The Scottish National Party’s near clean-sweep in the General Election should have made a noise like a nuclear device. It should have registered as the most surprising British political event of modern times. It was the astonishing coming-to-pass of something which, even five years ago, would have seemed impossible. It should have become the nation’s biggest talking point.
But it wasn’t because the nation, or that part of it which matters when it comes to power and policies, is now south east England and a few outlying areas, leaving Scotland as a faraway country of which we know little (who would have thought, for example, that a girl called Mhairi Black, aged 20, could become an impressive Westminster MP despite having a name little-known in England and being too young to have achieved an Oxbridge degree or an internship with an up-and-coming MP, possibly on the grounds that country’s most up-and-coming MP was herself).
In the slightly fraying British family of nations, Scotland stands out like a cousin who has changed gender, or converted to Islam or Scientology. We respect their choice, because we’re British and can’t do otherwise, but we’re also slightly embarrassed and uncomprehending of it, so best not to mention it, which at the moment few people are.
The SNP, though, will be back after the parliamentary recess full of ideas and tactics and, being the third biggest party in Westminster by some margin, it will be able to make its mark, even in the (usually) one-party state which is first-past-the-post Britain.
The party has already scuppered an election-victory piece of Tory triumphalism by stopping the relaxation of fox-hunting rules...a matter of little practical importance unless you have some view about the country you want to live in, which in my case is a liberal, social-democratic, decent Britain where the rich don’t think it a pleasure to kill creatures of no great value. The cost of shooting a pheasant or a grouse is a lot more than the cost of buying one from Tesco, and fox-hunting is, on any cost-benefit calculation, a wholly ludicrous form of pest-control. Really, the loony left can’t teach the loony right much on the subject of lunacy.
The interesting thing is that we’re living in a country (England) which has turned slightly (36.9 per cent) to the Tory right, next to a country (Scotland) which has turned hugely (50 per cent) to the SNP, the SNP being leftish, greenish, pacifist, anti-nuclear and pro-trade union, making it, according to the old Blairites and the equally clapped-out old print media, as unelectable as Jeremy Corbyn.
But Scotland is not a foreign country or separate country; it’s a kindred country. Corbyn thinks, possibly rightly, that only he can win back Scotland for Labour, but why try? Wouldn’t it be better, while the UK survives, to add an electorally successful, far-north, unashamedly social-democrat party into the political mash which is British politics.
Seen from the south, we’re living in a country where Thatcherism has triumphed to such an extent that it’s thought important to employ all the powers of the state to make weakened trade unions even weaker.
Seen from the north, which, in spirit, includes not just Scotland but everwhere outside the Tory heartlands, including (in defiance of geography) Cornwall and the industrial Midlands, we need to recognise that the SNP triumph can’t be shrugged off.
It shows that there is an alternative, not well-expressed in English political debate, to the neo-liberal, cross-party ideological consensus which is dragging us all into a low-waged, unregulated place we’d rather not be. The SNP is a spectacularly successful counter-argument to all that and we should support it, even if we can’t vote for it.