Ewan Crawford: An argument more Fantasy Island than Dallas

Discounting voting patterns in favour of the results from opinion polls is suspending belief just too far, writes Ewan Crawford

Discounting voting patterns in favour of the results from opinion polls is suspending belief just too far, writes Ewan Crawford

For many Scots of my generation (the one familiar with the nation’s footballers qualifying for major tournaments) one of the popular culture highlights last week was the return of Dallas, the mother of all US television dramas.

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During the programme’s glory days nothing it seemed could stand in its way. Producers even managed to resurrect one of the most popular characters, Bobby Ewing, after he was unfortunately killed in a car crash by his sister-in-law.

Despite his absence for two series, Bobby’s apparently miraculous reappearance was explained by presenting the crash, and its aftermath, as nothing more than a bad dream experienced by his wife.

Even in the land of US soap operas this was seen as stretching the credulity of viewers a touch too far, but it is a tactic that seems to have found favour with some senior opponents of Scottish independence.

Just as Bobby had not really been killed, political views held in Scotland are basically the same as those in England.

Even the fact that the Conservatives once (in 1955) won more than 50 per cent of the vote is cited as evidence that we should not get too bothered about what is clearly nothing more than an illusion of difference.

In this argument the correct response to the 57 years of subsequent Scottish Tory decline (still continuing) is to pass it off as a Bobby Ewing-like dream or an aberration, or with the firm retort: so what?

Since the 1950s the Conservatives may indeed have fallen fairly steadily from a party that can command 50 or 40 per cent of votes cast, to 30 per cent , to 20 per cent and now the teens.

But hey, whether real or imagined, the divergence in voting patterns between Scotland and England is no big deal.

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The reasoning behind this line of thinking is an ingenious reworking of electoral democracy Scottish-style. It turns out that the voting thingy where people determine the government they would like is actually not that important. Instead, surveys are what matter.

In particular the fact that a mere 43 per cent of people questioned in Scotland in the latest social attitudes exercise think the government should redistribute income is seen as proof of our inner, latent right-wing individualism (the corresponding figure in England is 34 per cent, but no matter).

Interestingly, despite the relatively lukewarm response to government redistribution, a big majority across the UK (again higher in Scotland) believe there is too much income inequality.

These two findings clearly go some way to explaining the Labour leader, Ed Miliband’s concern with what he calls “predistribution”: the idea of tackling inequality without recourse to tax and benefits (though the latest OECD report on the Norwegian economy reveals political enthusiasm there for an active redistributive government policy even with relatively small pre-tax income inequality).

Here in Scotland, whatever the discussions about survey responses, election results are clear in the dominance they show of the centre-left. In last year’s Holyrood election the combined vote for the SNP and Labour was 77 per cent in the constituency part of the ballot. In the previous year’s Westminster contest the two parties gathered 62 per cent (and the Liberal Democrats polled 19 per cent at a time when, hard as it may seem now, many voters would have believed they were an anti-Tory party).

It may well be, of course, that voters secretly wanted George Osborne in charge of the Scottish economy and, either the pencil slipped on the ballot paper, or that an invisible hand pushed their intended cross away from Conservative. It could be that they weren’t really bothered who got in.

Alternatively we could just accept the reality that most people in Scotland don’t support the current Westminster administration.

Under the current constitutional arrangements there is of course little anyone can do about that: the cuts being imposed on the disabled, the catastrophic economic policy or the growing regional inequality.

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This is when things get difficult for Labour politicians. Only last week, during Prime Minister’s Questions, the Stirling Labour MP, Anne McGuire, claimed hundreds of thousands of disabled people would lose out as a result of benefit changes. The former Scottish Secretary, Jim Murphy, has even written about how he “really hates” much of what the Conservatives stand for.

Tellingly Mr Murphy’s comments demonstrated some nervousness as he sought to justify campaigning alongside the Tories during an anti-independence day of action.

As a supporter of independence, I don’t hate the Conservatives. I’m just not sure why we should be subjected to a government that commands the support of a comparatively small minority of people in Scotland.

But more and more, whoever is in power in London, the case against independence is that for the Labour leadership, the whole idea of Scotland in itself, outside the embrace of Westminster is, in the words of the writer, Tom Nairn, “unbearable”.

It seems that no matter how much damage Mr Cameron or Mr Clegg are said (by Labour) to be inflicting on Scotland we shouldn’t think we could do any better.

This, I suspect and hope, is where those Labour leaders are becoming disconnected from many of their supporters who surely want a better political system.

I believe Scotland could, in the words of Alex Salmond, become a progressive beacon for people elsewhere in the British Isles and further afield. Indeed I would love to see the SNP talk more often in those terms.

More than anything though, I wish we could stop talking about creating a better country and take on the powers we need to do something about it.