For all the accusations that the SNP is but a party of grievances, the reality is that grievance has benefitted the Conservative party above all others—not to mention being gleefully utilised by it.
From the very outset of Theresa May’s calling of an early general election, fingers were pointed at everyone they could be pointed at—including the ‘unelected’ House of Lords—for undermining unity. For a leader so obsessed with telling us how united we are, she is very astute, and a little too keen, at pointing out areas of discord.
The undertone is one of somebody backed into a corner. She is reluctant. Never mind the fact that recent polls have put the Tories at their highest popularity yet, seven years into governance. Never mind that Labour has proven all too willing to vote through Brexit as it currently stands, or how small the Lib Dems’ voice has become; never mind that she has already overseen the triggering of Article 50 with limited turbulence. May is calling this election because she has no other choice; there is no alternative to stopping them (“saboteurs” in Mail parlance). It’s a shame it’s had to come down to this at all, but she’s going to show them she’ll give us what we want—and we’re going to like it.
Then again, reluctance is second nature to May, like all those whose principles are shaped only by the extent to which they can be crafted in their own image. May’s talk of unity is a threat, not a plea. She knows very well—as does Ruth Davidson—that a divided country benefits her party the most, and affords her a false sense of legitimacy for any post-Brexit vision it may have.
Silence is much easier to acquire through acquiescence than force of argument. And through a cacophony of division—of a Labour vote split by UKIP, the Greens and Lib Dems—the ensuing white noise begins to sound like a silence of sorts. In Scotland, perhaps the Prime Minister is even banking on apathy to bring about some surprise wins; this will be the seventh time the Scottish electorate has been asked to go to the polls since 2014. An electorate keen to see the back of things will not need much persuasion, either.
Us as defined by Them
Since the Brexit vote last year, the Conservatives have doled out, time and time again, a very predictable but effective line of argument. They will accuse the opposition at every opportunity of being ideologically single-minded, even myopic, especially with regards to constitutional matters —which are themselves generally the new order of the day—but even when such matters are not the matter of debate. They are less concerned with attacking straw men than pointing to elephants that aren’t in the room.
It isn’t a blind gamble. As proven at Holyrood last year, the Tories can make big gains by defining not what they themselves do, but in opposition to what anybody else says or does; and to ensure the continued success of a party defined solely by The Other, all areas of division must be laid bare as often as possible. It’s difficult to oppose such contrariness, especially when the Conservative Party’s own brand of abhorrent ideology is concealed behind a veneer of anodyne personality—they have become masters in making visible in others what is invisible in themselves. They cannot be accused of hypocrisy when all actions they take—say, calling an early election after repeated denial of such less than a month prior—are taken due to the actions of others.
‘Get on with the day job’—a typical remark thrown by all sides at the SNP in Holyrood, but particularly from Ruth Davidson’s corner. Labour and the Lib Dems have made the mistake of trying to emulate the success of Davidson’s open wound strategy, and in so doing have unwittingly given themselves the appearance of second-rate equivalents. Worse, with the absurd lengths May has gone to say how she herself is ‘getting on with the day job’—helping strike a clear difference between herself and Sturgeon, between one ‘doing the day job’ and one ‘not doing the day job’—they only help instil an implicit approval of May’s leadership. Any drubbings at the local council elections next month, especially for Labour, will be down to this oversight. They have made their beds.
Now is not the time
Just as the EU referendum was not explicitly about the EU, #GE2017 will not be about governance. May will continue to paint the opposition parties as preventing her from seeing through Brexit altogether, rather than answering the question on the nature of Brexit itself. She will be elected to govern on the demand for more unity, better unity, and be vindicated to drive forward with Brexit in whatever shape she sees fit. Perhaps, as investors hope, that drive will be softer than expected; but that hinges on the nature and number of any new Tory MPs in the Commons. Meanwhile, the SNP will hope that the request for #indyref2 will hold renewed credence. Or perhaps May will use any possible gains in Scotland as an excuse for maintaining her current rebuff. For now we will just have to wait and see what our reluctant Prime Minister, strengthened by a new majority, will do when she finds herself faced, yet again, with no choice.