With Labour set to focus on England, Scotland risks being sidelined – Stewart McDonald

Much of Keir Starmer’s time as Prime Minister will be spent on trying to clean up the burnt-out wreckage left by years of Conservative government – and those problems are greatest south of the Border

After 14 long years, voters across the UK will soon finally be presented with the opportunity to remove the Conservatives from office. Unlike their fellow citizens across the UK, however, voters in Scotland have a choice beyond the revolving cycle of blue and red on Westminster’s ‘barber’s pole’ that defines political life to our south. The temptation to punish the Conservatives by voting for Labour – the party which fields the only viable alternative Prime Minister – will be strong. As they go to the polls, however, Scottish voters should ask themselves one thing: who can you trust to stand up for you and your community in Westminster?

The only person who can force Rishi Sunak to hand over the keys to Downing Street is Keir Starmer. I can imagine that, for some, this is motivation alone to vote Labour, to give the Conservatives the routing they deserve. The Tories have spent almost a decade and a half engaged in the wanton destruction of the economy and our public realm, locking the economy on a track which could only ever lead to stagnation and inequality while dismantling and degrading the institutions of the state. Worst of all perhaps, they have eroded citizens’ belief in the idea that politics could be a vehicle for making their lives better. They deserve nothing less than electoral oblivion.

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This election, however, offers far more than the potential to punish the Conservatives. We have not had an election like this for years – one which will be fought on policy and ideas more than anything else, and one which will set the political weather for years to come. The 2015 vote in which I was elected was itself an anomaly, bookended by two referendums in the years immediately before and after. However, these two referendums did more than provide new terrain for electoral campaigns. They fundamentally reshaped the ground upon which political battles are fought – and nowhere more so than in Scotland.

All roads lead to Westminster? The UK Government's centralising tendencies could cause trouble for Scotland (Picture: Scott Barbour/Getty Images)All roads lead to Westminster? The UK Government's centralising tendencies could cause trouble for Scotland (Picture: Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
All roads lead to Westminster? The UK Government's centralising tendencies could cause trouble for Scotland (Picture: Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
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Voters across Scotland are presented with a genuine choice beyond the stale binary of a corrupt Conservative party and an uninspiring Labour party. I won’t pretend the addition of a third party suddenly makes it an easy choice for voters to make, or that the candidates standing as would-be Scottish Labour MPs are not good people committed to public service.

But the blunt and uncomfortable reality of electoral politics in the UK is that MPs from outside of the southeast of England need to have more than a smile and good intentions, and a newly elected Scottish Labour MP will find themselves in a very sticky situation, trying to reconcile their own political ambitions and the need to ingratiate themselves with the leadership with their concurrent need to be a thorn in the central government’s side.

A strong and independent-minded cohort of Scottish MPs is needed to act as a check against a powerful and centralising executive in Westminster which will, with a similar smile and the best of intentions, gladly and easily overlook the interests of their communities in favour of richer and more populous regions. This is as close to an iron law of British politics as you can find – as former Labour First Minister Jack McConnell himself admitted in a 2003 speech to the network of the European Union’s regional legislatures.

The SNP has stood up for Scotland in Westminster since winning our first seat in 1945. Now, with a government which believes, in the words of Wes Streeting, that “all roads lead back to Westminster”, the need for a strong cohort of SNP MPs in the UK Parliament has never been more urgent.

I thought of Streeting’s revealing turn of phrase when I saw the so-called “sh** list” drawn up by party apparatchiks in Labour HQ in recent weeks, which details the most likely crises that an incoming Labour government will face in its first year. First among them is the collapse of Thames Water – an English issue. Second is public sector strikes – also largely an English issue. And from the potential breakdown of the university sector to bankrupt councils, so much of Keir Starmer’s focus looks set to be drawn towards cleaning up the burnt-out wreckage left by years of Conservative government – damage that the SNP Scottish Government has spent so many years and so much resource mitigating.

With Labour set to preoccupy itself with dealing with the crises left behind by years of Tory misrule in England, Scotland needs SNP MPs who can truly focus on standing up for Scotland's interests and getting the best deal for Scottish households. While ousting this Conservative government from office is on its own an appealing prospect after 14 long years of misrule, Scottish voters must look beyond just punishing the Tories, and elect MPs who will fight for a Scotland that is prosperous, resilient and fair, and seek to bring out the best in any Labour government

The best option for Scotland is to send a strong team of SNP MPs to Westminster who will day in, day out, stop Scotland's needs from being overlooked and sidelined by the centralising forces in Whitehall. While voters across the country may be tempted to back Labour to punish the Conservatives and push them out of power in Westminster, this election offers voters in Scotland an opportunity that goes beyond just settling scores.

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Scottish voters will have a choice on July 4. You can choose to elect SNP MPs who will stand up in Westminster for the next five years, putting their heads above the parapet and speak up for Scotland, and who will keep working to make your voice heard, or pick the other colour on the barber’s pole and hope it turns out for the best. Scotland is too important to be relegated to an afterthought. My party – the SNP – will make sure that never happens.

Stewart McDonald is SNP MP for Glasgow South



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