IT WAS THE WORST of elections; it was the most decisive of elections. But the agony will soon be over. Last-minute polls are suggesting some grounds for uncertainty: will the SNP get an overall majority or are we looking at a coalition? Will the Scottish Conservatives snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and surrender second place to Labour? Will the Greens form a sizeable ginger group on Sturgeon-Murrell hegemony? Will Alba get a seat? These questions matter to political anoraks, and we’ll be watching the winners and losers with pedantic intensity.
However, for those invested in Scotland’s constitutional future, only one statistic matters. If this is the “independence election” (and that it remains – in part), will pro-Yes parties secure a morally significant 50 percent of the vote share? Beyond that, there’s little at stake. Given the extraordinary crisis of capitalism we’re facing, I’d like to say class politics trumps the constitution; but this election is a battle between four (arguably five) parties of middle-class liberalism, all with roughly similar electoral programmes. It’s thus inevitable that the energy centres on battles around democratic legitimacy.
But let me risk a provocation. Perhaps the real battle we should be watching isn’t in Scotland at all. Holyrood elections have the lacklustre aura of the foregone conclusion. Meanwhile, coastal, flyover and “red wall” England is continuing to remake British politics by refusing to return to the Labour Party. Despite a succession of Tory sleaze scandals, polls show an electorate about to inflict another punishment beating on Keir Starmer’s party.
As usual, the problems are of Labour’s own making. Starmer thought that he could correct the 2019 disaster by using every opportunity to wave the Union Jack. The logic was simple enough: voters want patriotism; British flag equals patriotism; wave flag, win voters. Flaggy flaggy, votey votey. Simples, as Theresa May liked to say.
Which already suggested an underlying contempt for ex-Labour voters. But Starmer doubled down by actively flouting the grievances of 2019. For the Hartlepool by-election, in a constituency that was 70 percent Leave voting, Labour’s candidate is an aggressive Europhile, who lost another Leave seat after parading around Parliament breaking his own Party whip to flaunt his “People’s Vote” credentials. Polls for that constituency show Labour heading for a bruising defeat, with a 17-point deficit to the Conservatives in a seat that has been red since 1964. All of this – remember – after weeks of Tory sleaze scandals.
Events in Scotland and England interact in complex ways. As John Crace observes, Starmer will be praying for a huge SNP majority in Holyrood. Why? Because that piles pressure on the Conservatives, and loosens the noose around his own neck.
Events in England also rebound on Scottish politics. With Labour’s English base still reduced to those fashionable Remain-voting districts, the prospects of a non-Tory Westminster government look vanishingly slim. Scotland, on aggregate, doesn’t vote for Conservatives; so the democratic deficit will continue to haunt Holyrood politics, even if, as I suspect, the imminent “Yes coalition” has no realistic plan for a referendum next term.
Our national fates are intertwined, as any internationalist should believe. The problem is that the UK is no longer a useful container for progressive political movements; Starmer’s bumbling is symptomatic of that deeper crisis. Time, then, to bring this sorry state to a conclusion: but that’s down to slobs like us, because the SNP leadership will happily settle for five more years of cruising through re-elections.