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.