Brian Wilson: Tactical vote will gift Tories win

People who vote for any other party than their preferred choice will be disappointed. Picture: Robert Perry
People who vote for any other party than their preferred choice will be disappointed. Picture: Robert Perry
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SILLY claims from the Nationalists that they will aid a Labour government – they won’t – must be challenged, says Brian Wilson.

In the coming weeks, we will hear a lot about tactical voting, all of it pretty cynical and adding up to the same self-interested message – “we don’t care how we inveigle you; just vote for us”.

The only consequence of [SNP] gains can be the return of another Tory government

I have always found advocacy of tactical voting just a little disrespectful, from whatever the source. The vote is a precious, hard-won and deeply personal commodity. People are well aware of the options at their disposal in utilising it.

Some will decide it is more important to vote against something they really dislike than for their own first preference. That is an entirely personal decision to be exercised in the privacy of the polling station. But beware the motives of those who seek to orchestrate it, and the unintended consequences which result.

Scotland has had a long time to learn about tactical voting and nobody is ignorant of that option. It manifested itself most strongly in the efforts to “make Scotland a Tory-free zone”; the assumption being that a commonality of interest existed among everyone who did not vote Tory. It did not.

Personally, I preferred to fight on issues and beliefs rather than a false assumption of shared values directed against a common enemy. The Scotland I have lived in all my life is certainly not a “Tory-free zone” and creating one in political terms is a distortion rather than a reflection.

What really jars is when politicians attempt to persuade others that support for a party or candidate is “a wasted vote” in any particular constituency. The implication of this is that the only votes of value are those which can back a winner or help ensure a loser.

Long ago, I stood as Labour candidate in constituencies where I clearly would not be elected and have not forgotten the arguments to counter the “wasted vote” taunt. Foremost among them is the democratic principle that voting for the nearest approximation to what you believe in can never be a wasted vote.

Anyway, the beneficiary of tactical voting can be at least as bad as the victim. In 1974, a lot of SNP support in rural areas came from Labour folk who saw a tactical way of defeating the Tories in their feudal fiefdoms.

A few years later, the Nationalists they lent their votes to ended up in the Tory lobby bringing down a Labour government. The tactical voters quickly realised they would have been as well casting principled votes to start with, instead of opting for lesser evils.

Another argument against tactical voting is that it greatly inhibits the possibility of building strength for the future. No political party in its right mind should encourage its voters to support someone else for short-term reasons when the longer-term consequence will be to confirm its own marginalisation.

There are extreme cases where voters across the spectrum come to a collective decision to reject a candidate or doctrine. For example, I doubt if there is a civic plurality in Paisley willing to be represented by an individual who “hates f***ing Celtic supporters”. But the proof, or otherwise, will lie in 40,000 or so individual assessments – not an organised movement.

The problem for Labour in particular is that many of the minority who voted for independence in the referendum last September see the general election as a continuation of that discussion by other means. The last thing Labour, or anyone other than the Nationalists, needs at this stage is to encourage any tactic which reinforces that delineation.

Indeed, one reason to be wary of tactical voting in the general election is that it would take us a step closer to the stage at which the only division that matters in Scottish politics involves the constitution rather than the social and economic platforms which parties represent. At that point, issue-based Scottish politics really would be a thing of the past.

The Nationalists have made an audacious effort to spin the yarn that they would, in some vague way, underpin a Labour government in return for it being terrifically radical on all sorts of things. This is a novel form of tactical voting advice – defeat Labour in dozens of seats in order to help secure a Labour government. It is complete and utter bunkum although there seems to be a market for it.

Labour’s unremitting message must be that the largest party will form the government, just as it always has done, and the only consequence of Nationalist gains in Scotland can be to facilitate the return of another Tory government. If that is understood and voters want it, then that’s up to them. But they should not be duped by a delusion.

If anyone doubts the “biggest party” outcome, they only need look back to 2007 when the Nationalists had one more seat than Labour at Holyrood, did a deal with the Tories and have been embedded ever since. Labour never got the chance to do deals with anyone, any more than they would if they came second by a single seat in the forthcoming general election. To the victor, the spoils.

The SNP leadership understands this perfectly well and I have no doubt the outcome they want is the return of a Tory government, the unpopularity of which they can then seek to exploit. Many of their followers subscribe to exactly that strategy. But there is a crucial 10 to 15 per cent who genuinely believe the “defeat Labour to get a Labour government” drivel.

Quite reasonably, the Tories are delighted to talk this up as a prospect, particularly in the rest of the UK. So we have both Nationalists and Tories hypothesising daily about the intricacies of something which will never happen. And they do so because they are well aware that both of them will be the beneficiaries of it being taken seriously.

Tactical voting is a snare and a delusion. If electors want a Labour government, they should vote Labour. If they want a Tory government, they should vote Tory. Only if they genuinely do not care one way or another, and regard that choice as a secondary issue, should they vote SNP.

It really is that simple.

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