Every democratic election is a choice, to a certain extent, between the bad and the worse. In that sense, it is much like life. There is seldom a perfect option.
And every voter who takes pencil in hand in the privacy of the polling booth will assess the issues, compromise on some and prioritise others.
In the First Past the Post Westminster election, we also vote for – or against – an individual whose name appears on the ballot. It seems likely that across the UK on Thursday night some big names will lose their seats and be subjected to the kind of ritual humiliation by media that goes with the job of MP these days. Alex Salmond and Angus Robertson may be among them.
I am not a nationalist but I will be voting SNP. More specifically, I will vote for Tommy Sheppard in Edinburgh East. Sheppard seems to be a man who takes an internationalist view, not a narrow nationalist one. But my decision is based on his party’s strong pro-EU stance. In the event of a hung Parliament – unlikely though that may be – the SNP would be a voice for staying in the single market and customs union, for freedom of movement.
But, I have to say, I seem to be a fish that swims against the tide and I am not sure my vote is one the SNP can really take much comfort in. It seems likely to fall back, perhaps considerably, from the extraordinary feat of winning almost all the seats in 2015.
The SNP has fought a stalwart campaign but they have not often been inspiring, seeming slightly wrong-footed by the snap election. They have been constantly pushed to talk about #indyref2 and not about the importance of our links with Europe. They are the sole EU-friendly option on the ballot paper in most of Scotland. But this policy may not prove successful at the ballot box.
A fishy question
On the one hand, it may lose them some Nationalist votes. For example, fisherman have spent generations blaming EU fisheries policy for quotas that they feel are unfair. They hope that leaving the EU may mean they can catch more fish. They may be aware also that many of the fish they catch go from the market in Peterhead straight to restaurants in Paris and Berlin and that if things go badly over Brexit, they could rot in lorries as they wait at customs posts. It took Greenland three years to negotiate export of its major asset, fish, to the EU. But they are being assured by the Conservatives that leaving the EU will improve their lot and those arguments may win out. So some Nationalists may switch.
On the other hand, it is unclear what percentage of the many Remain voters who also voted against independence in 2014 will vote for the SNP. The prospect of another independence referendum seems to be frightening the lieges.
It is useless to point out that the proposal is merely to put the independence case to Scottish voters when the terms of Brexit are known. At that point – which may be several years hence due to the unknown nature of the Brexit negotiations – the Scottish people could choose.
Talking to ‘Remainer’/ ‘No voting’ friends, they are alarmed by the prospect of a hard border at the Border. That seems to me at the moment the least of our worries. Brexit is a real and present danger. But the Brexit referendum has alarmed people – it seemed to many that a vindictive vote against all sensible advice carried the day on that; they fear #Indyref2 could carry Scotland into a similar reckless divorce – the kind where the husband tells his lawyer: ‘Honestly I’d rather you got the money than her. Bill me’.
As well as fear, of course, there are real bonds of affection and loyalty for many within that Union, and the recent terror attacks may have made those more precious.
People would be at liberty to campaign and vote as they wished in another independence referendum. It may never happen. The Brexit deal may be less bad than feared – if Scotland’s access to the single market and customs union is protected, if immigration is devolved, there may be no desire for a second independence referendum. In any case, it seems to me that these are arguments for another day.
To me, the Brexit effect is already apparent – EU nationals residing here have been living in stress for a year already. Some are leaving. Sterling has fallen. Food prices are rising. And Brexit hasn’t even happened yet – we are still in the EU.
When I vote tomorrow it will be for the party which will do the most to stick up for my EU friends who have made their lives here; which will argue for my children’s horizons to be broadened by freedom of movement; which treats our European alliance with respect and welcomes its citizens with friendship.