Why having lost #IndyRef the SNP are now winning Britain’s ‘long peace…’

For Scots unionists, the Independence Referendum must have been the nearest thing they’ve experienced to war. The idea that exercised many was the potential sudden and traumatic loss of nation.

Yet having lost that argument (with a business case that would have fallen apart on first contact with the world outside the United Kingdom), the SNP are merrily winning almost every other argument going.

You’d half be forgiven for thinking that losing was in the game-plan, since the follow through has been so impressive. To make a slightly inappropriate comparison, like Margaret Thatcher, the SNP has cut through the crap by talking in terms that people understand.

And like Thatcher, they have left their opponents in Westminster somewhat quaking in their boots, and emoting all manner of inappropriate signals of distress (this still funded Conservative party video is a good example of sending good money after bad).

The Labour Party which still does have Westminster representation for too long took Scotland for granted, and having designed Scots parliamentary elections to keep the SNP out, now finds itself labouring to stay out of the bottom of an electoral motte it thought would protect its incumbency.

The Tories have too few reliable Scots voices to project Scottish interests through its own party channels and consistently (and in many cases unintentionally) alienates the  whole Scots electorate (unionists and all).

In the Spectator, one of the few consistently reliable commentators on Scots affairs, nails one of the reasons the SNP is winning what I might call Britain’s ‘long peace’ (ref here):

the speech Sturgeon gave in London the Imperial Capital today was much more impressive than comparable speeches I’ve seen from Miliband lately. It helped that she had an argument. Helped too, that this argument was written in clear English. Unfashionably, her sentences even contained verbs.

And it was a clever speech too, not least because it was more modest than a comparable speech given by her predecessor would likely have been. Of course she defended the Scottish government’s record, highlighting its philosophical differences with the Westminster coalition. But there was a notable lack of sneering (and an equal absence of smugness).

The art of the possible. The SNP’s new realism is not really that new. Unlike Ireland’s insurgent independents and parties, they have a political capital which was hard won, firstly in local government, and latterly in the wholesale managment of Scottish affairs.

Unlike the fainting populism of Stormont, that’s real capital, and it represents the solid political earth which underlies and underwrites Nicola Sturgeon’s measured critique of the UK’s social policy.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • Barneyt

    What is worrying Westminster most? Change of landscape? Loss of the traditional big two? The coalition culture?

    I would expect Labour and the Liberals to be quaking more than the Tories due to obvious losses north of the border (affecting labour mostly) and the relegation of the Liberals to a lowly 4th. Tories in my view has the least to worry about (loss of a few seats to UKIP). Gone however, is the outright victor.

  • RolftheGanger

    Massie at The Spectator grew up in a British colonial environment with an idealised and romanticised version of the Union in his imagination. He is too intelligent to persist with the standard Home Counties jingoistic imperialism, but equally is having a hard job coming to terms with the realities that the Union simply does not deliver for Scotland.

    The nearest equivalent to Massie, but on the other end of the political spectrum is Kevin McKenna who made the journey from similarly idealistic and romanticised support for Labour, to now being an outright advocate of self government.

    I predict that Massie will be driven by relentless logic down the same road to conversion.

  • Brian Walker

    Nicola’s speech in London which l attended was indeed shrewd
    and won appropriate attention. The main aim was to woo potential Labour voters with an anti-austerity package of £180 billion over 4 years in the rest of GB as well as Scotland. This she knows is more than Labour would accept. But it may prove close enough for a compromise deal to support a minority Labour government.

    She’s going for win:win. If a less austere Labour first budget went down well, the SNP could share the credit. If not, the SNP is still cast as the agenda setter for more at the Holyrood election of 2016.

    But there is a risk in the strategy. If a 2015 Westminster deal with Labour was quite enough to satisfy a majority of Scots, where would the SNP find the momentum for another push for independence? There will be those in SNP ranks who will whisper warnings to take a long spoon for supping with the British devil, Redmond-style.

    But hey, anti- austerity politics are all the rage (see Greece, Spain – Ireland in the balance?) and may only be seen off by the caution of voters before snake oil sales- persons. Or not as the case may be.

    Nicola is lucky, as she has the cushion of that unwise pledge to apply the Barnett formula to Scotland at present levels which are still 10% higher than the English base equivalent. In one sense she’s right. Scottish devolved income tax will remain substantially tied to r UK levels – lucky for her, despite her complaints against taxation powers which will continue to be held by Westminster.

    Still true to form the SNP continue to urge change while benefiting from much that remains the same. Nobody in the SNP is likely to cry anytime soon – “Eureka. Let’s put up income tax!”

  • terence patrick hewett

    The SNP will have to achieve what they wish to achieve before the inevitable Fiscal Union is projected; since I rather think that few will wish to stick their head into that particular bear trap.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Their communication has been excellent and its cut-through shows what can be achieved by a fairly centrist political party. It shows there isn’t a Hobson’s choice between serious politics and populism, is is possible to get people invigorated about sensible change from the middle. Salmond and now Sturgeon have worked out how to talk about, at times, big changes to how the UK does things, without sounding swivel-eyed or flakey.

    This is what Labour should be doing.

    The other Labour issue is lacking enough senior figures with the gravitas of Salmond and Sturgeon. Yvette Cooper’s their best performer in terms of political communication a la Sturgeon, I think – we should see her more.

  • Old Mortality

    ‘Their communication has been excellent and its cut-through shows what can be achieved by a fairly centrist political party.’

    Hmm. I can’t make up my mind whether the SNP is cynically exploiting left-wing arguments in order to hasten independence or seeking independence as a means to the end of further collectivism in Scotland.
    My hunch is that it’s the latter although there is probably a minority among the leadership who would see themselves as centrist.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    You say ‘left-wing’ arguments and they are by English standards perhaps, but really they’re fairly centre-left. The SNP’s popularity is I think in part down to being close to where the left-right centre of gravity is in Scotland. I think they want both independence and a centre-left approach, the two aren’t in any kind of contradiction to each other.

    Where I would agree is that the SNP’s recent greater clarity around a more centre-left positioning may or may not hold in the future … might it be too wide a tent? Also, what kind of a fightback can Labour mount for that Scottish centre-ground? It looks at the moment as if we have two parties with very similar approaches to society and the economy but one of which has dynamism and freshness about it (for now).

    What role the SNP plays with Labour nationally after the election (supporting a minority Labour govt?) – and how it plays that role – will decide whether the SNP goes on to consolidate itself as the majority party in Scotland into the 2020 election, or whether Labour might be able to claw itself back into contention of that medium term. It seems it’s largely up to the SNP, if they can hold it together. There is every sign they will but I don’t know what internal tensions might threaten that. The external threat to them seems small.

  • Scott Bowie

    ‘Yet having lost that argument (with a business case that would have fallen apart on first contact with the world outside the United Kingdom), the SNP are merrily winning almost every other argument going.’

    more patronizing garbage that suggest scots are unable to run things without the benevolence of westminster. tripe of course, given what an utterly awful government westminster is compared to holyrood – one only needs to look at the budget management and the deficit to see it.

  • Scott Bowie

    why would we want a long term fiscal union with one of the most heavily indebted nations on the planet?

  • terence patrick hewett

    If the SNP achieves independence and joins the EU and the Euro it will be obliged to join the projected Eurozone Fiscal Union which will involve a total loss of sovereignty: Herr Junker is at this moment starting the preliminaries. See:

    Juncker revives eurozone integration proposals


  • Scott Bowie

    scotland is already in the eu.
    i doubt they’d want to throw out their oil and gas capital.
    the good thing about independence – and a big part of the reason it’s not going to go away – is that it’s up to the people of the nation to decide what they’re ‘obliged’ to do. currently we don’t have that right under westminster.

  • Leslie Graham

    Just outrageous is it not. Infuriating drivel.
    Every independent survey has concluded that an independent Scotland would be among the top ten richest nations in the world.
    Not to mention that Scottish nationals practicaly ran the entire British Empire in it’s day. I think we would cope somehow.
    And thats not even including the vast future potential wealth stored in her renewables and water resources.

  • Scott Bowie

    part of the narrative designed to keep us thinking we’re second best. nonsense of course, and scots are waking up to that fact.

  • chrisjones2

    …but true. It would have been the Darian Disaster all over again

  • chrisjones2

    If it doesn’t deliver for Scotland why did they vote to stay

  • Scott Bowie

    ah the old darien lie.
    here’s what actually happened –

  • PaddyMcLogan

    Exactly Scots ran the British Empire the same British Empire that persecuted Ireland. England and Scotland both have the blood of Ireland on their hands.