The SNP needs to make sure it protects public services as the UK prepares for the considerable economic damage caused by Brexit, writes Kenny MacAskill.
The election’s over, the ballots counted and the dust has settled. For the public, it’s a relief to get on with preparations for Xmas without their TV or door being assailed by politics or politicians. They can rest assured that there’s no election for a while yet and get back to normal living.
Despite protestations, it’s also hard to see indyref2 coming anytime soon. It’ll come, that’s for sure, whatever intransigent line is taken by irredentist Tories. Trying to thwart the democratic will of the Scottish people, especially when compounded by the social and economic policies of Boris Johnson’s Government make that inevitable. He’ll have as much success as King Canute in stopping it – and show as much loyalty to the remaining Scottish Tories as he did to Ulster’s unionists.
However, that’s for a later date. In the interim with no elections for a while, it’s the past one that still dominates. Celebrations and commiserations may have concluded but the analysis and even recriminations are just beginning. It’s a new stage in the electoral cycle for political parties but one that can be fraught and even dangerous.
Defeat can see parties spiral into internal conflict and I’ve seen that in the SNP, whether in 1979 or 2003. Labour in particular appear vulnerable whereas the Liberal Democrats simply look lost. Both Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell seemed spiritually as well as physically deflated when I saw them in Westminster. With both stepping down after what has to be viewed as a pretty uninspiring and rather incoherent campaign, danger beckons for the party.
After the debacle of Thatcher’s first election in 1979, when the SNP were trounced and Labour resurgent, the roles are reversed. This time the Scots put their faith in and crosses against SNP names as the bulwark to England voting Tory. It’s Labour that’s traumatised and, on both sides of the Border, they’re licking their wounds and reviewing their position.
South of it, they seem set on hunkering down and blaming everyone but themselves. That’s hardly surprising as they did the same in many ways after 1983. But this time with the membership far more radical and the unions much less powerful, it’s more likely to be more of the same that comes out of the reflection, rather than a change in positioning.
To be fair, the policy platform was fine. It was never a mirror image of Venezuela, whatever the Tories tried to suggest. It was moderate in comparison to Clement Atlee’s and some of the proposals have long since been both introduced and welcomed in Scotland. The real issue was credibility and votability if there is such a word.
The policy platform was rejected by the electorate not because they wouldn’t have welcomed much of it but because they didn’t believe it could be delivered. Some of that may have been due to relentless negative campaigning by the Tories but you have to say it’s up to Labour to sell the message or even moderate what was on offer. There was almost an air of desperation as pledge upon pledge was made and the electorate grew increasingly more sceptical. Corbyn himself had peaked. In 2017, he was fresh and vigorous. This time around he just looked tired and tarnished.
But the electoral analysis being made by many leading Labour figures in England mirrors that of the SNP in 1979. Keep the faith, more of the old-time religion and just sing it lustily and louder than last time. But ‘independence an nothing less’ didn’t work as a policy platform for the SNP back in the 1980s and simply shouting socialism louder wont work for Labour now. But it seems to be where they’re heading and, as a result, England will be without a credible opposition for years.
In Scotland though, it’s the constitution that dominates even the internal Labour debate. The position being articulated by some defeated MPs and leading activists is to be welcomed but it does seem too little, too late. The damage is done and it looks as if it’ll be a long and damaging debate before a conclusion is reached. It may be a pyrrhic victory for whoever wins the argument, as it will be with the UK party leadership. Scottish Labour’s stance on indyref2 is a debate that has to take place and should be welcomed by the SNP. The best position the SNP and independence supporters can take though is to stay out of it.
But there are also challenges for the victors. The Tories have a majority but Get Brexit Done remains vacuous and the economic damage considerable. For the SNP, calling for indyref2 is fine but it’s protecting public services that’ll be the issue for the voter. They’re now the issues.
Kenny MacAskill is MP for East Lothian