Jordan Daly: Scotland needs to settle indyref once and for all so we can get back to politics


Student and political campaigner Jordan Daly says Scotland needs another independence referendum to end the limbo of constitutional politics

THE council elections have concluded and, alas, the constitutional question strikes again. 

The SNP emerged as the clear winner in yet another crucial moment in Scottish political history. The Greens also performed well, gaining five seats – but the biggest outcome is the performance of the Tories, who won 276 seats across the country.

There are two things to be clear about here. First, I’m not convinced that these gains have a lot to do with Tory policies but, rather, they’re the consequence of our continued constitutional divide. 

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Second, they don’t represent any sort of new blowback against another referendum on Scottish independence; in this respect, it’s really just about the voting systems that each election uses. The constituency of unionist voters which turned out for the Tories last week has been active since 2014, but their votes achieve differing electoral outcomes which are very much dependent on the voting system that’s being used. 

If we adopted a form of proportional representation (PR) as opposed to first-past-the-post (FPTP) in our General Elections, then we would have seen a far more divided picture in 2015, too. 

If you think of the SNP as being indicative of a Yes constituency while the Tories (and also Scottish Labour, to a less explicit extent) are indicative of a No constituency, it’s not difficult to see why this election has concluded in the way that it has. 

I’m struggling to buy into this slightly dramatic narrative that Scotland is “lurching to the right” in a similar way to England, and I think that the commentariat needs to see this for what it is: another current example of our disconcerted politics.

Unionists are voting Tory in larger numbers, but this is not only a result of Labour’s recent struggles; it’s also because people were led to believe that they were sending some sort of anti-independence message by giving the Tories more influence over local issues and services. Post-political logic.

If we remove the backdrop of Scottish independence, do the Tories still have the same pulling power? I wouldn’t be so confident, and I’d be willing to bet that they aren’t either. 

Ultimately, local issues should have been placed at the centre of any prospective councillor’s campaign, and in any conventional political atmosphere they would have been. Indeed, the Tories’ effort to encourage voters to treat the council elections as a mini referendum on Scottish independence is clever skulduggery, considering that councillors have zero control over whether or not another referendum is held.

Interestingly, however, this strategy has revealed a little acknowledged truth about the Tories’ own understanding of their electoral ability. Just like every election post-2014, Scots are evidently still voting within the Yes versus No dichotomy, as opposed to thinking along policy lines. The Tories know this, as evidenced by their drive to ensure that these elections centred around Scottish independence. It’s the best way for them to make gains – and, to their credit, it has been working. 

My question, herein, is this: if we remove the backdrop of Scottish independence, do the Tories still have the same pulling power? I wouldn’t be so confident, and I’d be willing to bet that they aren’t either. 

It’s in their interests that we do not have another referendum any time soon; not only for the stability of the United Kingdom, but also for the continued electoral success of their party in Scotland. Tory policies are still not really that popular here (see rape clause, public sector cuts, bedroom tax et al), so how else do they navigate that, other than to cement themselves as the only credible opposition to the looming ‘crisis’ of Scottish sovereignty? 

Ultimately, theirs is a strategic rebranding project and they’ve pulled it off brilliantly. 

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But let’s put these results into perspective by taking a quick look at Calton, one of Glasgow’s most deprived areas, which surprised a lot of people by electing a Tory. Here, again, it boils down to voting systems: they took their seat with just 11 per cent of first preference votes, while the SNP and the Greens combined took 56 per cent. 

Translate that vote share into first-past-the-post, and we’re looking at quite a different outcome. This is mirrored across the country; the Tories were the largest party in four council areas (compared to two in 2012), while the SNP took sway in 19 (compared to nine in 2012). 

The Tories may have gained a lot more seats nationwide, but their electoral support is nowhere near strong enough to grant them any unchained autonomy and, ultimately, the SNP is still retaining its political hegemony – despite 10 years of governance. The results are not necessarily as earth shattering as we’re being led to believe.

We talk a lot about democracy here in Scotland, but the reality is that our politics is increasingly defined by single-issue soundbites and buzzwords, a feat which is actually having a negative effect on democracy in practice. 

We’ve seen this reductive campaigning in every Scottish election since the initial independence referendum and, to be fair, the Tories are not alone in engaging with it. Scottish Labour attempted the same narrative and, indeed, the SNP and fellow cohorts paid attention to the constitution and sending a strong pro-indy message in 2015 and 2016. 

We talk a lot about democracy here in Scotland, but the reality is that our politics is increasingly defined by single-issue soundbites and buzzwords, a feat which is actually having a negative effect on democracy in practice. 

The upcoming election in June will pitch along the exact same lines. That’s not to say that our parties aren’t proposing strong policies or addressing key issues – they are. The issue is that such policies don’t necessarily transcend the manifestos and hit the mainstream in the same way that they once did. Events, rather than a concerted effort from any individual party, are ultimately to blame for this situation.

Thus, contemporary Scottish politics has been diluted and truncated in a way that isn’t too healthy. The question of our nation’s independence remains dominant, slithering its way into all areas of sociopolitical life and resulting in an awful lot of unprecedented upheaval. 

The traditional two-dimensional ideological continuum has lost significance, and many voters are clearly paying little attention to where their chosen party sits on the political spectrum. 

Our society continues to be typified by major levels of health and wealth inequality, dropping educational standards, rising homelessness and ‘working poverty’ – yet these live and pressing issues are being shrugged off by the electorate as they position themselves around the constitutional question. We need more than that. 

The debate in Scotland isn’t around raising the minimum wage or putting an end to zero-hours contracts – it’s been reduced to the constitution, and I’m sure that I’m not alone in hoping that we can start to move past that. In this respect, there’s only one solution.

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Scotland’s political narrative has steered way off track, and to such an extent that no one would probably have predicted it a few years ago. This will continue: in future elections, the battle between independence and unionism will keep playing out through the ballot box — which is why we really do need to settle the question of Scottish independence. 

There is already a parliamentary mandate for another referendum, so its fate is now subject to timing. Regardless of when the vote may be, this has to be the last shot – for the sake of our politics. After we return to the polling booths to vote for or against Scottish independence, we need to be firm and make clear that there will not be another rerun. We cannot be a nation of ‘neverendums’.

Answering the constitutional question, once and for all, is the only way to bring back some political normality to Scotland, and it really is time for policy-focused politics to reclaim the narrative. 

There will be a lot of interesting shakeups after a second referendum, without doubt, but real interest lies in what will happen to our political landscape. If voters opt for independence will the SNP’s hegemony start to crack, or will it continue to be rewarded? Will the Tory revival persist? Will Labour make a comeback by constructing itself as the progressive, post-independence option for the Scottish left? 

Time will tell, but one thing is true: Scottish politics has dichotomised to present two options to the electorate – Yes or No. In order to bring back political diversity, voters need to be given one ‘last chance’ platform through which to express themselves. 

Irrespective of outcome, we need to settle the biggest political question of our time.

Picture: CommonSpace

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