Back in September 2014, Scotland narrowly rejected voting for independence (45% Yes/55% No). In the last minutes of a two year campaign, the leading lights of the Westminster elite suddenly noticed that polls showed the possibility of a Yes vote, so they hopped on planes and trains and traveled north to express their love for their neighbours and warned of impending doom if we chose to leave the umbrella of the British State. Whether it was the “Vow” promising extra powers for the Scottish Parliament or fear of change, in the end the vote for the state quo won out.
It has become a tradition in politics to say what you really mean after you have received the result you were after. And so, true to form, David Cameron appeared at 10 Downing St on the day after the vote to announce that the the Vow’s promises of more powers for Scotland would happen “in tandem with, and at the same pace as” “English Votes for English Laws” (weirdly acronymed as “EVEL”). As the process of devolution in Scotland has taken decades and devolution for England’s regions has yet to occur, it would appear that any new powers for Scotland will be some time in coming. It’s important to remember that England has 84% of population of the UK, Scotland 8%, Wales 5% and Northern Ireland 3%. The reasons for devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have a great deal to do with those statistics, especially as the “unwritten” British Constitution has never made any attempt to balance out the differences in population in terms of political representation. (Attempts at some sort of federal structure were proposed by the Liberal Governments of the late 1800s/early 1900s, but were rejected by the unelected House of Lords).
Immediately after the vote, Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond broke with standard political tradition and made a surprise announcement that he was standing down as party leader, stunning the assembled media. The leadership passed on to his deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, who has become one of the most popular politicians in the entire UK (Salmond, in contrast, rubbed some people the wrong way). More worryingly for the Westminster elite, the Scottish National Party has, like the rest of the Yes supporting parties (Greens, Scottish Socialist party) seen a rise in membership. The SNP’s rise is the most spectacular of the Yes parties, standing at over 105,000, making it the third largest party by membership in the entire UK.
The Scottish Labour Party, on the other hand, has seen it’s support disappearing. After the referendum vote, the Leader of Scottish Labour, Johann Lamont resigned, saying that London Labour treated Scotland like a “branch office“. (“Scottish Labour” is not an officially recognised party in Scotland, unlike every other party in the Scottish Parliament). The less than popular (in Scotland) Blairite Jim Murphy became the new Leader and the punditry assumed that everything would fall back into place.
But that didn’t happen and polls have been suggesting that Labour may lose anywhere from 20 to 40 seats in Scotland to the SNP, meaning that if Ed Miliband were to have a chance of forming a government he would need to get support from SNP MPs.
All of this has caused consternation to supporters of the status quo, and as during the referendum campaign, some peculiar views have made themselves shown, from weirdly unfunny cartoons to downright bizarre opinion pieces about “mad“, “deluded” Scots.
And we’ll have more of this until the election for the UK Parliament on May 7, especially as Nicola Sturgeon was considered the winner in a novel tv debate which pitted 7 party leaders against one another – Tory David Cameron, his Deputy in the Coalition, LibDem Nick Clegg, Labour’s Ed Miliband, Far right UKIP leader Nigel Farage, Green Party leader Natalie Bennet, Plaid Cymru (Welsh Nationalist party) Leader Leanne Woods and Sturgeon.
The debate was remarkable, not just because progressive positions were actually heard on a UK political program (something the Blairites in particular must have thought they had finally killed off), but because of the contrast between four men offering neoliberal platitudes and three women offering progressive alternatives. Farage, attempted to blame all the UK’s problems – including HIV – on foreigners, thus representing the right wing of mainstream UK politics. His views on HIV lead to the first round of applause of the night, for Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood, who stated he “should be ashamed of himself”. Sturgeon followed this by saying “When someone is diagnosed with a dreadful illness, my instinct is to view them as a human being, not consider what country they come from.” All of the women rejected his anti-immigrant stance.
And following on from her success at the debates, with voters in England asking how they could vote SNP, the Tory supporting Daily Telegraph had the inevitable bombshell: despite saying that the SNP would never work with the Tories, Sturgeon secretly wanted Cameron to win. The story was that she had told this to the French Ambassador at a meeting in February. Only problem with the story was that she denied it, as did the French Ambassador, the French Consul General and everyone else who was actually at the meeting. The story came from a memo by a civil servant who wasn’t at the meeting, but had heard about it from the French Consul General. As the BBC’s James Cook explained, it was a “third hand account”. And most oddly, the journalists who wrote the story never asked Sturgeon or the French Ambassador for a statement.
.@simon_telegraph your story is categorically, 100%, untrue…which I’d have told you if you’d asked me at any point today
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) April 3, 2015
The story now seems to have died the death, with Labour MPs deleting their tweets about it, and the LibDem in charge of the Scottish Office, where the leak emerged from now dismissing it as “these things happen“. In any case, there is to be an inquiry about the leak by the Civil Service. But it’s unlucky that this smear will be the last. After all, it’s tradition.