The rhetoric coming from Labour and the Tories concerning the Scottish National Party (SNP) has been appalling, with statement after statement claiming the party wants to break up the country and will dominate government in London to get what it wants in Scotland–despite the present junior coalition party not exactly being called “dominant” in the last parliament.
The Tory’s attack on the SNP serves their own interests–they have no hope of gaining any ground in Scotland, and a strong SNP there will keep Labour from getting a majority in London. Polls and projections at the moment point to a much talked about wipeout of Labour from Scotland, with the SNP predicted to get 50 seats, or even more, compared to its current 6. Voters in the country seem to have left Labour behind after it joined the Tories (and the Lib Dems) in a joint statement to preserve the union right before the referendum.
Labour’s attacks on the SNP have done nothing for the party but perhaps prevent Ed Milaband from leading a majority government. Its strategy is twofold: convince Scottish voters that a vote for the SNP is a vote for David Cameron, and to convince English voters that they won’t be ruled over by a Scottish party (ironic considering all the nations the English have ruled over in history, including Scotland).
Labour needs to drop its assertion that it will get a majority in parliament, save for a miracle, this is not going to happen (nor will it happen for the Tories). What Labour needs to do is embrace the idea of working with the SNP to bring about a progressive agenda for the whole United Kingdom.
To ease English fears and attacks on her party, Nicola Sturgeon has already stated that she is not out to seek another referendum (how dare she even ask the Scottish people what they want). In her debate performances she has repeatedly spoken to the entire country, not just Scotland. She has positioned herself and the SNP as a way for all of Britain to have a more progressive government, at a time when the lines between Labour and the Tories are blurred for many voters. Not to mention, Nicola has become extremely popular herself, with many people in England wondering if they could vote for the SNP after her first debate performance.
Furthermore, surveys have shown that if the SNP could field candidates across the whole of Britain, they could be larger than the Liberal Democrats. It is clear if you are an English voter, your hopes for a progressive candidate winning your district is slim to none. While the Greens have made some gains, it’s highly unlikely any of their candidates will get a seat except for Caroline Lucas in Brighton. The SNP could fill a large void–a void for a real left of centre party that no longer wants austerity and will propose bolder initiatives.
The party already has its own record in Scotland–is is not purely an opposition party or a protest vote. Since 2011 it has ruled with a majority in Scotland itself and still remains popular, avoiding a kid of mid-term punishment that is usually delivered to governing parties. Part of this is probably due to the ability of the SNP to present itself as an outsider–with still some decisions being made in London. Either way, the SNP has proved itself to know how to appeal to voters.
Labour’s (and the Conservative’s) rhetoric is having another awful consequence–it is putting the different countries of the union against each other. If Scottish voters want to vote for the SNP, as half of them now do, then that is their democratic right. Parties in London cannot be upset that they are not attractive enough north of the border. Instead of attacking the SNP and Scottish voters for their audacity in wanting to vote for them, they need to accept the SNP as the third largest party in the next parliament–larger than the Lib Dems, UKIP, and the Greens combined. This party wants progressive policies across the kingdom, and if English MPs can vote on issues that affect Scotland, why not the other way around? It is supposed to be a United Kingdom after all, not England and the territories.
Labour risks pushing Scotland towards another referendum where the outcome could very well be different. It needs to stop pandering to English nationalism and embrace a rhetoric of all parts of the UK working together at westminster for the betterment of all citizens. An English parliament for English laws risks making the UK as it stands today utterly useless.
The polls are showing that Labour only has a chance of becoming the leader of a majority government with the SNP. It won’t reach a majority on its own, and it won’t reach one with the Lib Dems. The SNP is its only way there, save for a “grand coalition” with the Tories. This is not Germany; Labour needs the SNP; no matter how munch it wants to pretend it doesn’t.
The SNP has made it clear that it will work with Labour, if not in a coalition then in a support deal to get each vote passed in parliament. Labour can keep pushing the SNP away but I see no other option, and the party is beginning to look (more than) silly in its assertion that it can get a majority. It’s also looking pathetic in its refusal in to acknowledge the possibility that it won’t get the majority when questioned in interviews.
It’s time to wake up to reality. The two or three party system in the UK is over. There are now several parties that can influence the government, despite the first past the post system. In a true United Kingdom these parties will not always be English. It is time for the old parties to realize their hegemony is over, and to accept the SNP as not only a powerful political force, but as a possible coalition partner.