Fraser Stewart: 62% support in the polls – what does this mean for the SNP ahead of Holyrood?

11/08/2015
CommonWeal

CommonSpace columnist Fraser Stewart explores the SNP’s latest polling results ahead of the Holyrood 2016 election

PROPORTIONAL voting systems are specifically designed to diminish the potential for any one party to hold an outright majority.

The dominant practice across Europe, with 21 out of 28 member states using some form of the method in governmental elections, proportional representation is eponymously that: a system in which the proportion of votes translates directly to seats in parliament, to provide an accurate representation of national opinion.

It takes something considerable for any party to win an outright majority in such a system, the democratic mandate that arises from which is unparalleled.

As nationalists the country over gaze moony-eyed towards the first minister, it is imperative that we keep the heid.

In the last decade, very few European elections have defied the laws of proportionality: Fidesz won more that two-thirds of the popular vote in Hungary back in 2010; Slovakia’s Smer joined the list in 2012 and, of course, the SNP, after navigating a minority administration, won its majority in 2011 with 45 per cent of the total vote.

This time around, the SNP looks to trump its previously unlikely success, with a recent TNS poll showing support for the Scottish Nationalists at a staggering 62 per cent. Sixty-two per cent of the overall vote: a figure our Westminster dichotomy would murder each other for.

As nationalists the country over gaze moony-eyed towards the first minister, however, it is imperative that we keep the heid. Sixty-two per cent under a proportional system is an unambiguous warrant to realise electoral promises – it is not a freedom to govern as the party so pleases, or a mandate for the unilateral declaration of independence, support for which appears to be swelling like an undemocratic tumour on social media.

Could the SNP technically declare independence from the rest of the UK on this wave of electoral support? Of course it could, but not without a clear and definitive pre-electoral pledge on the front page of its manifesto.

Would it win an election so decisively with such a discordant and controversial headline policy? I highly doubt it. What this 62 per cent means is quite clear. It means that pro-SNP sentiment is as high as it’s ever been, or ever likely to be.

Could the SNP technically declare independence from the rest of the UK on this wave of electoral support? Of course it could, but not without a clear and definitive pre-electoral pledge on the front page of its manifesto.

It means that the SNP is perceived to have done exactly what it promised to do in May: send a contingent to London and expose Westminster for the shambolic and outmoded barnacle on the backside of British democracy that it is.

But it does not mean that 62 per cent of the country longs for independence through the back door. We all know the best way to settle the independence question, and UDI isn’t it. Cue ‘indyref2’ klaxon.

Personally, I’m of the opinion that 2016 is too soon to table a second referendum, based on the vast amount of work that still needs to be done to address the key areas in which the first was lost.

We still haven’t resolved the currency conundrum; the European mistreatment of Greece has thrown a spanner into the wider ideology of the EU debate; oil prices (as you may have heard) took a substantial hit. These are the arguments we need much more time and thought and interaction to resolve.

Some unionist commentators, however, argue that it cannot happen in any capacity for a few decades or more, because it was conclusively settled last year and any perceived demand can thus be deemed irrelevant.

But it does not mean that 62 per cent of the country longs for independence through the back door. We all know the best way to settle the independence question, and UDI isn’t it. Cue ‘indyref2’ klaxon.

Bollocks to that. If the SNP wins 62 per cent of the popular vote in Scotland with a promise of a second referendum, we have a referendum – we have to, in the interests of democracy.

If it wins even 51 per cent of the popular vote with the promise of a second referendum, we have a referendum. It would be ludicrous not to, even if I or anyone else disagrees personally with the timing.

Any more than half of the electorate is absolutely unequivocal and has to be taken seriously, if the UK is to uphold the canonical values of democracy. Just because Alex Salmond once cited the independence debate as generational does not mean that a shift in Scottish public opinion can be ignored.

Of course, some would make a second referendum unnecessarily obtuse, regardless of any amount of electoral support – none less so than David Cameron.

Cameron argues that the question was settled, and that he would block any motions that would contradict or “disrespect” the result of 18 September: I argue that he, along with his Tory and wider Westminster cohorts, have had the collective unionist arse fall out of them in seeing the nationalist movement in Scotland grow exponentially stronger since that so-called defeat on 18 September.

Every additional seat gained by a pro-Yes politician is a cobblestone on the road to independence.

For every Scottish ambition struck down amid the cheering, sneering and jeering is a chink in the armour of the union. Every additional seat gained by a pro-Yes politician is a cobblestone on the road to independence.

It has to be fair, and it has to be on the table, or it cannot be at all: but, should Scotland elect a majority nationalist government – via a profoundly representative system – on the promise of a second referendum, then there’s not a thing that can be done to oppress the self-determination of our people.

Not without subverting the fundamental principles of democracy.

Picture courtesy of Jonathan Riddell