Leaders: An election turning point?

A deal with the Lib Dems would send a more calming message to the markets than one with the SNP. Picture: PA
A deal with the Lib Dems would send a more calming message to the markets than one with the SNP. Picture: PA
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Signs that Labour could govern with help from the Lib Dems pose questions for SNP strategy

IS THE general election about to enter a new phase – one in which the Scottish National Party will no longer be front and centre in the intense speculation about how the UK will choose its prime minister? That is certainly a possibility after analysis by Professor John Curtice, based on the latest UK-wide polling, suggested Labour may be able to pass the winning post with the help of just the Liberal Democrats.

‘There are perfectly good reasons why Labour might well prefer the Lib Dems to the SNP’

There will be those who will be appalled that Labour would consider dealing with the Lib Dems, after Nick Clegg’s support for the Conservatives over the past five years. And yet there are perfectly good reasons why Labour, in its search for an ally, might well prefer the Lib Dems to the SNP.

The key motivation is one of legitimacy. Clegg’s party is, after all, standing all over Britain. Any administration supported by the Lib Dems could therefore claim greater national legitimacy than an administration that relied on support from just one part of the United Kingdom. With an eye to winning the consent of as many of the British public as possible while in power, Ed Miliband may also prefer a partner that pulls him slightly more to the centre rather than one that pulls him slightly more to the left.

A deal with the Lib Dems would also send a more calming message to the markets than one with the SNP, which is still something of an unknown quantity in the eyes of the City of London.

These considerations will be far more influential on Miliband’s thinking than the often hysterical warnings from London-based commentators that SNP influence on the UK government would be the equivalent of the barbarians at the gates, posing an existential threat to the United Kingdom. Such witterings have been overblown and irrational.

Of course, polls can and do change. This scenario may recede this week as the Conservatives launch their manifesto, setting out their final offer to the British people. But if this week’s polls confirm the trend of the past few days, and the focus begins to narrow on the possibility of a Miliband government supported in a formal or informal way by the Lib Dems, then the SNP campaign will be in need of a radical overhaul.

From painful experience over decades, the SNP has been all too aware that its biggest problem during a UK general election is its struggle to be relevant. After all, this is a contest in which only the Conservative and Labour parties can provide a prime minister. The nationalists are used to playing second fiddle to this tussle. But this time, so far, it has been very different. The prospect of being kingmaker in a hung parliament has put the SNP centre stage in UK politics, and introduced English voters to the accomplished Nicola Sturgeon. As a result the Nationalists have dominated UK media coverage for weeks.

What if the prospect of the SNP holding the balance of power recedes? The question will then be how much of the SNP’s impressive lead in the Scottish opinion polls can be attributed to its success in placing itself at the centre of the UK general election debate, and how much is due to the underlying structural changes in Scottish politics since the independence referendum, that have seen the SNP dominate and Labour wither.

This has been a fascinating campaign, with twists and turns few could have predicted, and a potential for a Scottish impact on Westminster politics unseen since the late 1970s. In the days and weeks leading up to 7 May, SNP influence on the outcome may yet prove to be crucial. Or we could be heading for a far more traditional outcome, with one of the two biggest UK parties seeking Lib Dem help to make it into Downing Street. This coming week should give us a much clearer idea which of these roads this campaign is now heading down.

Satisfying our endless appetite for gore

JOHN Gordon Sinclair surely has a point when he questions the attitude to victims in much of the crime fiction this country consumes in vast qualities every year.

The Scots author, perhaps better known for his acting role as the geeky teenager in Gregory’s Girl, says the role of the victim in too many crime novels is mutely to provide blood, 
gore and the opportunity for unspeakable brutality.

Sinclair says that all too often the victim is the “missing voice” in the work. He has promised to try to avoid this in his own burgeoning literary career.

There is a lot of truth in what he says – the same phenomenon can also be seen in TV dramas such as CSI, Silent Witness and Quincy, where the victim is quite literally reduced to meat on a marble slab.

Depictions of murder have always held a fascination for readers, and appear to address a psychological need to confront – from the safety of the settee – the grisly reality of murderous crime. The same root cause may be the reason for the enduring popularity of horror films and gothic fiction.

Sinclair’s point takes on added significance when one considers that a disproportionate number of gruesome murders in crime fiction are perpetrated on women. In addition to the blood lust of readers, is there also at play here a voyeuristic appetite for violence against women?

Given that many of the readers – and writers – of this genre of fiction are women themselves, there may be something far more complex going on here than simple misogyny.

The author Melanie McGrath, who writes crime thrillers as MJ McGrath wrote about this issue last year. “The murdered woman in a crime novel stands in for our vulnerability or for our sense of being mere meat puppets,” she said, “but she also symbolises our struggle to get out from under what can sometimes feel like life-sucking roles as mothers, wives, daughters, sisters and carers, in order to claim our own identities.”

Sinclair is to be applauded for wanting to give the victims of crime fiction a voice. But by doing so, he might just find that he is upsetting a winning formula that satisfies deep and submerged needs we barely acknowledge.