Tuesday 25 April 2017

The Scottish Tory Resurgence

This general election is very interesting. Particularly Scotland. Last weekend, Survation for the Sunday Post had the Tories on 28% to the SNP's 43%. This could net them eight seats at the nationalists' expense. Panelbase for the Sunday Times has them down for 33%, or 12 seats. As this is a social science blog that prefers facts over nice illusions, how can this uptick in Tory fortunes be explained?

Let's backtrack to the Britain-wide fall out of the Brexit vote. For some time, we've noted how in England the losing side has acquired a political dynamic of its own. The Liberal Democrats - the party most associated with staying in the EU - are surging in council by-elections and piling on the members. They sailed past the 100,000 figure this week and look set to bust through their all-time record. Had the referendum gone the other way, no doubt Leave would be pulling in and motivating a layer of voters. Rather than getting a battering in Stoke, UKIP may well have taken the seat and it could have been them surging in local contests, instead of dwindling away. Careful what you wish for indeed. We saw a similar dynamic unfold in Scotland after the independence referendum, and the blood price the SNP extracted for their defeat was the destruction of Scottish Labour.

Remain voters are energised and leave'ers are less so, the majority of the latter appearing to line up behind Theresa May. In Scotland, the shoe is on the other foot. With the utter dominance of politics by the SNP who, lest we forget, have been running the Scottish government for almost a decade, and are pushing another independence poll on the basis of the Brexit vote, the SNP is clearly the party of remain. It then begs the question where to go if you don't feel the nationalists speak for you on independence nor the EU? With Labour down for the count, it has to be Ruth Davidson's Tories. After all, they're not the Scottish establishment and, rape clause notwithstanding, Ruth is so personable and warm that the Tories can't be too bad.

With the cohering of the Leave/No vote around party lines, so the SNP could well lose seats to the Conservatives. A disaster for Scottish nationalism? Not in the slightest. While Sturgeon would rather not bid farewell to however many MPs, a viable Scottish Tory party suits her party's interests. They can be singled out as a warning against complacency, a visible enemy to overcome. And it allows her to burnish the SNP's social democratic creds regularly, strengthening the binds of irrelevance keeping Labour down. If you want a progressive alternative to what the Tories are doing at Westminster, Our Kez and friends aren't in a position to deliver it are they?

The looming problem the SNP have, however, is the danger they may have overplayed their independence hand. When all people hear is independence, 2nd referendum, independence, 2nd referendum, voters can get fed up. That leaves the SNP vulnerable once the shine starts to dull because their time in power has been less than stellar. Education inequality in Scotland is shocking, and the SNP appear powerless and clueless about what to do. That and other issues can leave them vulnerable to the Tories and their specious - but effective - rhetoric of one nationism and having plans for everything.

We will see if the results bear the polls out in the local elections, and then on June 8th.


Speedy said...

People do vote differently locally and nationally, though? I suspect the local elections will be kinder on Labour than the national will be because people will want a more service-orientated council.

In Scotland, now the SNP has stolen the Labour clothes, it is not new but business as usual: the SNP equal Labour, the Tories... Tories.

In England the distinction is less clear, but the soft-left/ liberal, middle class pro-EU vote will go to the Lib Dems. Much of the anti-immigrant working class vote will not come out, or even vote Tory as it appears in Wales (Wales!).

Under Corbyn Labour missed a trick - they could have painted themselves into the pro-EU corner and been pro-immigration, or even anti-EU and anti-immigration, but this way it is lose lose.

As I have been saying for some time, we are back to Whigs and Tories. Progressives versus conservatives, even though - as we know - the liberals are simply the flipside of the bourgeois class interest. UKIP were never the party of the "forgotten" working class but a party like Le Pen's, who track to the left socially, and the right nationally, would logically fill this hole - where pluralism fails, totalitarianism fills the vacuum as Hannah Arendt might observe. The UK electoral system vaccinates against this more effectively than the French but in these circumstances, the next logical question to ask (and people will be asking over the coming years) is if Labour can no longer stand for the great downtrodden masses (and have a chance of being elected) the what is it FOR?

MikeB said...

The dogma that nationalist parties, even in their most progressive manifestations, are class traitors in waiting, is disastrous. In Scotland, voting SNP holds more promise than voting Labour, and not just for purely tactical reasons. If you need evidence, recall that more SNP MPs voted against the renewal of Trident than Corbyn's Labour MPs - from the whole of the UK.

Anonymous said...

An exception that proves the rule, tbh.

Basically, and despite their rhetoric, the SNP have basically governed as a Blairite party. That leaves some scope for a renewed SLab to regain some ground, but it remains dominated by clueless "moderates".

jim mclean said...

The SNP are reactionary to the core, their offering of funding to INEOS during the Union Busting conflict and their massive financial support to Amazon, the worst employer in Scotland shows where their heart lies. The hypocrisy of the Trident vote is clear when they admit as future NATO members they will allow US and rUK ships to access Scottish waters and facilities. The SNP support for Raytheon is despicable as the company's bombs, parts made in my constituency, rain down on the people of the Yemen killing civilians by the hundreds if not thousands over the last month.They were founded as a Fascist party with the aim of creating a Protestant Dominion within the Empire. Things are looking bad and we will probably lose the four councils where we have overall control. Glasgow deserves to be lost, but more due to the Tammany Hall attitude than any political reason. It is also clear that the SNP do not intend to join the single market under any circumstances, mainly to to with the party's internal conflict between the Fishing seats and the industrial areas. Plus it is a good council election to lose in a tactical sense, it means we will have a Tory government in Westminster, and and SNP Government in Holyrood both implementing the harshest austerity measures with these being carried out by Tory and SNP councils. Cynical perhaps, on the bright side Labour are starting to organise in the colleges and nurture a new generation of candidates. The biggest thing is of course we have one of the lowest Trade Union memberships of any country and the working class communities do not exist in the same form due to the massive increase in self employment. Nobody will ever be able to calculate the damage done by the Left Nationalists after the Scottish Turn of the Socialist Party and SWP opportunism.

Steven said...

I think more than a couple tory gains would really finish Labour up here for fwiw. The party structures are really inflexible, which serves to frustrate the membership and the CLPs are still pretty moribund.

I think people would start to see continuing to fight for a party that doesn't seem to want to be saved as an indulgence if the Tories, the real enemy, start to recover. The appearance of a straight fight between Tories/SNP would mean that the remaining Labour members would often find themselves nodding along with the nationalists, and given the constitutional flux of brexit . If we aren't at rock bottom and do continue to lose people then we're not far from Green party figures.

MikeB said...

@jim mclean - I have no particular love for the SNP. They wouldn't be my choice, given a choice of decent alternatives. I share your disgust at the shameful finding of Raytheon, but as you know, it was the Labour government that agreed what was at the time described as "the world's biggest defence deal" with the Saudis a decade or so ago - a deal that included ongoing support for a bunch of Tornado bombers. As you also say, Scotland has one of the lowest TU memberships of any country and serious impediments towards remedying this - which is another argument for broadening our vision beyond "labourism". I am not in the business of running down Scottish Labour any more than promoting the SNP per se. It's a tactical question, an argument over where the resources of progressives are best concentrated. To my mind, we are better off facilitating the leftwards, anti-Tory movement of the nationalist parties through alliance building rather than self-defeating sectionalism.

jim mclean said...

MikeB. If every meeting did not sink into a constitutional argument there could be progress along the lines you seek. In all honesty Trump scares the shit out of me more than a Tory/SNP council or governmnet

MikeB said...

jim mclean - fair enough!

Joseph B said...

I have yet to read a convincing analysis of the Strange Death of Labour Scotland, and perhaps the impending Strange Slow Decline of Labour Wales. Odd comments suggest that despite voting for progressive policies and an ostensibly progressive party, the values that many previous Labour voters hold are compatible with voting Tory or UKIP. I'm horrified to write this - crossing the border from England into either country always seemed to be entering a place where different values applied, but I suspect that is a romanticised view. The decline in union membership, and the authoritarianism of the Labour party in both countries, is one explanation.

Obviously large number of former Labour voters have switched to the SNP. Has this been because of a massive surge in support for independence (seemingly not) or because of the SNP's supposed social democratic credentials. I am old enough to recall the SNP being the Tartan Tories, and I wonder how long it will be before the cracks show - as, I suspect, they might begin to show within Plaid Cymru. Whatever is the truth, an analysis of apparently "Left-nationalism" is needed.

johnny conspiranoid said...

Are you James Elliot?