Things can only get worse

Tony Blair came into power on a wave of optimism in 1997. The desire for change was overwhelming. Voters were fed up with Major and wanted the end of 18 years of Tory rule. Of course, we in Scotland had never backed the Conservatives but the end finally came when even middle class voters in southern England couldn’t thole them any longer. 

Blair arrived at the start of a period of economic expansion. There was growing confidence and a huge consumer boom. Scottish voters gave their enthusiastic support to New Labour returning scores of Labour MPs to Westminster. Contrary to what some would like to imagine Blair was popular in Scotland and voters backed Labour in the first Scottish Parliament elections in 1999. 

Contrast that with today. The economy continues to flatline, confidence is low, voters are squeezed through interest rate rises, the cost of living crisis and out of control energy bills. The UK has cut itself off from its main market, putting a lid on growth and holding back economic activity. 

Keir Starmer will be the next Prime Minister, that now seems certain.  Polls can be wrong but there is so much consistency in the figures that we can be sure Labour will win whenever the election is called. Sunak is holding out for something that might give him a bounce but it’s not obvious where that might come from. Interest rates will go down at some point but that now looks like later rather than sooner. Unemployment is rising and food prices are likely to rise because of bad weather and the introduction of checks on imports from the EU. 

While the polls show that Labour are backed by around 44% of the electorate they also indicate that that support is shallow. Voters aren’t convinced by Starmer, they don’t trust him and they don’t know what Labour stand for. Enthusiasm for politicians is at a low point and most voters don’t hold out much hope for an improvement in the economic situation. 

This presents a huge risk to the UK, and perhaps an opportunity for independence supporters. If Labour aren’t able to improve things then the electorate is likely to look elsewhere. The new government will be faced with massive challenges. Public services in a state of decay, an economy declining, neglected infrastructure and the ongoing disaster of Brexit. It’s hard to see how any of this can be easily tackled. Labour has already reneged on its spending plans and it’s certain the right wing propaganda press is gearing up to make life hell for it. The Rayner witch hunt is a taste of what’s to come. 

The concern is that England’s voters will find the draw of the nationalist right an appealing alternative. A new right coalition with Farage in a leadership role is not outwith the realms of possibility as England grapples with its ongoing social and economic problems. Where does that leave Scotland? The present difficulties facing the pro independence side are most certainly temporary. We are at a low point in the political cycle, possibly there’s worse to come. But it’s undoubtedly the case that we will recover and that we’ll be ready to resume the process of bringing about independence for our country. In the meantime it’s going to be a bumpy ride – fasten your seatbelts!