Wednesday 3 March 2010

Salmond’s Leap

I dislike dipping my toes into Irish politics because the waters are far too cold. It seems fairly obvious, though, that Sinn Fein only entered into a power-sharing agreement with the Unionists because that offered a way of advancing the cause of a united Ireland by other means, a way of meeting their agenda other than by guns and bombs. The question arises just how meaningful a united Ireland would be in the context of the European Union, which bleeds out all national identity. What the Unionists hope to gain beyond peace for the sake of peace I do not know, but they have allowed the Trojan Horse through the city gates.

Now I intend to sidestep the issues raised here, because it’s not Ireland that I want to talk about at all! No; it’s Scotland. There Alex Salmond, the First Minister of the devolved government, also has an agenda –he wants independence; he wants the Scottish people to have a referendum on independence, though almost everyone else, beyond his party, seems to think the whole thing an irrelevance. More than that, the Scottish National Party (SNP) minority government is looking increasingly unpopular, as economic woes take precedence over empty gestures.

Scottish politics is well outwith my comfort zone but there are, it seems to me, some obvious and interesting paradoxes at work. Two in particular deserve mention. First, it is wrong to assume that a vote for the Nationalists is necessarily a vote for independence. Tory voters may very well vote SNP where the alternative is Labour, just as Labour voters will if the alternative is Tory.

The second factor is what be called the ‘Scottish grumble’, for want of a better expression. You see, Salmond’s cause, the cause of independence, needed the ‘we are hard done by’ mood induced when the country was governed from London, when every fault could be placed at the door of the English. Devolution may have brought the SNP to government just as it has taken them further from their goal; for the grumble is now directed not at London but Edinburgh!

Salmond has one last ace: he is hoping, he is praying, for a hung parliament at Westminster, one that he declared not so long ago would ‘hang by a Scottish rope’, his rope. In his most optimistic mood he has predicted that his party will win up to twenty seats in Parliament.

Yes, in this highly unlikely event he may gain concessions, as he props up the government of his fellow Scot while infuriating the people of England, but so what? Independence itself would still have to be decided in Scotland. In the absence of the Big Bad English Wolf Salmond’s dream recedes ever deeper into the land of make-believe and illusion. He needed his enemy far more than he needed his friends. I wonder if he has the wit to understand that simple truth.


  1. A Tory Government at Westminster will be the acid test of devolution. Devolution to Scotland was intended to remove the "No Mandate" argument, but I suspect that the Tories will again only get one MP in Scotland, at very best three.

    The hung parliament / minority government is an intriguing prospect for those of us interested in the politics of nationalism. The Labour Party has 63 more Scottish and Welsh MPs than the Conservative Party, and it is only because of those non-English constituency MPs that England will experience a Labour government in the next parliament. If the Tories do well, then the advantage that Labour's non-English constituency MPs provide may mean the difference between a Tory majority and a minority government.

    Whatever the outcome, the narrowing of the gap between Labour and Tory will make the West Lothian Question a potentially bigger political issue than it previously has been.

    Plaid intend to use a hung parliament to demand a change to the Barnett Formula, and George Osborne has said he will look at a needs-based formula, which in turn prompted Labour to accelerate the Calman tax proposals (basically they think they can stave off English and Welsh resentment by making it look as though Scotland is raising its own revenue, but in reality Scotland would still be receiving a more than hansome share from the Exchequer).

    Salmond may like to believe that he will be able to hang Parliament by a rope, but in reality it is the number of Tory MPs elected in Scotland, rather than the number of SNP MPs, that is likely to be the biggest influence on the stability of the Union. The Labour and Lib Dem Parties in Scotland cannot very easily return to the "No Mandate" complaints that they used against the Thatcher and Major administrations because to do so would be to concede that the devolution that they supported has not done for Scotland what they intended. But for the SNP an "English" Tory Government is a valuable campaigning tool, which is why the referendum bill on Scottish independence has been delayed to the Summer when Salmond hopes we have a Tory government (see Tory victory SNP's best hope for independence).

  2. Sinn Fein campaigned for a no-vote during the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, so presumably they'd want to see united Ireland outside of the EU. Though that might not neccessarily mean they're anti-EU, only anti-treaty, which is an arguement a lot of no-voters in the Republic of Ireland had at the time if I remember rightly.

    The SNP are pro-EU? Have always found it peculiar for a nationalist party to be such a thing, given they tend to focus heavily on self-determination.

    Personally, if Scotland voted for independence I'd be fine with it - it would be their choice and there's no point forcing them to remain. Whether this is an impression which has any merit, or one only played out in the media, I assume most Scots hate the English anyways and given Gordon Brown's relentless endeavour to stick around I can't help but think there surely must be some sinister motivation to cause those of us who live south of the boarder harm lol - fortunately for Scots devolution grants them some safety from the Westminster circus, but where's our respite? :@

    With regards to the SNP, the more Westminster fails and the more apathetic British voters become with the British political class, the more independence is going to try and be sold as a quick fix to all of Scotlands problems - as I imagine SF argue similarly for Irish unity.

    If there were a referendum, it wouldn't surprise me if the SNP were hoping to rely on media outlets south of the boarder to do a lot of their work for them. For every article saying how rediculous the notion of Scottish independence is, and how they could never make it alone without England, they would surely bank on such sentiments converting many fence-sitters to the nationalist cause. And it wouldn't surprise me if such articles emerged as they already have in the past - not to mention comment sections on the internet. I'm not sure whether the desire for Scottish independence is overstated or understated? I think they should have a referendum and get it out of the way; time to piss or get off the pot.

    PS. One could easily guess the level of spite which would be generated if the SNP held the balance of power in a hung Parliament and formed a coalition with New Labour! It would be of epic proportions. No doubt you'd have English nationalists hoping for a similar thing. But what of Welsh nationalists? :)) Politics is timeless.

  3. Excellent comment, Toque, thanks. Also for the links.

    Jimmy, I'm not sure if they still do, but the Nats used to advocate something they called independence in Europe, which seems to me to be something of a contradiction in terms. :-)