Kenny Farquharson: SNP in power will make them Brits

Yes we can, but maybe we won't, not if SNP are happy at Westminster. Picture: Jane Barlow
Yes we can, but maybe we won't, not if SNP are happy at Westminster. Picture: Jane Barlow
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AN SNP alliance with Labour in a hung parliament will make a second referendum less likely, argues Kenny Farquharson

Received wisdom isn’t always wise. I accept that some orthodoxies must never be challenged: only the top button of a two-button suit should ever be buttoned up; you should never eat fish in a restaurant on a Monday. But other received wisdoms are frequently the flawed product of laziness and groupthink.

Take the current received wisdom on the prospect of 50 SNP MPs propping up a Labour government in a hung parliament at Westminster.

The general agreement among Unionists and Nationalists alike is that this will hasten the day when the UK breaks up. Perfectly rational people on all sides seem to think the SNP’s Westminster power grab creates tensions and antagonisms that jeopardise the Union.

They believe this makes a second referendum inevitable. And this time round the result would be a resounding Yes to independence.

I hate to poop the party, but I just don’t see it. Actually, I take the opposite view.

If it comes to pass that Ed Miliband becomes prime minister thanks to SNP support, my instinct is that it makes independence much less likely. In fact, it could cement Scotland’s place within the United Kingdom.

Basically it would make the SNP British. The Nats would be a UK political party in a way they have never had to be before, operating on a British political stage. They already have policies for the whole of the UK, as their manifesto launch demonstrated this week.

Scotland in general, and the SNP in particular, would be handed a starring role at the very heart of the British state. And this would change fundamentally how we see the Nationalists as a political force, and how they see themselves.

This would be nothing less than a shift in the SNP’s existential function. It would have far-reaching consequences that senior Nationalists have not even begun to wake up to.

Again and again in last year’s independence referendum the Yes camp told us how irrelevant Westminster was to Scotland. Well, that is no longer the case, to put it mildly.

At a stroke, the SNP surge will make Westminster thoroughly relevant to the average Scottish voter. All that indyref campaign rhetoric about decisions on Scotland being made in a parliament 400 miles away by people who don’t care about us? The dogged insistence, now laughably redundant, that Scottish MPs could never make any difference to the complexion of a UK government? The characterisation of Westminster as an alien legislature in an alien land, representing people with alien views?

Forget it. Drag it to the trash icon, and drop. It’s yesterday’s politics.

Instead, I suspect a centre-left Westminster administration will govern in a way that will find warm favour with mainstream Scottish opinion.

The SNP campaign lines about “keeping Labour honest” will be forgotten by Christmas. Almost every measure introduced by a Miliband government will have SNP support. The Smith Agreement on more power for Holyrood will be tidied up satisfactorily, especially on welfare. Differences on public spending have been overstated. The much-touted SNP role as “insurgents” will be limited to a small number of issues, such as Trident, on which the party will take a stand that is both honourable and impotent.

To borrow a Tory phrase from a now bygone age, Labour will cuddle the SNP to death.

How credible will it then be for Nicola Sturgeon to turn to voters and say: “Come on, let’s get out of here. Let’s leave all this behind.” Not very credible at all, I suggest. This is an arrangement the Scottish voters will like. And 50 new SNP MPs, and their staff, may quite like it too.

What’s particularly fascinating is that none of what we are seeing now has been planned by the SNP leadership. The current success is the product of systemic shifts, not strategy. They had no idea they were going to come front and centre in British politics like this. They had no plan for being a British political force to be reckoned with, an integral part of the political make-up of the United Kingdom.

And you know what? It could be the best thing that ever happened to them. It could be the making of a new SNP in which Nicola Sturgeon becomes the Jordi Pujol of Scottish politics – a nationalist leader ruling in a proud nation that is generally content with its strong position within a larger state.

The party’s thinking on how Scotland should relate to the rest of the people on these islands has never been a strong point in Nationalist politics, and can now be reformed.

It was the flawed thinking on sharing the pound that did most damage to the SNP’s economic plans during the independence referendum. And since then the back-of-a-fag-packet policy of “full fiscal autonomy” has brought the party nothing but grief.

The SNP’s attitude to the people of England has been unconvincing, at best. There has been a subtle – and sometimes not so subtle – “othering” of the English. Their beliefs were incompatible with ours. We had to go our own way.

With Scotland part of a progressive alliance across the whole of the UK, such talk will be shown up for the utter bilge it truly is.

There will be Tories who will continue to foment English rebellion at SNP influence.

But they will be a minority – and anyway, England cannot kick Scotland out of the Union. That is a decision for Scotland itself, and my strong feeling is that Scotland will be less inclined than at present to take that step.

The SNP’s own received wisdom is about to come under unprecedented strain. A change is coming. In years to come the SNP may well look back on this election and recognise it as a watershed for Scottish nationalism.

It was the moment the SNP became accidental Brits.