Under The Bridge

Under The Bridge

It would be a gross understatement to note a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since my last column. Any reader familiar with the Scottish independence debate – surely you all are by now – will be acquainted with the same sensation. The Editor and fellow columnists Grant and Alison have both written observant articles since 19 September, when the realisation dawned on us all the vote didn’t quite go the way we planned.
Saying that, of course, the events which followed the ballot have been almost overwhelming – certainly for those of us in the pro-independence camp – but I suspect for the victors also.
Cameron tying English-only votes on English-only matters to any Scottish devolution.

Ruth Davidson feted as a returning hero at her party’s UK Conference – the saviour of the Union.

Johann Lamont and her pals at Holyrood giving off a bizarre whiff of defeat, despite their part in the campaign for the status quo.

Ed Miliband turning his own party jamboree into a wake which has only left him weaker and almost certain to be consigned to the political history books after the May 2015 General Election.

SNP and other pro-indy parties’ membership skyrocketing.

George Osborne announcing the Tories’ plans to further penalise the poorest members of society across the British Isles whilst raising the tax band for higher earners.

And most important in all this – election history was made here with a turnout of 85% on the day from a record pool of 97% registered voters in Scotland.
In truth, the full range of events over the last three weeks would have been hard to fit into an Alasdair Gray opus. A week in politics seems less a long time than an eternity.

Politicians, commentators, fellow activists and voters have found themselves struggling to draw conclusions – it being a risky, if not futile, business.

Some say this means the death of the Labour party as we know it. With polls indicating an SNP lead at Westminster who is to say otherwise – and yet many of us are familiar with the reality, picking up seats at a General Election is near impossible. If we do then surely UK and Scottish Labour would have to react. If they do not, the loss of a puckle seats at Westminster could be the precursor for disaster in Holyrood. It’s hard to believe they will continue to sit on their hands. Mind you…

That the Tories have come out smelling of roses is quite remarkable. Sneaking one past Ed Miliband in the aftermath of the referendum was either very smart operating by David Cameron or done in spite of himself. I have a suspicion it was the latter. Either way Cameron knew he had to curve to the right in order to outrun UKIP and recent announcements and polling stats indicate he may be managing. Can it possibly be that disenfranchised Labour voters in their safest seats will jump to UKIP because the party of Balls is no longer listening to them?

At least with the Tories we know their prerogative. They are business friendly. Centre right. Tough on the poor. Easy on the rich. I’m no Conservative but they wear their views freely and clearly.

New Labour – the party of Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell – have been left for the last 10 years with only the ghosts of these men. With no substance in policy or sense of direction who now actually knows what Labour stands for? Least of all their own supporters. Any meat behind the spin is long gone.

Next May I reckon England will vote Tory and UKIP solidly and across the board. Miliband will never be PM. The LibDems will disappear like sna’ aff a dyke.

In Scotland who knows. In an ideal world I want to see SNP MPs – who have proven they will stand up for this country’s interests – thump Labour in their heartlands and actually prove what it means to deliver and fight for policies at home and in Westminster. Labour have had their chance. I want to see for once Scottish MPs who scream from the rooftops about the dire poverty in their constituencies and actually get something done. Reduce the need for foodbank use. Get more people off of the breadline and help them get training and jobs. Ensure an adequate welfare system is in place when the worst scenario does happen. Things that the Scottish Parliament could do if we had the powers. Meantime we will have to make do with our pocket money from Whitehall.

What I don’t want to see – and what will run counter to our argument that Scotland and England have distinct political cultures – is the Tories picking up a few seats up in good ol’ North Britain. We can lay the charge that an increase in Green Party votes inadvertedly resulted in a UKIP idiot being election to the European Parliament. We cannot however say the same if the Tories were to pick up seats in places like the Borders, Perthshire, North East Scotland.

This may be the stuff of fantasy to some nationalists but wake up and smell the coffee. If you thought these areas were SNP safe havens then look at it from the perspective of the Tories. The referendum delivered a No vote in some of our best areas with over 60% of the vote. In reverse the SNP would be polishing battle armour behind closed doors and ploughing people and canvassers into these areas.

One of the best things to come out of the referendum campaign was the sense of unity and purpose amongst team independence. Latterly – perhaps due to the nature of the campaign and the areas in which we won – the campaign very much became an urban, heavily left of centre, one. It is clear from the results that this message did not cut the mustard out-with the central belt.

What we need to do going into May 2015 is tackle Labour’s former heartlands, yes. Equally important however, and all the more so given the power shift which has taken place in the SNP, is ensure that our message also hits straight to the heart of larger rural constituencies.

We would be fools to allow a couple or three Tory seats to be picked up whilst we focused on the cities. Many newly on board to the independence movement only know of an era when there were no Tories in Scotland. Let us not be the ones who inadvertently change that.

There has never been a more important and valuable time for us to reassess our countrywide election strategy going forward. This is not a case of looking inwards, but using referendum defeat as a chance to analyse the vast canvas data we have at our fingertips – and making it a springboard for SNP success across all Scotland.