Leaders: SNP and Labour routes to healing divide

Nicola Sturgeon this weekend unveiled the SNP's first election poster of the general election campaign. Picture: Getty
Nicola Sturgeon this weekend unveiled the SNP's first election poster of the general election campaign. Picture: Getty
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SNP and Labour agree on election goal but voters cannot know for sure if either party will deliver

THE current watchword in Scottish politics is unity. Conscious of the divisions of the independence referendum campaign, and conscious too that there is a public desire to move beyond a binary split to a more unified nation, both the SNP and Scottish Labour are trying to present themselves as the unifying force to take Scotland forward. Nicola Sturgeon this weekend unveiled the SNP’s first election poster of the general election campaign and set out her party’s thinking on its key strategic theme.

The general election, she said, “provides an opportunity for us to unite as a country. In this campaign, we can all be on the same side – the side of making Scotland’s voice heard at Westminster like never before.” Unity is also on Jim Murphy’s mind. In his acceptance speech on being elected party leader last month, he called for a new political energy “that unites our great country but also brings together our self-confidence with our impatience for change”.

Scotland United is indeed a goal worth achieving, as this newspaper has said repeatedly over the past few years. But in the mouths of Sturgeon and Murphy the word unity strikes a discordant note. For each of them, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that unity is simply their current means of pursuing their own individual party interests. Each professes a wish for a Scotland United – but only if it is united under their own personal leadership and thirled to their own electoral purpose. Sturgeon’s vision is a Scotland united behind a massive SNP group at Westminster; Murphy’s vision is a Scotland united behind traditional Labour social democratic principles expressed in a “refounded” Scottish Labour party, with a new constitution to underline its new purpose.

What both have in common is the declared aim of getting David Cameron out of Downing Street. But which to believe? The difficulty here is that the electorate are not psephologists. Neither are they fortune tellers. If they could accurately predict the precise nature of a hung parliament, and the precise machinations that would follow such an eventuality, they would be heading to the bookies rather than to the ballot box. The truth is that no-one can confidently predict what will happen on 7 May and in the days that follow. They can only make informed guesses.

The Scottish campaign in the general election will therefore be a battle of which speculative narrative people believe. In this sense the competing SNP and Scottish Labour strategies for the general election echo these parties’ positions in the independence referendum campaign. The SNP confidently predicts the result and the outcome of post-vote negotiations – just as it predicted a Yes and the outcome of subsequent negotiations on currency/EU/Nato. It asks voters to rally to its cause in the sure and certain knowledge that everything will go smoothly as per the SNP plan. Labour, meanwhile, sucks its teeth and shakes its head and deems the SNP plan too risky, warning that it could let the 
Tories back in to Number 10 through the back door. The spirit of the indyref lives on.

Both sides have reason to believe their approach can win the day. Labour’s strategy succeeded in the last general election, in 2010, when the SNP vote was kept under 20 per cent as Scots tried to keep Gordon Brown as prime minister. The SNP, meanwhile, rallied almost 45 per cent of voters to its positive vision on 18 September, and is aiming to transform this Yes vote into a historic SNP vote come May. The SNP’s precedent is, of course more recent, and fresher in people’s minds. Up to one in three Labour voters ignored their party’s entreaties in the referendum, and may be persuaded to do so again, if they can be convinced it is in the Scottish national interest. Could this be the factor that wins the day in May?

Let the children play with loom bands

ANYONE with young children in the family will need no reminding of the biggest toy craze of recent years. Loom bands have been a phenomenon, capturing youngsters’ pocket money as successfully as they have caught their imagination. In many ways the small elastic bands, which can be knitted together to form bracelets, are the perfect toy – cheap, colourful, fun and requiring of the user a degree of skill and creativity that one usually only finds with far less fashionable “craft” pursuits.

They have made their inventor, Cheong Choon Ng, a millionaire many times over and brought a great deal of innocent pleasure to a whole generation of children. According to medics, however, they are also a risk to health.

Doctors’ comments that loom bands are “a tragedy waiting to happen”, should of course be weighed with due seriousness. But there is surely a danger of over-reacting here, and of surrendering to a culture that tries too hard to cottonwool our children from any potential hazard and only succeeds in making them less well equipped to face the undoubted dangers the world has in store for them when they grow up.

A degree of caution about toys is only common sense. Of course we have to guard against the model cars coated with toxic paint; the dolls whose eyes are attached with sharp pins; the roller skates with a tendency to lose a wheel. But we also have to guard against a culture that smothers children with a protective wet blanket. Yes, a small toy may be a choking hazard, but so can a piece of carrot. Yes, loom bands can be dangerous if a child stuffs them up his or her nose, but the same is true of buttons and the caps of felt-tip pens.

If they are deprived of their favourite toys, children will simply play with whatever else comes to hand, be it a stick, a brick, a nail or a mouldy old potato. We can no more keep children from potentially dangerous objects than we can protect them from the common cold.

Ultimately we have to allow our children to live their lives with a degree of risk or they will not be able to have a life at all, or at least not one that inculcates in them a sense of possibility, curiosity and purpose. Do we want a child to grow up thinking the world is a threat, or an opportunity? Let the children play.