Saturday, 8 February 2014

Vote no If you want to keep the Tories out of Scotland

I have a friend who reads the Daily Mail every lunchtime. She sometimes discusses what she finds there and it’s fairly obvious that she agrees with most of it. Her point of view is basically right of centre. I asked her once if she had ever voted Conservative. Like most Scots, she said she would never consider voting Tory. After all, her grandfather had worked down a coal mine. I’m pretty sure she will vote Labour all her life even if she disagrees with them. This is a pretty good example of just how toxic the Tory brand is in Scotland. Even people who basically agree with Conservative policies would not dream of voting for them. The only comparable political situation I can think of is when conservatives in the southern states of the USA used to vote Democrat, because Abraham Lincoln had been a Republican and it would be a betrayal of their Confederate grandfathers to vote for his party. It took about a hundred years for the Republican brand to cease being toxic in the South. It’s fairly obvious therefore why the SNP like to use the idea that independence would guarantee that Scotland would remain free of Tories. They see this as a major selling point to Labour voters. We’re all, no doubt, familiar with how the argument goes. Scotland always votes for left-wing parties, but frequently gets a right-wing Tory government in Westminster. Independence would mean that this would never happen again. But let’s look at whether the SNP are really primarily motivated by avoiding Tory rule or whether this is just a way of persuading those who otherwise would not support independence. In doing so I am of, of course, not attacking people in Scotland who support the Conservatives. I generally can see merit in some of the views of every party that competes in Scotland.

Some people simply want Scotland to be independent come what may. They see it as Scotland’s natural position. For the simple reason that Scotland once was an independent country, nationalists think that we should be one again. Basically they think that countries ought to be independent. I can see the appeal of this reasoning even if I disagree with it or more fundamentally don’t feel the same way that nationalists do. The SNP however, have long realised that in order to win a referendum they would have to appeal to more than their hard core support. The fact is that the number of Scots who support independence come what may is relatively small. For this reason they have to come up with ways of persuading the rest of us. The important thing to realise is that these reasons are not what motivate the core SNP supporters. Take the example of Scotland voting for the left and getting Tory government. Well what about when Scotland voted Labour and got a Labour government? Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were in power for many years. During those years did the SNP cease campaigning for independence? No of course not. So they want independence when there’s a Tory government in Westminster and they want independence when there’s a Labour government in Westminster. Really they just want independence. Imagine if I asked someone, who for his whole life has wanted independence, if he would cease to want independence if it could be guaranteed that the Westminster government would always reflect the wishes of the Scottish electorate. How much of the core SNP support would give up their goal of independence? I suspect rather few. People who have for a long time supported independence, to their credit, do not do so for transient reasons, but because it is their fundamental political ideal. But of course they will use whatever argument they can to try to persuade the rest of who lack this ideal.

For a long time most of Scotland has voted solidly Labour. These people, like most Scots, are vehemently opposed to the Tories. Well there is going to be a UK election in 2015, which Labour are favourites to win. But if Scotland voted for independence the plan is that we would cease to be part of the UK in 2016. So what would happen to a Labour government depending on its Scottish MPs for its majority? The likely result would be another Tory Government in Westminster. This means that Scottish Labour voters, who at present, we can assume, support their party and its leadership, would be the cause of Ed Miliband ceasing to be Prime Minister two years from now. Can the SNP really expect Scottish Labour voters, in this way, to desert the cause they have fought for all their lives? Let’s hope that most Scottish Labour voters will realise that solidarity is closer to their ideals than nationalism.

At present both in Scottish elections and in Westminster elections the Tories have virtually no chance in Scotland. But actually the one thing that would change this would be independence. The SNP promise that independence would banish Tories from Scotland for ever, but independence is in fact just about the only thing that could give them the chance to rule again in Scotland. At present the two main parties in Scotland are Labour and the SNP. They are both left of centre. The main issue that divides them now is their views on independence. But if the major parties in Scotland after independence were pretty much the same, what would happen if circumstances were such that the Scottish electorate wanted real change and demanded a really different sort of party to rule over them. It would only take a few bad years under left-wing government, for Scots to realise that perhaps it would be worth giving a different point of view a chance. The party that might express this view, most certainly would not be called the Conservatives. It could be called something suitably ambiguous like the Free Democrats. Such a party would be right of centre, supporting free markets, capitalism, small government. Really this is the only plausible alternative to socialism and social democracy. And if Scots wanted a break from the left, then that is the sort of party they would choose. Such a party would have a far greater chance to rule in an independent Scotland than the Tories do at present.  But, of course, Free Democrats would be just another word for Tories minus the toxic brand. My Daily Mail reading friend would have found her party.

People on the left should be careful what they wish for. If Scotland remains in the UK, there is no chance whatsoever of more than a handful of Tories being elected in Scotland. The devolved powers of the Scottish parliament control most aspects of our everyday life and these powers will remain in the hands of the left for the foreseeable future so long as we remain in the UK. But the idea that an independent Scotland would have permanent left-wing government is thankfully unlikely, not least because people like to have a real alternative. It’s in the nature of politics that we eventually we get sick of those who rule us and look for change. Independence would therefore, inevitably lead to a revival of the right in Scotland, a revival that is highly unlikely to happen otherwise. The SNP would not mind this as their only goal is independence. Ask an SNP supporter if he would prefer Tory rule in Scotland with independence or Labour rule in Scotland without it. It’s obvious what an honest answer would be. Naturally the SNP are appealing to Labour voters. They want to win. But the appeal is fundamentally at odds with the core beliefs of the left. Historically socialists have tended towards the ideal of breaking down national barriers rather than erecting them. This is why people on the left traditionally sang the Internationale:

Let us group together, and tomorrow
The internationale
Will be the human race.

Left wing idealists have long thought that people were better together and dreamt that one day there would be a world without nations. Well you will hardly further this dream by creating an international border where at present there is none. It’s clear therefore why Labour voters should not be taken in by the appeal of nationalists. Independence would make a right-wing party the only effective opposition and alternative to the dominance of the left in Scotland. When there’s only one alternative it’s inevitable that this party will eventually be chosen to rule. The SNP would not at all be concerned by this. Some would no doubt welcome it. But for everyone else the conclusion is obvious. If you really want to keep the Tories out of Scotland, vote No. 


  1. Lots of things to dispute with you, as usual - but let me just focus on one. For what earthly reason do you think that a new right-of-centre party in Scotland would be a clone of the current conservative party? It's very restricted thinking. There is a substantial rightish vote in Scotland which currently votes Tory and which will require representation after independence. Why should a new party not be crafted which is not the current Tory party but something rather different? I put out a few ideas here: they are not perfect, but they do represent something different to what we have at present.

  2. What? You don't allow links? OK: Here (add http//)

    1. I didn't know that links don't work. Sorry about that. I don't believe that a new right of centre party in an independent Scotland would be a Tory clone. It would try to discard the historical baggage and call itself, as I said, something like the Free Democrats as in Germany. I think you make some very sensible points in your article. The point is however, that if I was concerned only with bringing about a possible revival of the right of centre in Scotland I would vote for independence. It is for this reason that some, though not many Conservatives have allied themselves with Yes. A right of centre party is going to adopt right of centre policies and would have a better chance of some sort of power in Scotland than it does at present. It is for this reason that it is valid to say to Labour voters tempted by independence that they should be careful what they wish for.

  3. There is no chance of a Tory government in Scotland, not taking 'Tory' to mean anything like the current UK government. Your argument that the electorate will vote for the only alternative after a few years of bad (or stale) government of one stripe is valid in the UK context, but not the Scottish one for line simple reason. First past the post.

    Coincidentally I've been considering this over the last couple of days. I like to place myself in opposing positions to those I'd normally occupy to see if any insight occurs, and had posed the question, what one thing in my lifetime would most likely have changed my support for independence. And it came down to this - if the UK had switched to a fairer voting system, say 30 years ago when I reached voting age, it's likely that many of my reasons for voting Yes would never have occurred.

    We wouldn't have suffered Thatcher's untrammelled, oil-financed destruction of our manufacturing base which has lead to the huge economic disparity between the UK's south-east and the rest of the country. We wouldn't have had the increase in dissatisfaction over being governed by a party we don't vote for. We wouldn't have had our entire political spectrum dragged to the right simply because the electoral mathematics of swing seats require it, and would probably still have a Labour party with some sort of semblance to the one its founders intended.

    Scotland, with STV will have left-wing governments and less-left-wing governments, just as it has so far in the devolved Holyrood.

    1. I agree that it is a good idea to try to see things from the other person's point of view. It also makes the debate less shrill. For me the main function of elections is the ability to throw the government out. The thing that worried me about PR in a UK context is that we would have the LIberals in power permanently either with Labour or the Tories. Then again looking around the world where there are coalition governments, it would seem that they do have genuine changes in power. Thus in Germany they sometimes have the Social Democrats, sometimes the Christian Democrats. I think over time in an independent Scotland we would not have permanent more or less left-wing government. A Scottish Mrs Merkel now in primary school might be necessary to provide a real economic alternative to social democracy. Scotland was for a long time a naturally conservative country, the land of Adam Smith. There is no chance of a right of centre party having any power in Scotland if we vote no, but my point to those on the left is that independence would make such a party having power much more likely.

  4. One word sums this piece up nonsense if we vote no then we get three Tory governments just of a differing hue

  5. "There is no chance of a right of centre party having any power in Scotland if we vote no" - well, that would only be true if Westminster governments had no power in Scotland, but obviously they do. What a bizarre conclusion.

    What we *can* guarantee with a No vote is that Scotland will continue to be governed by Tory governments we didn't vote for, probably around 2/3 of the time. Based on that, the only people who should be voting No are Tory voters. Everyone else should vote Yes. Then, the only Tory, or right wing, government Scotland ever gets will be one we actually vote for. If we don't vote for one, we won't get one.