WHAT will we be voting for at the general election on 7 May? It may sound like a daft question, but for some Scottish voters it is the source of much soul-searching. Most Scots will vote according to their chosen party political affiliation – some long-term, some temporary. But for an increasing number the choice of where to put their X on the ballot paper is dictated by other considerations. In particular, many Scots are seeing the general election as a re-run of the independence referendum of 18 September last year. And this is producing some new and unusual alliances.
Tactical voting is no stranger to Scottish politics, but in the past it has primarily been couched as an anti-Tory strategy. When Scotland was still governed by direct rule from Westminster, one way that non-Tory Scots expressed their displeasure at the democratic deficit was to try to engineer the removal of Tory MPs through tactical voting. This strategy was spectacularly successful in the 1997 general election, when all of Scotland’s Conservative MPs lost their seats.
In the immediate aftermath of last year’s independence referendum, there were other efforts to make the choice of party secondary to another, supposedly higher cause. There were hopes in some pro-independence quarters of a ‘Yes Alliance’ in the UK general election. The idea was that the three parties that backed a Yes vote – the SNP, the Scottish Socialists and the Scottish Greens – would agree a pact under which only one would stand in each Scottish constituency, thus maximising the chances of independence-supporting MPs being sent south to the green benches. Not only this, Yes campaigners of no party political allegiance would be invited to stand for this alliance in winnable seats.
This was hopelessly wishful thinking – why on earth would the SNP want to hand over a winnable seat to the Scottish Socialist Party, and why on earth would voters meekly fall in behind such a stitch-up? And sure enough the SNP responded to these calls by saying that of course people from the Yes campaign could stand for election in winnable SNP areas – as long as they joined the SNP and committed themselves to taking the SNP whip.
There has been little sign of comparable moves from the Unionist side – until now. As we report today, there are those of a pro-UK view who are just an enthusiastic about perpetuating the referendum division as some on the pro-independence side. These “BritNats”, as they will no doubt be characterised by the SNP, want Scots who believe in the UK to put aside their party allegiances and instead vote for whoever is most likely to defeat the SNP candidate.
Even before its launch this grouping is being disowned by the pro-Union parties, and no wonder. Proposing, for example, that Labour voters back Tory candidates to beat the SNP is a gift to the Nationalists. The SNP never tires of pointing out that Labour worked with the Tories in the Better Together movement last year, and this development lets them suggest the alliance is still strong.
The reality is that while many Yes voters seem stuck in referendum mode, most people who voted No last September have since moved on and want to see politics as a battle of policy ideas on the economy, on health and on education. They certainly do not want to see the general election in Scotland turned into a proxy referendum on independence.
Attempts by pro-UK tactical voters to damage the SNP on 7 May are naive in the extreme. Not only does it overestimate the primacy of the constitution in the minds of those who voted No, it underestimates the propaganda potential for the SNP.
A bad idea all round.
Art school’s rise from the ashes
THE passage of time does little to lessen the shock of the devastating fire that gutted the heart of Glasgow School of Art last May.
This is a building that forms part of Scotland’s sense of itself. It is an integral part of our cultural identity. Public dismay would not have been greater if it was the heart of Edinburgh Castle that had succumbed to the flames.
Of course, much of the art school escaped the fire, but – cruelly – it was the best loved parts that were among those worst affected. This was particularly true of the library, a jewel of form and decoration, with its masterful interplay of light and shadow and grace notes of colour. If any single room summed up the design philosophy of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, this was it.
In the immediate aftermath of the fire, that same wonderful library seemed to be little more than a heap of slowly cooling ashes.
And yet, as Susan Mansfield’s report today shows, within those ashes the men and women charged with restoring the art school to its former glory have been determined to find precious scraps of its previous existence.
Remarkably, whole books have been found almost intact in the debris, and some damaged volumes can now be repaired.
But these are rare exceptions, and there is a poignancy to what can constitute a successful find in what has become an archaeological process. A drawer from a chest that no longer exists. Keys that no longer open any locks. A fragment of coloured glass. A single chair leg.
They may seem like pitifully small remains of what was once such a glorious room. But they may yet play a crucial role in the process of bringing the art school back to an approximation of its former glory. These fragments will act like skin grafts, ensuring the rebuilt parts of the art school have within them the DNA of the old.
Naturally there is an anxiousness about what a renovated Glasgow School of Art will be like. Can a rebuild recreate the magic of the original, with its patina of age and use over the past century?
This, ultimately, is what the archaeological work on the site aims to achieve, with the help of new insights and a deeper understanding of what made – or perhaps makes – Glasgow School of Art such a treasure.