The votes are in and the Conservative Party have crossed the threshold necessary to form a government. Their partners in coalition, the Liberal Democrats, have seen their votes drop from 62 to 8. The Labour party are in second place and are down 26 seats, but the real trauma for them is seeing their votes in Scotland collapse.
Labour have dominated Scottish politics for almost a century and to see 56 of 59 seats go to the Scottish National Party is devastating for them. The Labour Party has always spoken in socialist terms when it suited them but since the rise of neoliberalism they have jumped on that bandwagon (much like the Democrats in the USA). And the old saw that if you want rid of the Tories you must vote Labour sounds pretty hollow now that people do the maths – even if every one of the 59 Scottish seats had gone to Labour, the Tories still would have won. (This hasn’t stopped Scottish Labour from trying to spin their defeat in a similar fashion to the Democrats when Gore lost, ie “it was all Nader’s fault”; though in this case, the logic would be that somehow the SNP got people in England not to vote Labour…if fear of having to deal with the SNP swung Labour voters to the Tories, that doesn’t suggest those voters are after progressive policies).
The punditry has been saying for some time now that Scotland really isn’t more social democratic than England, but this result may put paid to that analysis. The SNP ran a campaign with a message of anti-austerity and against the renewal of Trident nuclear missiles. Conventional wisdom in the neoliberal era has been that this sort of campaign can only fail. Conventional wisdom took a battering last night.
The Scottish Labour Party has retained one seat (as have the LibDems, down from 11; the Tories have kept their one Scottish seat) and seen several prominent MPs defeated, including the leader of Scottish Labour Jim Murphy and Douglas Alexander, Shadow Foreign Secretary and MP since Blair’s 97 landslide. He lost to Mhairi Black, a 20 year old student and part-time chip shop worker. Scottish Labour have seen their power base decimated, killed off by jettisoning their principles for a Blairite deal with the devil.
In England the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Ed Balls lost his seat. Charles Kennedy, former leader of the LibDems and MP for 32 years, also lost, as did his colleague Vince Cable, who had been the Business Secretary in the coalition government. Far right anti-immigrant UKIP leader Nigel Farage failed to win his seat, his party only electing one MP. He resigned as party leader. (Disturbingly though, UKIP saw the highest increase in its share of the vote at 13%).
Party leaders Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg also resigned. All in all a terrible day for the status quo. Even the Tory result, while depressing from a progressive point of view, only gives the Tories a bare majority. Bad relations with his backbench MPs, a few resignations, deaths etc, and they may soon be in an impossible position. The last time a Tory government was in this position was with John Major, and he referred to his troublesome backbenchers as the “bastards“.
As it is, they are going to find it difficult to square the circle of maintaining their professed belief in the Union, dealing with the English nationalism they have stoked up (in the tradition of Thatcher), and finding any legitimacy in Scotland where they have only one MP. Furthermore, the SNP as the third largest party would be entitled to sit on select committees. They will be able to raise questions in Parliament and may be able to make an appealing case for progressive politics for voters in the rest of the UK.
This election has made clear that the political differences between Scotland and England, the two countries that created the Union in 1707, are vast – one social democratic and the other lacking a strong progressive force. Something will have to change, but at this point it’s anyone’s guess where it will end up.
For the moment, perhaps Swamp Dogg sums up the effect Scotland has had on the British status quo.