Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Bullshit season begins

It’s election year in the UK, and the usual suspects (pictured above) are setting out their stalls, each founded on a pack of lies and cynically designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

It’s not an election I find it easy to get very excited about, due in no small part to the fact that I had hoped it would be an election that wouldn’t affect me. And, in many ways, it does feel like an election taking place in some parallel universe in which I have no part, what with the media’s blanket coverage of UKIP (a party with nothing more than a fringe following where I live) as a major force, the incessant demonisation of migrants and increasing anti-EU rhetoric (again, issues that don’t exactly figure large north of the border, at least as far as I can tell). These people speak a language that is utterly alien to me, and I find myself wishing I could just wash my hands of the whole affair and take nothing to do with any of it.

Still, affect me it does, and I can’t deny that this particular election is at least somewhat interesting due to how uncertain the outcome appears to be, with several wild cards coming into play with the potential to upset the apple cart. The two “main” parties, Labour and the Tories, are both polling at around a miserable 30%, with the remaining 40% spread among parties that were previously considered fringe groups. In Scotland, long considered a bastion of Labour support, the party’s vote share has -- seemingly in defiance of all logic -- plummeted like a rock in the aftermath of the independence referendum, with the supposed losers, the SNP, riding high in poll after poll. Psephologist John Curtice recently opined that, in the face of mounting evidence, there is nothing for it but to accept that every single Labour seat in Scotland is at risk of falling to the SNP in May, with the swing most pronounced in the constituencies that once recorded the highest support for Labour -- places like Glasgow, West Dunbartonshire and North Lanarkshire, all of which voted Yes in the referendum.

Let’s examine the various possibilities. Assuming that the pundits are correct and that a majority for any party is extremely unlikely, I’m going to ignore the prospect of an outright Tory or Labour win and consider the various alternative permutations. I’ve also omitted the possibility of agreements between the Tories & SNP/PC/Greens and Labour & UKIP purely because of how implausible they are. The SNP, for instance, actually passed a conference resolution several years ago stating that they would never go into coalition with the Tories. That leaves us with:

Minority Tory government
Minority Tory government with supply and confidence deal with UKIP
Minority Tory government with supply and confidence deal with Lib Dems
Tory/UKIP coalition
Tory/Lib Dem coalition
Minority Labour government
Minority Labour government with supply and confidence deal with Lib Dems
Minority Labour government with supply and confidence deal with SNP/PC/Greens
Labour/Lib Dem coalition
Labour/SNP/PC/Green coalition

When you look at that list, it becomes... well, “exciting” is the wrong word, so instead I’ll say “unpredictable”. Looked at through the prism of what is best for the UK as a whole, I’d be inclined to say that a minority Labour government kept in check by and dependent on the votes of of the so-called “progressive alliance” of the Green Party, SNP and Plaid Cymru would probably be the option that would do the least harm -- not least because their conditions for support would include an immediate end to the austerity programme that both Labour and the Tories have so gleefully embraced. And then of course there’s the fact that Alex Salmond will almost certainly be heading back to Westminster (unless the unthinkable happens and he loses in his bid to win the Gordon constituency). I should probably begin stockpiling the popcorn...

That said, it should come as no surprise to readers of this blog that my primary goal remains an independent Scotland as soon as is humanly possible. I’ve given no small amount of consideration to how that would most readily be achieved, and have come to the conclusion that the most plausible scenario would be some sort of Tory or Tory/UKIP government holding a referendum on EU membership, with England voting to leave and Scotland voting to stay (for the purposes of simplicity, I’m not including Wales and Northern Ireland in the equation). Faced with Scotland being dragged out of the EU against its will, the Scottish Government would have the clearest possible mandate to hold a second independence referendum, with the likely result being a Yes victory -- partly because the majority of Scots are, according to the polls, pro-EU, and partly because a second Tory victory, coupled with the already clear failure of Westminster to deliver on the “near federalism” and “Devo Max” promises made in the days leading up to 18th September, would help focus minds. As infuriating as it may be, September’s No vote was quite clearly “No, but...” We know the majority of Scots want Devo Max. We know the majority of Scots want to remain in the EU. We also know, again according to polling carried out in the aftermath of the referendum, that the majority of Scots want another independence referendum within the next decade. If the south of England elects another Tory government and proceeds to drag an unwilling Scotland out of the EU, that could come a lot sooner than ten years from now.

There’s another possibility not listed above, and one that has, in the last couple of weeks, been seriously mooted by a surprising number of media pundits: a “national unity” coalition between the Tories and Labour, designed to freeze out what one journalist hilariously referred to as “the insurgents” -- meaning the SNP in Scotland and UKIP in England. Personally, I can’t see it happening. Don’t get me wrong, I suspect the Tories and Labour would work incredibly well together -- they did during the referendum, after all, and you can barely fit a fag packet between their respective policies -- but it would be electoral suicide for both of them. Both parties have retained their privileged positions by perpetuating, for more than half a century, the Great Lie that an election is a binary choice between the two of them. According to the Great Lie, the two parties are mortal enemies, Labour representing the left and the Tories representing the right. The sight of them working hand in glove in government would bring that illusion to an end in the wider UK... in much the same way that the sight of them working hand in glove during the referendum appears to have brought it to an end in Scotland. Again, such a scenario would almost certainly hasten rather than stall the break-up of the UK, and for that reason I can’t imagine the Tories or even Labour being so stupid as to actually do it. (Mind you, Labour thought they would suffer no ill effects from campaigning with the Tories for a No vote...)

So... here we go again. The scripts practically write themselves. Once in a generation opportunity... Only this party can deliver X, Y and Z... This time we really mean it... A vote for the SNP is a vote for David Cameron... No, a vote for the SNP is a vote for Labour... Pooling and sharing... Nick Clegg making another pledge... I can feel my eyes beginning to glaze over already.

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