Who WILL speak up for Middle Scotland?
IT was much-hyped, but for the SNP it was a Line of Duty election – a huge build-up, with a damp squib of an ending.
And like the television show there’s the prospect of another instalment, with broadly the same cast and a very familiar plot.
The tribalisation of our political system is an inescapable reality – both sides have dug in for perpetual battle, and neither of them are willing to yield any ground.
Yet as Gordon Brown pointed out yesterday, there are swathes of voters in the middle who frankly don’t much care about nationalism, or indeed Unionism.
They have priorities that doubtless in the eyes of SNP strategists seem a lot more trivial than setting up a new state – like making a success of the existing one.
Most of them care deeply about improving schools and the NHS, or adequate care for their elderly relatives, or even getting a GP or dentist’s appointment.
But they’re effectively homeless in electoral terms, as our politics have been bent out of shape over the last 14 years – with every issue viewed through a constitutional lens.
In this endless trench warfare, it’s the only thing that matters – you may like the idea of more recycling and cleaner fuel, but your Green vote will be hijacked for the independence cause.
Polling by Mr Brown’s think-tank, Our Scottish Future, found Scotland is divided into three camps, not two – it’s just that two of those camps get the most attention.
There are the ‘ideologically committed nationalists’, at just above 30 per cent of the electorate, the ‘out-and-out Unionists’, who also number 30 per cent, but also the 40 per cent in the middle.
While the SNP won 48 per cent of the vote on Thursday, 73 per cent of Scots say they are in favour of ‘better co-operation between Scotland and the rest of the UK’, and according to Mr Brown the ‘living symbol of this British connection, illustrated by the vaccination, is for Scots, the NHS’.
He’s right to conclude that ‘by trying to force Scots to choose between Scotland and Britain, the pair [nationalists and Unionists] are colluding with the other to turn the complex 3D reality of Scotland into a binary 2D contest’.
Middle Scotland ‘shares some of the characteristics of wholly committed nationalists – not only do they feel more Scottish than British but they prefer the Scottish parliament over a UK parliament and the Scottish First Minister to the UK Prime Minister’.
They vote for the SNP believing it will stand up for Scotland, but ‘they don’t want to make the choice between being Scottish and British’ – and they haven’t given up on a British dimension in their lives.
The former Prime Minister’s solution is to campaign for a ‘positive progressive and patriotic case for Scotland in Britain’ – a move that may force the Scottish Tories to break out of the mould of a resistance movement (a task it has performed well), and offer something new.
It’s clear there’s a large constituency out there who don’t much have time for ideological extremes.
There are a lot of us who’d like to hear the argument for a thriving low-tax economy which incentivises productivity – with the proceeds used for good schools and hospitals, but it never seems to materialise.
Celebrations: but where does Sturgeon go from here?
Emerging from Covid, we need that debate to start urgently, yet we’re stuck in the Yes/No quagmire, steeped in the minutiae of when a referendum should be held, how it would be run, or how it can be stopped.
Newly-elected SNP MSP Angus Robertson said Scotland should have the powers of a ‘normal country’ – but is there anything ‘normal’ about the toxic polarisation of Scottish politics?
A closer examination of the election results backs up Mr Brown’s analysis of a far more complicated picture than the one the SNP presents.
The SNP and Greens have a majority of seats based on a minority of the votes – the Nationalists won 47.7 per cent of the constituency vote and the Greens took 1.3 per cent, or 49 per cent combined.
The Tories, the Lib Dems, and Labour, on the other hand, took 50.4 per cent, so Nicola Sturgeon, when she is speaking for the ‘people of Scotland’, as she frequently does, is really speaking for 47.7 per cent of them at most.
Meanwhile, the Greens are part of the much-vaunted ‘pro-independence majority’, even though more than half of their own voters don’t want independence.
And they won eight seats with a constituency vote share of only about one per cent, while the Lib Dems, on 6.9 per cent, ended up with only four seats.
All of which makes you wonder how representative this parliament really is – it’s really a funhouse mirror reflection of Scotland, with limited relation to the nuanced reality.
We’re told by the SNP that it has a mandate for another referendum owing to the SNP/Green votes, but how many of those who voted for either party actually back a second poll on independence?
After all, only one in eight Scots believe independence is an issue the new Scottish Government should be prioritising, and just 37 per cent think a referendum should be held before the end of 2023.
When asked how they would vote in such a referendum, 58 per cent said that they would vote to ‘remain part of the United Kingdom’.
We’re fed up of extreme positions – look at the failure of Alex Salmond’s Alba Party, which unashamedly courted the independence diehards, and bombed at the polls.
Perhaps most of all we’re sick of governments constantly coming back to us to ask questions about the constitution – after 2014, and Brexit, and an election roughly every five minutes, we’ve had our fill.
It’s not difficult – our political masters need to get out of our hair and get on with the job we pay them to do, coming up with practical solutions to problems we all face (and then implementing them properly).
The pandemic showed how the UK can pull together, saving lives and preventing mass unemployment – and how crises can lead to innovative thinking, with red tape discarded in favour of coming up with good ideas and making them work.
Ultimately, that’s what government should be about, and the risk for the SNP is that it has to pursue the path of another referendum, to placate its grassroots, despite knowing most people don’t see it as a priority.
Nor does it yet have any convincing answers to all of the unresolved questions about the currency and the Border in an independent Scotland – or at least hasn’t shared them with the rest of us.
Middle Scotland is horrified by the prospect of courtroom showdowns with the UK Government over the constitution, or wildcat polls, but this is the nightmare that might well lie ahead in the next few years.
They are the unheard Scots who despair of the Groundhog Day cycle of gripe and grievance that has dominated our politics for so long – and threatens to paralyse our parliament for another five years.
*This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on May 11, 2021.