The 2010 UK General Election didn’t feel like this. The 2011 Scottish Election didn’t feel like this either. This year, the result is a foregone conclusion, but the real question lies in who is best placed to have influence after an SNP victory.
It feels, rather, as though Scottish voters are living during a time when every single election result has a historical weight, strengthened by an increase in both turnout and engagement since the referendum. In my constituency, voter turnout increased by almost 12%, the largest jump in the country.
That was last May. This May we look set to go through it all again. This time though, I’m struggling with my vote.
Less than a year ago, I considered Labour to be finished in Scotland, as a pro-Trident, pro-‘controls on immigration’, pro-austerity party. Johann Lamont’s resignation, along with her comments on the distinct lack of an autonomous Scottish voice, seemed a far more accurate portrayal of the state of affairs than Jim Murphy’s.
With that prognosis in mind, there was little resistance to being swept up in the SNP tide, which eventually turned into an electoral ‘tsunami’ last year. As a young voter who was dragged along to several pro-independence events back in 2014, I was exposed regularly to the unionist party-driven (with little media resistance) mantra that a Yes vote was, in essence, a vote for the SNP. This tactic came back to haunt those parties last May.
Ultimately, in my view, that mantra would have to be broken before a majority vote for independence would be conceivable. Which leads to my dilemma. The emergence of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.
Scottish Labour autonomy
The reasoning was thus: Nobody knows whether Scotland will be independent or not in the future (though anonymous polling shows that both a majority of MSPs and the public believe so). Despite the heavy inevitability surrounding the upcoming Holyrood vote, I reasoned that the necessity for independence could be reduced by a more democratic, anti-austerity Labour party.
Three candidates for the Labour leadership contest stood on the side of offering concession after concession to the language of the newly re-empowered Conservative government, therefore giving undeserved legitimacy to the Chancellor’s claims of being ‘the new centre ground’. The remaining candidate spoke to me as alone in recognising that politics is the art of changing minds, not the art of going along to get along.
I signed up to be a registered supporter, and within a month found myself standing up at a local Labour meeting, telling long-time members that the word ‘aspiration’ should not exclude those who aspire to eat and have somewhere to sleep at night, groups that have skyrocketed since David Cameron took office.
Progress has been made. The deputy leader of Scottish Labour is now Alex Rowley, a prominent supporter of an autonomous party. The Scottish party conference voted overwhelmingly against Trident renewal.
These signs are all positive, as was Scottish leader Kezia Dugdale’s calls for councils to embrace and rehouse Syrian refugees. Even a recently proposed penny tax rise sent out the right signals in terms of encouraging social responsibility and justice.
Unfortunately, many of these policies would be in spite of the policies outlined by the UK Labour party, mostly influenced by MPs from English constituencies that the leader is still fighting to control. Some online commentary has claimed that the money made by the proposed tax rise would not meet the cost of Scotland’s annual Trident subscription, which the Scottish party is now against.
Such inconsistencies give the impression that the battle for the party’s soul is in England’s hands. The price of union means that a progressive Labour in England is the key, and if by May that looks more unlikely, my first vote simply cannot go their way.
Where do I turn? The SNP have had my vote before, and this election, nationally at least, is pretty well sewn up. There are, though, definite points of contention over stop and search, standardised testing and air passenger duty.
I also worry about some new MPs making the transition from great campaigners to convincing lawmakers, having overheard one elected member admit he couldn’t remember the name of the Westminster committee he’d been appointed to.
At First Minister’s Questions, Nicola Sturgeon’s angle boiled down to Labour wanting to ‘raise taxes’, and that language disappointed. This didn’t sound like the ambitious language they used to storm to victory. Will I have to hold my nose if I vote for them?
That’s where the beauty of the second vote comes in. With the regional vote, Scotland could kill two birds with one stone. A mainstay of post-2015 politics is the phrase ‘one party state’, the implication being dubious, and part of the longer battle of Scottish politics, drawn across lines of Yes and No.
Two pro-indy votes
This second, regional vote, could boost another viable pro-independence party and identity: that of the Scottish Greens. In doing so, the campaign lines of Yes equalling SNP, or independence equalling a one party state, will seem rather impotent.
Finally, a rising progressive party would almost certainly put pressure on the SNP to up their game, as challenges on the Scottish Government’s radical credentials would then be from two fronts.
The caveat ‘almost certainly’ is applied because the SNP would have to be fools to attack them in the same way as they would Labour on issues such as Full Fiscal Autonomy. The SNP’s eye is still on the long game, and pre-campaign warfare could be avoided at any cost (two defectors, John Finnie and Jean Urquhart, are standing as Green and RISE candidates).
I believe the need to compromise, forced by (an optimistic guess) of 8-10 Green MSPs, will outweigh the force of a Scottish Labour party that is still struggling to find a voice.
Will I hold my nose when I vote SNP? No, because I’ll have a Green air-freshener nearby.