Pat Kane: SNP Westminster alliance could reform UK

The enthusiasm of Yes supporters sparked hopes of a Yes Alliance in Westminster. Picture: Robert PerryThe enthusiasm of Yes supporters sparked hopes of a Yes Alliance in Westminster. Picture: Robert Perry
The enthusiasm of Yes supporters sparked hopes of a Yes Alliance in Westminster. Picture: Robert Perry
An alliance of SNP, Plaid Cymru and Greens could help Miliband rule and bring about ‘whole-island reform’, writes Pat Kane

I would be the last person in the world to call myself a unionist. However, the Scottish people voted, by a small majority but on a huge turnout, to stay within the Union.

So no matter how rusty and clunking my mental cogs are on this topic, like millions of other Yessers I’ll have to get them moving, rather sharpish. There’s a brutal electoral contest looming.

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First off, the disappointments (as if we haven’t had enough): it seems as if a Yes Alliance ticket cannot be assembled for the May general elections. At the beginning of the week, the Scottish Greens and the SSP both blamed the SNP for not being open enough to the possibility.

This occasions a weary sigh, at worst – certainly no anger towards any part of this failure. The explosion in SNP membership is objectively remarkable – but I’m sure Alex Salmond’s immediate resignation, and Nicola Sturgeon’s near-immediate coronation, helped greatly.

For of that 15 per cent who added themselves to the 30 per cent SNP core vote in the indyref, many would be voting Yes in spite of Alex (that’s his bruiser legacy). To them, the new Era of Nicola would seem like the next expression of the positive, inclusive, modern pluralism that typified the whole Yes campaign – and they rushed towards it, turning trauma into progress.

I know this move from personal experience. Many colleagues who were Yes campaign lefties (and far-lefties) – like the comedy impresario Tommy Sheppard, the actor Tam Dean Burn and the radical lawyer Aamer Anwar – have publicly committed themselves to SNP party membership (and in Tommy’s case, candidacy). Family and friends tell the same story.

So with this cast of Yes-inspired characters (and I’m sure many more like them) adding themselves to the Nationalist member lists, maybe the Yes Alliance did manifest itself but it’s now bubbling and machinating away within the SNP itself – which we should perhaps now call the “YesNP”.

Having captured the post-referendum zeitgeist so completely, how much character and vision would it have taken for the SNP leadership to offer a lot more than their odd, you-don’t-have-to-join-but-you’ll-take-our-whip scheme for non-SNP candidates? Obviously, more than they possessed.

I joined the Scottish Greens after the election. But I can’t say I’ll be delighted to see them wave their tiny fists at an SNP juggernaut, across a sprinkling of Westminster seats, next May. First past the post is a cruel set-up, encouraging party tribalism. The sooner we replace it, wherever it exists, with a properly proportional system, the happier life on these islands will be.

Which brings me to the next clanking of unused Unionist mental machinery. We know that we have to send a “Scots Bloc” (similar to the Bloc Quebecois) to Westminster next year, directly displacing many Labour MPs (and letting no more Tories in, if we can manage it).

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We need this, in order to ensure that Scots wrest from the Palace of Hogwarts anywhere near the powers of self-government that a long and consistent history of polling suggests they want, which even the dogs in the street know is way beyond the Smith Commission’s miserable tinkerings.

We also know that some of the home-rule majority in Scotland will have to lend their Westminster vote to the SNP, to give that Scots Bloc the numerical heft they need in order to be serious players in the game of Thames.

Let’s presume – settling down with our popcorn – that the SNP, with some Greens and Plaid Cymru, can help Ed Miliband’s Labour effectively govern after the election. What intrigues me most is the extent to which these parties, but particularly the SNP, can imagine themselves as “whole-island reformers” or not. Nicola has played it brilliantly, setting out the terms of an SNP deal with UK Labour as being the removal of Trident, and an end to austerity budgets. I also saw Salmond on the cover of Europe’s Newsweek saying: “England will be safe in our hands.” I’m sure they’re pleased…

In fact, I can report from my part-time London life that a Scots/Celtic/Eco-Bloc, interested in island reform, sends vapours of hope and joy among many of the centre-left here.

The grim vista offered by Polly Toynbee the other day – Labour might be utterly appalling, but they’re at least not as utterly appalling as the alternative, so vote Labour – is as disheartening to idealists here, as it is ludicrous to the home-rule Scottish voter.

This really is the last chance for the Union, if it was ever to transmute into the kind of well-fashioned federalism/confederalism that even former colonies can manage easily.

I’m sure the Salmond ego would love to claim the Gladstonian mantle. I’m also sure that Nicola has the imagination to think across the archipelago. The SNP has had a geopolitical strategy for the north of England, supporting its counter-balance against London, for years now. And what if an outcome of a Scots Bloc was a UK-wide proportional voting system?

But the ball really is in the Miliband court. If they are genuine, long-term reformers, will they seize the chance, and let the margins transform the centre? Or will Westminster metropolitan arrogance stultify their response at the last? For those of us who were supposed to be defeated, it’s a late embarrassment of options.

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Or will a rougher beast slouch from the shadows on election day in May? I genuinely don’t wish for a Tory-Ukip majority. It would be, to misquote my elders, sheer malevolence on stilts.

However, the strategy changes completely under that scenario. The Scots political classes, which would themselves be in upheaval, given Labour’s expected displacement – really would be orchestrating a dash for the exits, by any plebiscitary means necessary.

But if we get our message right beforehand, I think we could appeal to our formerly No-voting countrywomen and men with palms outstretched. We did try to let the Union save itself. Now we have to save ourselves, from a Euro exit and worse – much worse.

The old curse holds: May you live in interesting times.

l Pat Kane is a writer, musician and on the board of Common Weal