Bill Jamieson: Join the fastest growing political movement in Britain

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The party politics of today is a big turn-off, so why not join me in the None of the Above Alliance, writes Bill Jamieson.

Labour is still embroiled in leadership discontent and anti-semitism charges. Talk of a new centre-left party founders on memories of past failures. The SNP is struggling to emerge from the controversy that has engulfed its former leader and win traction for a lacklustre government programme.

Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May: with leaders like these it may be time to abstain, says Bill Jamieson (Picture: Niklas Halle'n/AFP/Getty Images)

Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May: with leaders like these it may be time to abstain, says Bill Jamieson (Picture: Niklas Halle'n/AFP/Getty Images)

Conservative party membership is in freefall; once more than 2.5 million in the early 1950s, it is now down to a paltry 124,000, one thousand fewer than the SNP – and support for the Prime Minister has melted.

Party politics today is a turn-off, made all the worse by the shambles and confusion over Brexit. The Prime Minister’s Chequers plan is struggling to hold support within the Cabinet, never mind the broader party membership, much of which is in open revolt.

Millions feel that the UK’s mainstream parties do not just hold little appeal but that their leaderships repel them. But should they be downhearted? Not a bit. For growing numbers are falling in step with the fastest growing movement of them all. And it is set for a spectacular showing in the next general election.

Come and join! It is open to all ages, all faiths, classes, nationalities and ethnic backgrounds. Welcome to The Stay Away Party, aka the I’m Not Voting League and None of The Above Alliance.

It may not register on the Westminster-fixated BBC and those discredited opinion polls – the ones that confidently predicted a Remain vote in the EU referendum and a solid Conservative victory in the last election, forecasts that were slavishly followed by a national broadcaster staffed by metropolitans aghast at the Leave vote. But the numbers of Stay-aways in the next election are set to be counted in millions.

You don’t have to look far to see how deeply the dissatisfaction has set in. Labour and SNP membership numbers may look healthy enough. But noisy Corbynistas do not signify a broadening tide of support across the country at large.

Equally, the SNP can boast impressive numbers. But outside the ranks of those passionately committed to a second referendum, there is little sign of a growing appetite among Scottish voters for a re-run of the bitter and devisive independence battle. Too many politicians who swore they would honour the outcome of the EU and Scottish independence referendums have since gone back on their word and now call for a re-run because the first ones displeased them. So much for respecting the wishes of voters.

Meanwhile, Nicola Sturgeon’s minority SNP administration struggles to rally support, faced with figures showing record dissatisfaction with key services for which her administration is responsible. The Scottish Household Survey for 2017 reported satisfaction with local health services, schools and public transport was at its lowest level since the SNP took office in 2007. Just 52 per cent of people were content with all three services, down from 57 per cent a decade ago and markedly down from a peak of 66 per cent in 2011.

Separate data showed waiting times for child mental health services hit a record low from April and June, with almost one-third of children in need of help waiting more than the 18-week target.

The Programme for Government was also branded a “hangover from last year” as new bills were outnumbered by key pieces of legislation left over from 2017-18.

As for the economy, there has been little discernible improvement as a result of devolution – but a huge increase in the cost and reach of government. Business rates have mushroomed and taxes for middle and higher earners have been raised, putting many at a disadvantage compared to their counterparts in the rest of the UK.

Indeed, when it comes to demands for a second referendum, why not add a second vote on devolution to the list? Did we really know what we were voting for? Were many not swayed by narrow nationalism and xenophobia? Were we not sold a false prospectus given that outcomes have fallen well behind expectation? And what of the costs of the parliament, its MSPs and quangos and ever more “free” facilities such as state guardians and personal hygiene products for women? Did we really vote for all that?

Elsewhere the collapse in support for the Conservatives is now widely evident. The party’s election gains in Scotland would be reversed if a snap vote was held on the Chequers deal on Brexit – and it hardly looks as if the “modernising” leadership of Ruth Davidson has held up support. Ayr, Gordon and Stirling would all be lost to the SNP, according to marketing research company IQR. Overall 73 per cent of voters were dissatisfied with the Government’s handling of Brexit negotiations and 45 per cent of voters believed Chequers was bad for their family compared to 19 per cent who thought the plan was good.

Said former Tory MSP Brian Monteith, now director of communications at Global Britain: “The clear message for any Conservative MP, whether in a Leave or Remain constituency, is ‘back Chequers and pay the price at the ballot box’. Chequers will not deliver Brexit, it will deliver Corbyn.”

Little wonder, given what is on offer, that many now find themselves faced with a choice they have no inclination to make. As matters now stand, it is between a Tory leader who has made such a hash of Brexit – “incompetent” in the scathing verdict of former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King this week – an SNP with a tired and uninspiring programme, and a Labour leader far removed from the views and concerns of Middle Britain.

That is why not voting now looks the most rational choice to make. Indeed, the only way this appalling choice can be changed is for sufficient numbers of people to indicate their intention to abstain.

Nothing would more challenge the legitimacy of such an undesirable and unrepresentative outcome. Radicals and traditionalists, Leavers and Remainers, young and old: we have nothing to lose by a revolt of “None of the Above”.