Welcome to the Ulsterisation of Scottish politics…

The following is written by Aidan Kerr.

On Hogmanay night, in the dying hours of 2014, I published on my blog the following article entitled ‘The Ulsterisation of Scottish Politics’. As the SNP tsunami approached I could see the politics of this wee country altering.

It was to be drawn across constitutional lines in a similar fashion to another wee country to our west.

Today, ulsterisation deepens. As we walk towards May’s Scottish Parliament elections we have the Scottish Conservatives styling themselves in an almost DUP-esque fashion. They portray themselves as the party of Union and for the Union.

They aim to defend the unionist majority against the SNP and Scottish Labour (who they assert cannot be trusted to defend the union, similar to DUP finger pointing of the UUP in days of old).  

Indeed one of their candidates, Oliver Mundell, has had his election newspaper headlined, ‘TIME TO BUILD A UNIONIST ALLIANCE’.

He is publicly attempting to win over Labour and Liberal voters to him based on his party’s constitutional position. This could be mistaken for the election time tactics in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, not Dumfriesshire.

Scottish politics is now divided between Nationalists and Unionists. Sound familiar?


Comparisons to Northern Ireland always make some Scots uncomfortable.

Whether it’s the rampant sectarianism, its murderous past or the area’s harsh accent it seems Scots don’t like being compared to our close neighbours.

Yet we share not only the same passport and an intertwined history, but now our voting patterns also.  For many voters in Scotland the essential dividing line in their party political support is centred on its constitutional position: are they for or against independence.

This is the Ulsterisation of Scottish politics, a phenomenon which seems it could be here for a while.  As long as people care about independence, or maintaining the Union, first and foremost then the constitution will play a large role in deciding whose box they cross at elections.

Elections in Northern Ireland are mini-referendums with political party’s sole existence either to maintain the status-quo or to end the Union’s reach on any part of the island of Ireland.

Very few supporters of remaining part of the United Kingdom would vote Sinn Fein or SDLP at any election, indeed few Nationalists would vote for any Unionist candidate.

In Northern Ireland it is not “the economy stupid” which fuels electoral support but “the union stupid” which matters most.  This is what will grip Scotland’s electorate in the coming May 2015 General Election in Scotland too.

The latest ICM poll of Scottish voting intentions had the pro-independence combined popular vote share at 47% and Unionist combined popular vote share at 53%.  With margin of errors included, pretty much a mirror image of the referendum result.

They are many, many reasons for the decline of Labour in Scotland.  For any Labourites who wish to halt the decline it would be important to remember that the descent into second place in opinion polls did not begin on after the 18th of September 2014.  

Indeed, between the 1999 and 2011 Scottish Parliament elections Labour have lost 277,931 votes. The post-referendum decline of Labour’s fortunes centres on those famed ‘traditional Labour voters’ who voted ‘yes’.

Independence is what their politics revolves around now.  They haven’t forgotten about the economy or the NHS, they simply see independence as the answer to any ills that afflict the pair.

New Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy will in 2015 attempt to move the battleground in Scotland away from the constitution and back on traditional Labour pursuits, like saying nasty things about the Tories.  

I don’t think that will cut the mustard anymore.  The constitution is central to people now, be that good or bad.

If you care about the Union then it seems illogical, completely illogical, to vote for the SNP even if you support their social policies if there is even a sniff of a second referendum.

Perhaps we will even see tactical voting in constituencies to ensure Unionist candidates win and the vote is not split three or four ways.  

Moreover, even one day we could see electoral pacts at constituency levels like in marginal seats like Fermanagh and South Tyrone, where at the 2010 election, a joint Unionist candidate was selected between the DUP and the UUP.

We are a little too early for that, but we are on the trajectory.  Former Labour Lord Provost of Glasgow, Michael Kelly voiced his support that Labour voters should vote Liberal Democrat in the Gordon constituency which Alex Salmond is standing in at May’s election.

Scotland may not have the harrowing and blood-soaked recent history of Northern Ireland, but it will now have its voting patterns.  Welcome to Ulsterisation.

  • whatif1984true

    I suggest an annual award which can be presented to the politician who has most faithfully shepherded his flock up and down the ‘hills’. The “Duke of York Award for leadership”.

  • murdockp

    The advantages of membership of “The Union” have been replaced with EU membership which offers much more to the Scots. The Union is just time expired as Europe is now the glue that holds us together in terms of rules for law, order and international trade.

    My personal view is that London has raced so far ahead of the rest of the UK on the world stage with its own economy and position as the global city, the rest of the UK has been left behind / neglected. Throw in a ‘Brexit’ debate and watch the independent vote rise in Scotland.

    It is illogical why Unionists would want to remain part of a Union which wants to jettison NI at the earliest opportunity. Common sense says we have to either team up with ROI or go it alone to secure our future, but I cannot see how the Union can deliver economically for anyone here, particularly when very few in England and Wales thinks NI is even a good idea and thinks we would be better off being part of ROI.

    I reckon a ‘Brexit” will lead to mass unrest here in NI as we watch the border being reinstated and customs posts and checkpoints constructed.

    I personally feel a brexit will deliver a United Ireland. The DUP Farmers will literally be thrown off the economic cliff by such a result when their subsidies are withdrawn and a United Ireland is a far less daunting prospect than remaining part of any union when you loose you livelihood and wealth.

    I also think a brexit will deliver Scottish independence too and they will retain the UK’s EU Membership. Maybe NI will merge in union with Scotland?

    In conclusion I think the Brexit / Europe will set our destiny. We are in for a rollercoster of emotions in 2016.

  • Scots Anorak

    A few points:

    First, Scotland is not Northern Ireland, in that, while voters have various ethnicities (Lowland, Highland, Northern Isles, Irish Catholic, etc.), they are generally speaking united by a shared nationality (Scots), regardless of their views on the constitutional future. There is therefore much more cohesion (seen in the peaceful referendum campaign, despite its not being portrayed as such in the Unionist media).

    Secondly, the Conservatives and Labour are Westminster-based parties vying to form alternative Governments, and they hate each other with a vengeance, in some cases to the extent of class war. I cannot therefore imagine that direct pacts between the two would get the OK from London (although there could conceivably be other sorts of pacts, say involving a future “SDP” or the remaining Liberal-Democrats). Not only that, but Labour in Scotland is still suffering the after-effects of its alliance of convenience with the Tories during the referendum campaign; a formal electoral pact would be suicidal.

    Thirdly,to say that Unionist-minded voters shun the SNP entirely is not borne out by opinion poll data, which show that a minority of SNP voters do not favour independence. It is also the case that: a) by far the most popular constitutional option for Scotland, home rule, is not on the table; and b) in that context and others, most Scots simply see the SNP as the party that is best at standing up for Scotland.

    Fourthly, this may be wishful thinking on my part, but I seriously doubt whether the Union will last long enough for “Ulsterisation” to take hold. It may have only a few months left.

  • Greenflag 2

    The other ‘Ulsterisation ‘ that Mick omits is the vote demographics . Among Scots of all genders the over 65 voters were the strongest age cohort for the status quo . Among those under 65 there was a strong majority for independence among males 18-65. So just like NI over the next decade changing demographics as the elderly pass on to where votes don’t count -the pro independence numbers will increase and just like NI they don’t have to increase very much more before the tipping point is reached .

    That said I still believe the UK will remain in the EU as I imagine that even the most nationalist of English voters have probably grasped that an exit from the EU would prompt and give rise to a political demise of the current UK and where that would lead to is for the crystal ballers to conjecture as far as NI is concerned .

    ‘First, Scotland is not Northern Ireland,’

    Thank Christ for that piece of good news . One is more than enough 😉 I mean from a political perspective .

  • barnshee

    The rejection of a UI is political not economic

  • Kevin Breslin

    Are we going to see the European Union referendum be tallied as the Ulsterfication of British politics?

  • Croiteir

    Personally I think that the comparison should be to pre 1916 Ireland

  • terence patrick hewett

    The UK was past it’s sell by date in Gladstones time, certainly by 1922: two world wars got in the way of reform. Whichever way the referendum goes, constitutional reform is on the cards: hopefully as far as I am concerned a federal solution of four independent nations outside the EU.

  • Keith Muir, Edinburgh

    Fifthly there isn’t a wee country next door its a province with far far too many sheep.

  • Greenflag 2

    I’ve just been watching a History of Wales (DVD ) and while I know /knew the main themes of that history -what struck me most was the period 1880 through 1914 which combined both industrial revolution , growing prosperity along with growing political awareness and demands for democratic reform among the South Wales miners and others . Wales was on the verge of violent revolution in 1913 . WWI changed all that but in the ensuing post WWI period -economic recession once more created the conditions for unrest and rebellion .. The ‘forced ‘ economic emigration of 250,000 Welsh to wherever they could go -mostly England helped put the lid on a volatile situation.

    Sometimes I think WW1 saved the UK from a decade of political unrest which would have had ramifications not just for Ireland but also the rest of the then Kingdom .

    While I can agree that the EU is in need of reform -I can’t see much of an economic future for your four nations federalism outside it . Certainly not Ireland anyway and probably not anywhere in Britain outside the London Financial nexus in England’s south east .

  • Chingford Man

    With the price of a barrel of oil rapidly converging with that of a Costa Flat White, I suspect you are correct about the wishful thinking.

  • Reader

    The SNP aren’t a Home Rule party; have won an election but lost an independence referendum; and have accepted the result for the moment, with no inclination towards an armed insurrection.
    Not a lot like 1916, really.

  • Croiteir

    O but it is – the Home rule option was the best option available – or so the strategists believed, and that in essence is what Scotland has accepted, for the time being.