Bootleggers and Baptists
The SNP are desperate to talk down the chances of a Labour Government. It only reveals how unhappy they are that the Tories look to be headed for defeat.
In prohibition-era America there was a strange alliance between two groups who publicly were sworn enemies. Evangelical Christians argued for laws that restricted or banned the sale of alcohol on moral grounds. Meanwhile, those who profited from illegal sales of booze bribed politicians to pass the same laws. The bootleggers and the baptists, who seemingly had totally different interests, worked for the same objective.
Over the last few days two groups, who would never admit their shared strategy, found themselves signing the same songs: the Conservatives and the SNP. In the face of devastating results in the English local council elections for the Tories and opinion polls showing big SNP losses in upcoming elections, both find themselves desperate to talk down the chances of a Labour Government.
The Old Record is Scratched
The only reason the SNP want to talk up a hung parliament is that they want to help the Tories and hurt Labour. However, their attempts to replay the framing of recent general elections lack any real juice this time for several reasons:
Firstly, Labour won’t need them. The poll of polls currently points to a large Labour majority at the next general election. Watching SNP politicians recite the same script as Conservative talking heads over the last few days made them look similarly ignorant of political realities. On current numbers, Stephen Flynn is more likely to be seen as a court jester rather than viewed as a kingmaker.
Secondly, there is nothing the SNP can give Labour. The SNP’s demand is, predictably, a referendum. So their position is that they will remove the support of SNP MPs in the Commons unless they are allowed to remove the SNP’s MPs from the Commons. Taken at their word, they offer nothing but a burning platform.
Thirdly, there is no credibility to the SNP’s demand for a referendum. The SNP’s First Minister, Deputy First Minister, and Party President are all on the record saying that there is no majority for leaving the UK, that independence is a long-term aim rather than an immediate prospect, and that the party cannot deliver independence. Add to that the fact the party can barely afford to keep the lights, let alone raise millions for a final tilt at separation, and it is clear they are going through the motions.
Finally, Yousaf himself is a much less substantial figure. In the Times today, Iain McWhiter imagines a Tory billboard with Keir Starmer in the top pocket of Humza Yousaf and finds it ridiculous:
“Salmond and Sturgeon were, are, powerful political personalities. You just knew that given half a chance they would run rings around Miliband. People thought Labour would surely try to do a deal with the SNP to lever itself into power in 2015. That would’ve made Nicola Sturgeon a serious player in English politics. Able to burrow through the intellectually enfeebled British state to undermine the Union from within. The “coalition of chaos” attack line really worked for the Tories. But this time round? I’m not so sure.”
The SNP aren’t needed by Labour, they have nothing to offer Labour, and they have nothing to demand from Labour.
Where Douglas Ross Stumbles, Stephen Flynn Follows
The bootleggers and the baptists will never acknowledge they are working to the same end but it is revealed by the similarities in their strategy.
A few weeks ago Douglas Ross attempted to recycle his call for an anti-SNP electoral pact between Labour and the Conservatives. The problem is that he was selling this idea from a position of weakness compared to previous elections. His own party were horrified by the idea of signalling it was ok to vote Labour and big-footed his attempt to recreate the dynamic of previous Scottish elections.
Today, Stephen Flynn has decided Douglas Ross is his political role model. He’s calling for an anti-Tory electoral pact between Labour and the SNP. Like his Tory inspiration, he does so from a position of weakness. Rather than a deft political move, it appears desperate.
With Humza Yousaf trying to stop the party’s meltdown from poisoning the political groundwater, it has been left to Flynn to frame the general election message. The result is a hot mess. One day they tell us independence is off the table for now, the next they say they’ll let the Tories in at Westminster if Labour doesn’t give them a referendum. Then they claim the problem with Labour is they are no different from the Tories only to then say ‘Hey, we’re all anti-Tory pals, let’s work together!’
Voters will notice that the SNP look unhappy that the Tories are set to lose power. They are barely hiding it. They appear desperate to help recreate the hung parliament message that helped the Tories so much in 2015, 2017 and 2019. All their fire is now trained on Labour, rather than the Tories, telling voters that electing a left-of-centre government will make no difference. They are terrified at the overwhelming evidence that English and Scottish voters are now united around a desire for change.
The first response to the SNP’s strategy should be dismissive. Their desperation is showing as the sense of crisis around the party deepens. We should also narrate what is going on here.
The SNP are surrendering their position as a party that represents change because the change that is coming threatens its narrow political interests.
The SNP built a reputation on claiming to put Scotland first, but they now oppose the change that Scotland needs in order to save the jobs of a few SNP MPs.
At a time when people across the UK are uniting for change, they are desperate to divide people because without that division between Scotland and England, what is the point of the SNP?
The change the SNP want isn’t on offer - but Scots can’t wait for the SNP to get their act together, we need change now.
Get that message across and Labour’s position in Scotland will be, ahem, untouchable.
I have written before about how the lack of any accountability for Salmond’s admitted bad behaviour (even if it was found in court not to rise to the test of being criminal behaviour) is a problem.
But the SNP avoided addressing this because it would have meant difficult questions about why the leaders of the nationalist movement were willing to overlook the character flaws of the then-First Minister for the sake of the cause.
I’ve also written many times about how the SNP leadership needs to distance itself from organisations which either embrace or tolerate the extremist fringe of Scottish nationalism. But all the SNP candidates indulged their movement when they should have been challenging them.
Now the SNP is reaping what it sowed.
With Kate Forbes taking a sickie and Humza Yousaf off celebrating the institutions of the British state, it was left to Alex Salmond to become the star-turn at the weekend’s nationalist rally. After the march, which featured the usual dusting of banners from fascist and extremist organisations, Salmond took to the stage. Just listen to the response his demagoguery gets here:
Salmond’s rehabilitation in the nationalist movement appears to be complete. With the only other figure who could match him busy returning books to shelves and putting socks back in drawers after the police search of her house, there is nobody to challenge him. Certainly not Jumza Yousaf.
If you care about accountability and standards in public life this is terrible. If you care about Scotland’s place in the Union, celebrate. Salmond’s personal ratings are catastrophically bad. To have him return as the face of the grassroots nationalist campaign, and be cheered for it, is a disaster for nationalism.
Spot on as usual Blair. Just a couple of points about the SNP's referendum which I don't think non-nationalists make enough of.
In the first instance the word "independence" is too vague to carry an important decision for a country. There are many kinds of independence and no country is or could be completely independent of other countries.
Ant referendum campaign would, like 2014, revolve largely around our future relationship with the UK, particularly the economic one. It is totally wrong for voters to be committed to leaving purely on the basis of promises made by nationalists in order to win a referendum. Brexit showed this beyond doubt. There must therefore be a confirmatory vote on withdrawal terms.
There are other issues about timing and the desire in Scotland for another constitutional vote. In view of our economic plight it can hardly be described as a priority unless flag-waving is your only hobby.
Agree with much of the above but I don’t think we can be quite so dismissive of the SNP. The polling suggests that the number of seats Labour may take in Scotland may be determinative of the ability of Keir Starmer to command a majority. Scottish seats could make a fundamental impact on the ability to evict the Tories and to govern sustainably for a full term. All the more reason to apply as much resource as possible to winning vulnerable Scottish seats. As Ian Murray has long said , the road to a Labour government runs through Scotland.