THE story of a UK Government showing contempt for Scotland would hardly be original. One of the most repeated storylines in the politics of these islands, it was brought out for yet another re-telling this week.
We’ve had promises made and broken of near-federal powers; we’ve watched the claim of “permanence” of the Scottish Parliament crumble under scrutiny; we’ve had tax powers given with one hand while austerity was imposed with the other; we’ve had the wishes of voters in Scotland ignored in pursuit of a hard Brexit we didn’t vote for; and most recently we’ve had the infamous put-down from the new PM – “now is not the time”.
Yet “now”, right in the middle of a local election campaign, apparently qualifies as the perfect time for Theresa May to trigger a snap UK election to consolidate her position in Parliament and bring quarrelsome backbenchers to heel behind a new Nasty Party manifesto.
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Her motives are transparently self-serving, as she eyes up an incoherent Labour Party and a wave of infighting in Ukip, giving her the belief that she can appeal to Brexiteers on both sides, to the far right elements her party lost in the last decade, and to anyone who doesn’t think beyond the “smack of firm government” as Francis Urquhart would have put it.
For anyone across the whole UK who aspires to a decent society, to internationalism, to human rights or to investment in a sustainable future, these are bleak times.
Down south, one path away from this dystopia would be the building of bridges between anti-Tory movements and political forces. My colleague Caroline Lucas MP has done her best to open up that dialogue, suggesting that at local level agreements might be reached to prevent Green, Labour and LibDem resources being squandered in direct head-on fights against each other in places where vulnerable Tory MPs might otherwise be dislodged. It’s an audacious move from a party with just one MP, and the refusal of the bigger parties to countenance the idea is dismaying.
True to form the Labour Party seems incapable of seeing merit in any movement other than itself, and while many of its members nominally support proportional voting, as a party it is clearly allergic to the natural consequence of fair elections, namely diverse multi-party democracy.
The LibDems, meanwhile, no doubt still contain members who were rightly ashamed of the deal they did with the Tories, and who want to rebuild as something closer to the left-liberal tradition. But their leadership on the other hand are busily ruling out co-operation with Labour, but unwilling to promise not to rekindle affections for the Tories. If they do manage to regain some electoral ground by appealing to Remain voters in England, it seems that they will still be tacking to the right.
Of course, voters in Scotland have other things to consider, and perhaps a different path available to us, to lead the country away from the hard right Tory dystopia. I’ll give you a clue… it begins with an “I”.
The question of course for independence supporters is how the cause can be advanced in the context of this snap election. For those who back the SNP, maybe it’s enough to say they’re the biggest party advocating that cause, they’re dominant at Holyrood and in Scotland’s Westminster seats, and they’re the ones to deliver. But if the June election result is to be taken as a restatement of the mandate for the referendum Holyrood has already voted for, it’s one thing to point at a big crop of SNP MPs against a paltry (or hopefully non-existent) Tory presence, but it’s quite another to be able to claim that more people voted for pro-independence parties than for those standing fast against Scotland’s right to choose.
Few people would wager a pint of beer against the SNP winning most of Scotland’s constituencies in June, but I dare say not many would bet heavy on them winning 50 per cent of the vote single-handed.
And of course there are many pro-independence voters who will never back candidates who’d go to Westminster to propose tax breaks for the oil industry, reduced corporation tax, or aviation expansion.
So as all our parties approach an election we didn’t expect, we have a lot to weigh up. How to minimise the Tory presence in all our lives, and the reach of their odious policies. How to successfully reassert the mandate for an independence vote. And how to stay true to our principles and the reasons we’re in politics at all.
Oh, and some of us still want to transform local government first, winning first-preference votes and getting Green councillors elected to put power back in the hands of communities.
That truly would be a new story to tell.