Friday, 16 May 2014

Fault lines

Political musing for the day: I'm intrigued by how readily Labour have inherited the mantle of the "nasty party" from the Tories in Scotland.

I'll explain...

"Right wing" and "left wing" are relative concepts, determined based on where on the left-right spectrum the current political consensus lies. In England, the influence of UKIP (among other factors) has and continues to drag politics ever further to the right, to the extent that we now have a situation where, in many respects, the Conservative Party of the 70s, if it existed today, would be to the left of the current Labour Party. (From a US perspective, where many conservatives hilariously refer to the right-leaning Barack Obama as "socialist", the entire UK political system probably still looks pretty left-wing.)

How the parties have shifted since the 70s (courtesy of Political Compass)

In Scotland, despite all the claims of the Better Together/Project Fear mob to the contrary, the political climate is substantially different, and the Lib/Lab/Con hegemony that defines Westminster politics doesn't exist. The Tories, while not wholly extinct (yet), are now little more than a protest vote north of border, and the two main parties, between whom every election is primarily contested, are not the Tories and Labour but rather Labour and the SNP. The SNP, despite having attracted the nickname "Tartan Tories" in decades gone by, have long since outflanked Labour on the left, campaigning on a platform that is pro-immigration, social justice, Welfare State and unilateral nuclear disarmament. Scottish Labour, whose policies are designed in their entirety by the broader British Labour Party, find themselves in the unenviable position of having to sell policies decided to appease UKIP supporters to an electorate that is largely social democratic in its principles, if not full-on socialist. This, no doubt, is why so much of what comes out of SLab representatives' mouths is so hopelessly muddled and the calamitous Johann Lamont (SLab's "leader" -- though she has no real power) routinely contradicts herself and has to deny ever saying things that are a matter of record. (Her call to end free universal benefits and her "something for nothing country" comment, which she denies ever having made despite it being available on YouTube for all to see, are a case in point.)

The result of this is that Labour is in terminal decline in Scotland. They may not have suffered a Tory-style wipe-out yet, but I'm convinced that they're well on the road to it. The writing was on the wall in the aftermath of the 2011 Holyrood election, where the SNP won an outright majority in an electoral system that was supposed to prevent such an outcome ever happening, taking seats in areas that had been held by Labour (in Westminster and local elections) for nigh on a century. The "I vote Labour 'cos my da voted Labour" contingent is still substantial, but the party's grip on the electorate is weakening, due to a combination of anger at Blair's lies, the Iraq war and widespread corruption in local politics, and the fact that there's little point in voting for a party whose greatest aspiration is to be minutely less brutal than the Tories when there exists a credible centre-left alternative in the form of the SNP (and smaller parties like the Greens and Scottish Socialists, who have a far better chance of being elected in Holyrood which uses the D'Hondt system of proportional representation than in Westminster with its archaic and profoundly anti-democratic First Past the Post).

If the Tories, Lib Dems and Labour represent the right, centre and left of Westminster politics, then I would argue that the right, centre and left of Scottish politics are effectively represented by Labour, the SNP and Scottish Green Party respectively. (Let's ignore for a moment the fact that the Lib Dems and Tories still have more seats at Holyrood than the Greens -- by demonstrating a willingness to work constructively with the government rather than opposing it for opposition's sake, the Greens have managed to make themselves a far more significant force in Scottish politics. The Equal Marriage Bill, for instance, was carried through parliament by the Greens' Patrick Harvie.)

So Labour are on the left of UK politics but on the right of Scottish politics. (I'm not going to get into Wales and Northern Ireland because I don't know enough about their respective political climates to comment on them.) And yet the dismal Ed Miliband continues to campaign under the spurious "One Nation Labour" banner... nicked, incidentally, from former Tory Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. If that slogan is not the perfect illustration that Labour have become the Tories (while the SNP has become Labour, and the Tories have become UKIP, and UKIP have become... well, they've always been a far more dangerous version of the Monster Raving Loony Party, I guess), then I don't know what is.

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