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Scots' UK election command good for democracy and compassion


Nicola Sturgeon Dickens’ opening to his Tale of Two Cities describes aptly the UK General Election campaign now nearing its end. 'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity'.

What has made the campaign one of the most exciting in decades has been the emergence of Nicola Sturgeon (pictured), leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and First Minister of Scotland, as a major political force on the UK stage.

Given the defeat for the SNP of the independence referendum last year, it was assumed the SNP and its new leader would be mincemeat in the UK General Election. Instead, backed by a massive membership surge to 110,000, making the SNP the third party in terms of membership in the UK and the largest by far in Scotland, Nicola, as she is simply known, has been the star act in the televised all party leadership debate, causing even some in England to want to vote for her.

Her anti-austerity message, opposition to the $A191 billion renewal of Trident, the 200 nuclear warheads based 25 miles from Scotland’s largest population centre, her social democratic stance, and her insistence that this election is not about a re-run of the independence referendum but about  a ‘progressive alliance’ between the Greens, Labour, Plaid Cymru (the Welsh National Party) to keep Cameron out has played out brilliantly against a backdrop of her being one of the few politicians to be trusted by voters.

The ‘foolishness’ has been the strident backlash from the Tory press branding her 'the most dangerous woman in the UK' and Labour Leader Ed Miliband ruling out any agreement with the SNP to put him into Downing Street. This amounts to saying he would prefer David Cameron to be PM rather than have any deal with the SNP.

To add to the foolishness, we have London Mayor, Boris Johnston, saying a Labour/SNP deal would be ‘Ajockalypse Now’, a not too subtle insult that is tantamount to a racist slur, and The Tories and the Independent newspaper questioning the legitimacy of SNP MPs having influence on a Miliband government. Scotland has one Tory MP (at least at time of writing) yet no-one questioned the legitimacy of Tories deciding the Scottish budget in the last Westminster Parliament.

The New Statesman poll on election eve had the Tories on 273, Labour on 269, Lib Dems on 27 and the SNP on 56, meaning that any Queen’s speech would be rejected unless Labour and the SNP formed some sort of pact, even on an issue per issue basis. Would Miliband refuse to talk to the SNP, thus giving power to the Tories to wield cuts on the poorest amounting to $A23 billion? That is the kind of scenario which would usher in the end of the Union and the Labour Party.  

Miliband has certainly improved on his rather geeky characteristics and speaking style, and Cameron has shed his jacket to be more a man of the people in his shirt sleeves. But the difference between the two main parties on policy remained wafer thin as voters went to the polls on Thursday morning local time.

Both leaders want Trident to be renewed and both want severe austerity cuts to cut the deficit quickly (while the SNP would want to invest in growth to create jobs and cut the deficit over a longer period).

Overall, the campaign was increasingly dominated by a rather insular nationalism – not from the SNP, which wants more immigrants into Scotland because of our ageing population, but from the British parties. They want to curb immigration, have a referendum to come out of the European Union and their answer to the many thousands risking their lives to come from Syria, Iraq and sub-Saharan Africa across the Mediterranean is to send a ship but not to allow any of the people fleeing terror and violence to settle in the UK.

It has certainly been an extraordinary election where, for once, Scotland has played a central role, especially in the realm of new ideas. It will be good for democracy in the UK if the predicted SNP landslide occurs, to put progressive policies ahead of party advantage and ensure the neo-liberals in Cameron’s team are stopped from unleashing the same chaos as Mr Abbott in Australia, and compassion, care for the most vulnerable and services such as the NHS remaining in public hands return to centre stage again.

POST-ELECTION ADDENDUM (written 8 May 2015 UK time)

It now looks as if David Cameron will have a small majority in the House of Commons without the need to draw on other parties to put legislation through.

He will, however, have his own internal difficulties particularly around two issues. One is the promised in/out referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union (EU), fuelled by the UK Independence Party (UKIP) which did well in terms of votes in England and whose pretty horrendous views on immigration and leaving the EU find resonance among many backbench Tory MPs.

The second issue is the landslide of the Scottish National Party (SNP) in Scotland where the social democratic party of independence  won 56 out of the 59 Scottish seats, taking with them big scalps from the Labour Party including the Scottish leader, Jim Murphy, the former Scottish Secretary, Margaret Curran, and the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander who lost to a female 20 year old leftist SNP firebrand, Mhairi Black.

The final result in Scotland is SNP 56 with Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats with one seat each. The mantra for the SNP in the election campaign was  a “stronger voice for Scotland”. With no mandate from Scotland to govern, Prime Minister Cameron will have to increase powers to the Scottish Parliament and even accept, some in his own party have suggested, federalism to save the Union.

With the renewal of Trident on the cards, swingeing austerity cuts and the threat of leaving the EU, some think the Union’s days are numbered and that a new dispensation will come out of the most historic General Election for decades.  

Duncan MacLarenDuncan MacLaren is an Adjunct Professor of Australian Catholic University currently based in Glasgow.

Topic tags: Duncan Maclaren, politics, SNP, UK, Cameron, Milliband, Sturgeon



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Existing comments

Promoting “progressive policies”, “anti-austerity” and “compassion, care for the most vulnerable” no doubt fills one up with a sense of self-righteousness. But they won’t do Scotland any good. Scottish ingenuity was once found in every corner of the globe, from the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, to the Canadian Pacific Railway, to mighty engineering and shipbuilding enterprises. Contemporary Scotland is a feeble, passive economic swamp of dependency, and the cause of Scotland’s demise is—welfare. Same thing in the US, where Professor Walter E Williams notes: “The welfare state has done to black Americans what slavery couldn’t do, what Jim Crow couldn’t do, what the harshest racism couldn’t do. And that is to destroy the black family.” And it was a Scotsman, history professor Alexander Tyler, who predicted how the welfare state would lead to serfdom: “A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always vote for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.”

Ross Howard | 08 May 2015  

Ross Howard, my understanding is that the biggest beneficiaries of "welfare" from government are wealthy corporations. They are pretty good at destroying the family, too. Witness the "divorce" shifts in FIFO mining set-ups, and now we learn they are about to introduce "suicide" shifts.

Janet | 08 May 2015  

And what caused the growth of welfare dependency in Scotland? It might be all very well for those with adequate financial and other resources to argue against supporting people and communities who suffer scarcity, but surely such argument demands that viable alternatives for breaking out of welfare dependency are presented.

Ian Fraser | 08 May 2015  

Oh Ross, please spare us the gratuitous ideology. Your cherry-picking selection of support for your views is not at all compelling for the many of us in Australia whose kids have studied and worked in Scotland in recent decades. You really need to get beyond a notion that there was some kind of golden age in which the Scots contributed heroically in various well recognized endeavours - but now its all gone to ruin. Mutuality and reciprocity are at the heart of any contemporary democracy. The Scots are recognizing this and acting on it.

Wayne Sanderson | 08 May 2015  

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