Andrew Wilson: Westminster must talk to SNP MPs

"The conduct of politicians must improve in the aftermath of the election". Picture: PA
"The conduct of politicians must improve in the aftermath of the election". Picture: PA
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WHATEVER the democratic choices made at the ballot box, most reasonable people want politicians to work tog­ether constructively for the public good.

They’d also rather like their democratic choices to be respected and legitimised, rather than ignored or lampooned. On the whole, in mature democracies, this is what tends to happen. When it doesn’t, pressure mounts on the constitutional framework itself.

‘The conduct of politicians must improve in the aftermath of the election’

The near-hysteria about the SNP should, we hope, subside once the die is cast on Thursday. Whatever the shape of Parliament, all politicians must work to represent all of the electorate and to engage in a mature and adult way to ensure the business of government can be done. As it happens, I doubt that the number of SNP MPs will be as good as the polls currently suggest, for two main reasons. First, incumbency means some long-serving MPs will be hard to unseat in a tight battle, whatever their party. Second, it is clear that a co-ordinated tactical voting eff­ort conjoining the Better Together team of Labour and the Tories with the Liberals is well underway. It seems likely that Labour’s Scottish leader, Jim Murphy, may be returned on the back of Tory voters, having lost much of his own support to the SNP. We’ll see where that takes us.

What is undoubtedly true is that there are likely to be considerably more SNP MPs than the six they got last time. There is even the chance they could become the third party and overtake the Liberal Democrats UK-wide. This makes the current positioning of the big parties deeply curious and illogical to me. They all say that the SNP can have no place in making Parliament and the government work because they believe in independence.

The SNP lost the referendum and another one is neither likely nor in the interests of independence supporters anytime in the foreseeable fut­ure. That is unless Britain votes to leave Europe and Scotland doesn’t, in which case some of my most aggressively unionist friends will swap sides in a heartbeat.

All three London parties were also prepared to liaise with SNP business managers to organise debates, votes and parliamentary business on a weekly basis throughout the entirety of the last Parliament, when a referendum was actually in the offing.

Ed Miliband even requested a number of meetings with his SNP opposite number and co-ordinated extremely closely over a co-sponsored motion on the crisis in Syria that changed UK government policy fundamentally. In Scotland, Labour and the SNP are in coalition in three local authorities. What just doesn’t make any sense to me, though, is the core argument from all three London parties that they can’t work with the SNP because of its constitutional goal. Surely if the SNP were even an implicit part of the decisions taken at Westminster it would make their wrongly alleged desire to wedge the country apart on issues far more difficult if not impossible.

The greatest risk to the unity of the British system will come from a message from the London parties that the votes of a large chunk of Scottish voters are somehow illegitimate or unworthy of influence. It suggests a two-tier system that would do more to damage the coherence of the UK than anything any SNP politician could ever say. In my humble estimation they just haven’t thought it through. Either that or their desperation is so great they will do anything – at all – to win ugly in the narrowest of battles for a tiny proportion of swing votes.

The 2015 general election will surely be seen as one of the most tawdry and divisive campaigns in memory and what an irony that it is the SNP that has positioned itself as the one party wanting to behave and co-operate constructively.

What is becoming very clear is that as the rest of the UK gets to know Nicola Sturgeon better they increasingly like what they see. None of the three establishment parties are carrying anything like the trust rating she enjoys.

They traduce her party for the narrowest of short-term reasons and in doing so diminish themselves far more than her and the very union they purport to hold sacrosanct. It is just not good enough.

What is always true is that the conduct of politicians, and leaders in particular, must dramatically improve in the aftermath of the election.

The country may not give any party a majority, so it will be incumbent on all minorities to find the best way to unify as many people as possible beh­ind the course we must all take next.

Most of us have grown tired of the invented outrage, lazy tribalism and the politics of division.

Good people can disagree on the party they support and the final destination they desire for their country. Come Friday it is time for bridges to replace trenches, in all directions.

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