Scotland has over 50% of the UK’s installed wind capacity, virtually all the installed hydro capacity and still produces most of the UK’s oil and gas and is home to future large oil and gas developments like Clair, Lagan and Mariner. Without Scotland, England’s energy security drains away. Its is therefore imperative for the rest of the UK and for those Scots who want to remain in The Union that Cameron understands the underlying causes of the fault lines in the UK’s political landscape. The explanation is rooted in history.
In the May 7th election the political map of Scotland was completely redrawn as the SNP won 56 of 59 seats almost sweeping the Liberal Democrats and Scottish Labour off the board all together. Map from the BBC.
The Death of the Scottish Tories
During the years of Margaret Thatcher a new tax called the Poll Tax was rolled out on an experimental basis in Scotland. The Poll Tax was a local tax that replaced “The Rates”. Rates were paid by property owners and if I recall correctly, those living in State housing paid nothing. Those living in big houses paid a lot. The idea of the Poll Tax was that everyone should pay the same flat rate of local tax – the Poll Tax. That’s right, in socially minded, Labour-voting Scotland the Tories introduced a tax that everyone had to pay regardless of income and status.
I lived in Norway at that time and did not experience first hand the anger that was rife. Before then the Tories would always win several seats in Scotland and we had high ranking cabinet members such as Malcolm Rifkind and Michael Forsyth. Since then the Tories have rarely won any seats and with frequent Conservative governments the country is virtually un-represented at Westminster as it is now with a solitary Conservative MP. This lack of representation lies at the heart of many nationalists.
I’m unsure if the Tories ever apologised to the Scottish People for using them as tax guinea pigs. If not, now would be a good time to recognise the magnitude of that mistake and to try and put things right.
The Rise of the SNP
After many decades of being a fringe party, there is no denying that the SNP have in recent years become phenomenally successful and are now a political power house. The creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 has worked well for the SNP where they governed with great skill as a minority administration from 2007 to 2011 and then following a landslide victory in 2011 they formed a majority government, a thing that was never supposed to happen under the Scottish electoral system.
The bottom line is this. For the majority of the Scottish people the SNP are seen as good and fair governors. Scotland has always been a socialist country and the SNP delivers socialist policies.
In the wake of the SNP landslide at Holyrood in 2011, Scots were offered a referendum on independence in September 2014. In a keenly fought contest the final result was not really close with 45% voting Yes, in favour of independence and 55% voting No. More telling is the observation that of 32 districts, 28 voted no. Of the 4 districts that voted Yes one was Glasgow and the other Dundee, the two most socially deprived areas of Scotland.
The referendum turned out to be a vote on social deprivation and not one on independence at all where thousands of multi-generational unemployed and poor voted Yes in the hope that an independent Scotland might offer them a way out of poverty. This is one of the main messages that Cameron now needs to understand. Greater social equality is needed in Scotland in order to begin to heal the rifts within Scotland and between Scotland and England. This is no easy problem to solve but at least recognising that this needs to be repaired if the UK is to survive would be a good start.
For decades now, Scottish elections have been three horse races fought between the SNP, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Labour party. In the election just gone, the Liberal Democrats were wiped out across the UK, punished harshly by their electorate for sharing power with the Tories. In England, Liberal Democrat seats were picked up by the Tories. In Scotland, a Lib Dem stronghold, 10 out of 11 of their seats went to the SNP. Senior politicians like Charles Kennedy and Danny Alexander were lost to the yellow tsunami. In Scotland, the Lib Dems were never going to vote Tory like they did in England. But what is surprising and not so easy to understand is why the Lib Dems did not switch to Labour. Simply put the Labour vote was also in the process of collapse.
The Death of Scottish Labour
It is the annihilation of The Scottish Labour vote that is quite difficult to comprehend. A few years ago I would never have considered this possible. And right now I can only offer a partial explanation. The demise of Scottish Labour probably began with the election of Tony Blair as leader and the creation of New labour in 1994. Amongst other things, this led to the creation of the Scottish Parliament. While Scottish Labour enjoyed being in government under Blair and then under a Scot, Gordon Brown, they also presided over the finance crash of 2008, the nationalisation of two Scottish banking institutions – The Bank of Scotland and The Royal bank of Scotland, and letting the reviled bankers to get off scot free while the poor people of Scotland endured the credit crunch. Of course much of this cannot be blamed on Scottish Labour, but it happened on their watch.
Of greater importance was Labour leading the UK (including Scotland) into the Iraq War, viewed as an illegal war by many north of the Border. This I believe was Labour’s poll tax moment. Traditional, socialist Scottish Labour began to drift away from the glitz and pap of New Labour.
Gordon Brown, cut from the mould of John Smith and Donald Dewar was then replaced by Ed Miliband described thus by my friend Roel at The Automatic Earth:
Can anyone ever really have believed that this lady’s underwear salesman could have won this election? Or did they all just fudge the numbers so they had material to print? Ed Milibland never stood a chance.
While I am not a Labour voter I doubt that Ed played well in the working mens pubs and clubs of Clydeside. Neither Ed nor Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy were a match for feisty, Glaswegian socialist Nicola Sturgeon.
And so there we have the components of the perfect storm that produced the extraordinary SNP landslide where they won 56 of 59 Scottish seats. Sturgeon made clear throughout that the election vote had nothing to do with independence. If this was not a vote for independence then what was it a vote for? The SNP stood on a platform of ending austerity. I am with Cameron and Osborne when it comes to fiscal prudence. In fact I don’t think they have done nearly enough to reign in unsustainable borrowing. And so addressing austerity and poverty means more highly leveraged redistribution of existing resources within society. This I believe is what the SNP have on offer.
As is often the case, diagnosing what is wrong can be easier than prescribing a remedy. But correct diagnosis is an essential precursor to finding a cure. The SNP landslide came about because Labour, the Lib Dems and the Tories have all become unelectable in Scotland for different reasons. Labour and the Lib Dems seem destined to walk the wilderness for years as the rich veins of political talent they once had has run dry. The Conservatives alone held their ground in Scotland this week and that at least may provide a fragile foundation upon which to build.
But as I see things there are two issues that must be addressed in Scotland if the people are to stay within The Union. Amends need to be made for the poll tax debacle of 30 years ago. And Westminster must find a way of working with Holyrood to alleviate multi-generational deprivation in the cities of Glasgow and Dundee. No one said it would be easy.