Wednesday, 6 May 2015

The sound of the beat(en)

Tomorrow, the UK goes to the polls, and the union has arguably never been more divided. In the last five years, the poor have got poorer, the rich have got richer, the press have gleefully turned the "deserving" against the "undeserving", all three major Westminster parties (in hoc to the UKIP-set agenda) have stoked the flames of xenophobia with their anti-immigration rhetoric, and a little matter known as the 2014 Scottish independence referendum has dragged into the spotlight many of the long-festering tensions that exist both within and between the union's various constituent nations. The old adage goes that how Scotland votes has no impact on the outcome of UK-wide elections. Well, this time round, a perfect storm of factors have come together to make this one the exception to the rule. And surprise surprise, the establishment doesn't like the thought of the tail wagging the dog.

When the main unionist parties -- the Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems -- united under a single banner to deny Scotland its independence -- a small number of commentators made the prescient observation that Labour had put itself in a lose-lose situation. By aligning itself with the Tories, it left much of its core vote appalled and disgusted, and found itself having to effectively defend Tory policy, selling the current settlement -- with its NHS privatisation, food banks, nuclear weapons, illegal wars and austerity -- as preferable to going it alone. After being widely photographed dancing and cheering with the Tories as they celebrated their pyrrhic victory, Labour was thrust straight into a general election campaign in which it found itself having to do battle with the very party with whom it had happily stood shoulder to shoulder just weeks earlier. The incompatibility of these positions was laid bare for all to see. During the referendum campaign, for instance, Labour poo-pooed the idea that privatisation of the English NHS could have any impact on Scotland's health service and claimed that the NHS was "safe with a no vote". Mere weeks later, they were singing an entirely different tune as they desperately tried to convince Scottish voters to back them once again:



For years, Scottish voters accepted as gospel the mantra of "vote SNP, get Tories". Throughout the campaign, Labour has stuck doggedly to the line that only they can prevent another Tory government, conveniently ignoring the fact that, in every general election since 1955, Scotland DID vote Labour and ended up with the Tories anyway a full 7 out of 14 times (including 2010, when Labour's vote share in Scotland actually went UP even as it plummeted elsewhere). This time round, all the polls point to the electorate having stopped listening. The unionist parties believed that defeat in the independence referendum would hobble the SNP irrevocably, and yet the exact opposite seems to have happened. To put the SNP surge into perspective, in 2010 they won 6 seats to Labour's 41. In 2015, the question is not whether the SNP will increase their share of the vote but whether they will wipe Labour out completely or merely cut their share of seats to single figures.

The wildest estimates suggest the SNP taking the whole lot, i.e. 59 out of 59 seats. Personally I don't think that's likely, and bitter experience has taught me not to set myself up for disappointment by having unrealistic expectations, but I do think 50+ is within the realms of possibility (and would be the highest share of the vote ever achieved by any party in Scotland). Of course, anything over 11 is record-beating, anything over 12 is the SNP doubling their current number, and anything over 30 is an absolute majority.

I'm in the strange situation of utterly despairing at the state of the union and its politics and yet looking forward to tomorrow night with a sense of unbridled glee. That the SNP could perform a clean sweep on between 45% and 55% of the vote shows how utterly broken, inadequate and undemocratic the awful First Past the Post system is, but that's the system Miliband, Brown, Cameron et al pleaded with us not to reject last September, and if it was good enough for them when things were going their way, then it should be good enough for them now. (The irony, of course, is that many of the voices who will be shrieking the loudest about the iniquity of it all should the SNP wipe the board will be the same ones who so vociferously defended it in 2011 during the AV referendum.)

I really don't care whether Labour or the Tories win the most seats across the UK, for the simple reason that it doesn't really matter all that much. That's not because I think the two parties are almost completely interchangeable (though that much is certainly true) but rather because, unless every single pollster is wildly out, the arithmetic is such that no party will be left with a majority, and regardless of all the demented "the largest party gets to form the government" posturing from Labour, the Tories and their media chums, the reality is that being able to win a vote of confidence in the Commons is what matters. The simple fact is that, with the SNP -- this year's kingmakers -- refusing the support the Tories under any circumstances, the only person who can prevent Labour forming the next government is Ed Miliband himself, and something tells me that, regardless of his current posturing, there is no way he's going to risk the ire that would come his way should he hand the keys to David Cameron for another five years rather than work with the centre-left, socially progressive SNP. I expect the horse-trading over the next couple of weeks to be brutal and messy, but it's ultimately what matters, rather than whether the Tories end up with fractionally more seats than Labour, or vice versa.

I'm going to stay up until I can't keep my eyes open any longer, keeping track of the results as they come in, probably listening to NewsShaft's coverage rather than going with the BBC, ITV or any of the other usual suspects. There are many "big hitters" whose defeats I will relish immensely should they come to pass: Anas Sarwar, Margaret Curran, Ian Davidson, Douglas Alexander, and my own crook of a Lib Dem MP, Jo "photo op" Swinson. I have the following queued up, ready to be played loud out often throughout the night:

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