solution though. The national identity of this country is not only in tatters but in conflict. Alex astutely records this sad division. Nicola Sturgeon, whatever you make of her, is clearly profiting off of this. Our own Prime Ministers have only worsened the divide, as Alex also notes.
Johnson’s bellicose stance deserves extra emphasis. In his adamant refusal of any referendum, he has only galvanized Sturgeon’s supporters and betrayed Unionist insecurities. His fears have given Sturgeon the opportunity to capitalise on the hazy Holyrood election result. If the anti-independence vote is truly stronger, then a referendum should be called anyways. This would be the ultimate decider, not a Holyrood election.
In the meantime, I am less optimistic than Alex that we can reform our current government. An independence referendum is undoubtedly looming. Running up to it, Boris will need to reverse his course. The path to reconciliation needs to be reforged, not broken apart. That is the surest way for us to keep Scotland in the Union, and to put the bullet in Sturgeon’s government. Yet, with tensions only growing, this does not look likely.
Written by Chief Liberal Writer, Frank Allen
Leave or Remain, Democracy is Democracy – A Labour Response
Alex has given a great overview of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the seemingly dependent issue of Scottish independence. You can’t talk about one without the other.
He definitely understands the key arguments of both sides here. By now, we all know it’s a debate of economic efficiency and stability vs feelings of discontent and distrust in centralised power. The latter is of course not to be diminished as less worthy reasoning. Democracy is ultimately about the people and for the people.
Alex is completely right though that both Scots and citizens of other UK nations don’t feel like a united part of this country. They are too often pushed aside by Westminster decisions and policymaking. Often, even their respective devolved powers are too little to counter this.
So what’s the solution? If the economic concerns are too great to opt for independence, but the alternative is electorate dissatisfaction, is there a best option?
Personally, I’m with Alex that the UK government should be finding ways to ease some of the problems and satisfy the other UK nations without the “extreme” measure of independence. The UK government are not too fond of this idea but they also need to make clear their attempts to avoid this. I’ll be interested to see if and how they address this.
However, the electorate is the most important person in this decision. Despite Alex’s concerns, which admittedly reflect more than his own views and the constant drive of the SNP and Sturgeon for independence, it is not without its support from the people. At the end of the day, it’s a democracy. So if the people want another referendum, they should get one.
Written by Chief Labour Writer, Abi Clargo
Politics was a completely taboo subject for me as a young boy. Having lived almost all my life in Brunei and Qatar – two very strict, theocratic autocracies – I was cautious to keep my opinions well-guarded. The smallest negative remark about either country’s governance, for example, would’ve meant deportation for my family and I. Any non-approved political activity, no matter how naïve, had to be kept a secret. It was best not to question at all.
I’m Abi! I am a liberal, political enthusiast from the Welsh valleys. Since I was young, I have been captivated by politics. I used to spend so much time watching the morning news before school, and have paid close attention to political campaigns for as long as I can remember. It was a lot later that I decided I wanted to pursue politics academically. Now, I have just finished my second year studying Politics and International Relations at the University of Exeter.