Friday, 14 May 2010

Gerry Hassan on Scotland

Again from OpenDemocracy a controversial piece about Scotland. Leeds Taking Soundings has discussed having a speaker about Scottish politics for a while (we fancied Christopher Harvie, without getting so far as invite him) and we certainly need to factor Scotland into our discussions.
Hassan makes the point that the Tories have an overall English majority of 61 over all other parties and 106 over Labour. What does this mean for our political future?

The Perilous Politics of ‘No Mandate’ and Genuine Scottish Self-Determination
Gerry Hassan, 13 May 2010

As British politics enters uncharted waters, Scottish politics seems strangely familar and returning to the parameters of the 1980s and the politics of 'no mandate', as Labour and SNP out do each other in the oppositionalist opportunism. How can we demand and expect more from our politicians than this?

British politics has just entered absolutely uncharted territory – with the establishment of ‘the Liberal Democrat-Conservative administration’ as David Cameron calls it. This is the first British coalition government – along with the first time the Liberals have been in office – since Churchill’s wartime administration – the anniversary of which was funnily enough on Monday (May 10th 1940).

Yet, Scottish politics seem to be settling into a pattern and set of positions which feels strangely familiar. The Labour and SNP can hardly contain themselves and seem to think the Con-Lib Dem alliance gives them permission to treat the Lib Dems as Tories in all but name, and vie for who can be the most opportunist, oppositional and inane. These are two supposed serious parties: one in government and one aspiring to office, both trying to out do each other in what looks like a politics of simplicity and childishness. Can we not expect more from our politicians than this?

I was just on ‘Newsnight Scotland’ with Alistair Carmichael, Lib Dem MP for Orkney and Shetlands, and Alistair Allan, SNP MSP for Western Isles, and it was a revealing occasion in the paucity of thought from the SNP (1). Allan trundled out the ‘no mandate’ argument about the Con-Lib Dems – arguing that the Lib Dems had got into bed with the fourth party of Scotland and one which only has one MP out of Scotland’s 59.

We really need to explore this argument of the ‘no mandate’ a bit further. In the 1980s this arose as Thatcher’s Tories saw their vote fall – from 31% in 1979 to 24% in 1987 – and their parliamentary representation fall by more than half from 22 in 1979 to 10 in 1987 (2). At the same time the anti-Tory parties began to define themselves as such and coalesce around a shared centre-left agenda.

Things are very different now. The Con-Lib Dem alliance has a base of 36% support in Scotland, nearly twice the support of the SNP (20%) and not that far behind Labour (42%). Yet something much more fundamental than number crunching is at work here.

And the rest is here.

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