OUR political leaders have yet to fully absorb the lessons of the independence referendum, writes Kenny Farquharson.
Look, I know everybody is busy. There are 39 episodes of House of Cards on Netflix. You haven’t updated your Pinterest page since 2012. You need to source barberries for that Ottolenghi recipe. And it’s plain to everybody in the street that you don’t recycle. Modern life is hard.
The Tories are out-Ukipping Ukip, with Scots rather than immigrants presented as the threat
But is it really that difficult to remember the outcome of that thing last year? You know, the referendum? When Scotland voted by 55 per cent to 45 per cent to stay part of the United Kingdom?
I ask because some people seem to have forgotten. Two groups of people in particular – the Conservative Party and the SNP.
David Cameron, you will recall, had tears in his eyes last year when he pleaded with Scots to stay British.
On 10 September, just days before the vote, he came over all weepy when he told an audience in Edinburgh: “I would be heartbroken if this family of nations that we’ve put together, and that we’ve done such amazing things together, if this family of nations was torn apart.”
He added: “I care far more about my country than I do about my party.”
Judged on the evidence of this past week, those tears were a sham.
The Prime Minister clearly believes he can win the general election by caring much more about his party than he does about his country.
The SNP enjoys the support of almost half of all Scots. And yet Mr Cameron, prompted by his Australian political strategist Lynton Crosby, seems perfectly willing to portray the party as an alien force who have no business meddling in the upper reaches of British politics.
Last year he fought for the Scots to stay British. Except there now seems to be some small print Mr Cameron failed to mention at the time.
SNP voters and the MPs they elect are to have their political rights questioned and their political legitimacy denied. They’re not quite British enough, it seems.
Mr Cameron believes he can win votes from Ed Miliband by portraying the Labour leader as being in the pocket – literally – of the Scot Nats.
SNP voters and the MPs they elect are to be “othered” in the most egregious example in contemporary British politics of a leader putting party advantage ahead of the social and political cohesion of the UK.
This is the social union and the political union for which the Tories fought so hard over the past two years. And Mr Cameron is playing fast and loose with it, to squeeze an extra couple of percentage points out of an alarmed and disorientated English electorate.
The Tories are out-Ukipping Ukip, with Scots rather than immigrants presented as the threat to the fabric of the nation.
And what of the SNP? They, too, seem to have forgotten that Scots voted to be British last autumn.
The Nationalists used to be adept at pursuing Scotland’s cause within the confines of the UK. They were “The Power For Change”, and their skill in crafting a nationalist approach to devolution won them two Holyrood victories, in 2007 and 2011.
The referendum, however, has redefined the SNP’s purpose, and put the party on perpetual indyref alert.
Consequently, the leadership does not have an intellectually coherent answer to the simple question: what is the SNP for between referendums?
The simple answer should be that it advances the Scottish interest within the UK, improves the life chances of ordinary Scots, and protects Scotland’s strategic position within the Union. Except this is not what is happening.
Take the Smith Commission negotiations. The SNP skilfully made full devolution of income tax the litmus test of whether a party was serious about more power for Holyrood.
And yet it’s now clear that by denying Westminster the right to set a small and relatively insignificant proportion of Scottish income tax, Scottish MPs may have to forfeit the right to vote on UK budget bills.
If someone would care to explain to me how this is advancing Scotland’s interests within the UK, I’m all ears. Arguably, it has even reduced the SNP’s usefulness to Labour in any hung parliament negotiations.
Instead of a strategic approach to more devolution, with a carefully chosen set of priorities and a canny eye for unintended consequences, the SNP treated Smith like a supermarket sweep. Power over abortion? Yeah, why not?
The SNP’s home rule stance lacks credibility because the party’s heart clearly isn’t in it. Why should we be bothered, they seem to be saying, we’re not planning on staying.
The SNP is going into the general election demanding home rule – defined by the party as Holyrood control of everything except defence and foreign affairs. This is not a serious proposition. The amount of intellectual work the party has devoted to it is laughably small. It is a figleaf for the lack of a cogent strategy for devolved government within the UK.
No country in the world – not even the fully federal ones – has such a division of powers. It would deny the UK the most basic economic capability enjoyed by every single state – the ability to pool and share resources according to need.
Furthermore, by insisting on full financial independence within the UK, the SNP has unnecessarily invited upon itself all the economic arguments used by the No campaign in the referendum.
Instead of putting together a coherent plan for new powers to build on Smith, it has instead chosen the masochistic alternative of losing the economic arguments from the indyref all over again. A Groundhog Day of political pain.
The result is the severe drubbing the SNP took this week on the Gers report on Scotland’s finances.
David Cameron doesn’t think the SNP is a proper British political party that deserves to be treated with due seriousness in a British context.
The trouble is, neither it seems does the SNP.
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