This is a question that’s posed with increasing frequency within the blogosphere, actually almost everywhere there’s an interest in the political happenings within Scotland, with the possible exclusion of some mainstream media outlets.
The question presupposes an outcome in the 2014 referendum that’s favourable towards the Nationalist or Independence cause, which perhaps explains why some aspects of Scotland’s media are discovering it to be something of a taboo subject.
The reality of the situation is already self evident within Scots politics.
Fifty years ago there were three main parties, one of whom was decidedly major and two others with aspirations of gaining vote share. Everything else, including the SNP can be considered a fringe party for the immediate post war period.
In the half century since that time the demise of the Conservative party in Scotland has been striking, from over 50% vote share to around 15%, depending upon the poll and the day. Dramatic inroads were made into the Tory vote by the Labour Party with the Liberal / Liberal-Democrats reasonably consistently a distant third.
For almost three post war decades these parties accounted for over 80% of Scotland’s vote. It was only as that third decade drew to a close that we began to see the emergence of a strong fourth party, the SNP, who took vote share from the Westminster parties.
In the almost four decades since the 1974 high tide mark of Nationalist aspirations there has been an ebb and flow in support for an Independent Scotland, it peaked almost fifteen years ago at over 50%. A referendum held within 2-3 years of devolution would have been, in many scenarios, a “done deal” from the perspective of the Scottish electorate.
Going by the published polls since that time support for repatriation of all powers has waned somewhat, apparently contradicting the rise in support that has been relatively steady, some might say relentless for the SNP.
That the National Party of Scotland has seen such a consistent increase in support, particularly while in government is literally without precedent in these Islands, it may even rank as remarkable in the global context.
Scots appear to rationalise the disparity in voting loyalty and intention twofold. Firstly the Holyrood voting intention is typically ahead of Westminster voting intention for the SNP. When questioned in polls the overriding response by Scots voters is that they want competent government, which they feel the SNP supplies, and others do not.
The extension to this argument which is rarely, if ever voiced in the “national” media is that Scots perceive Westminster and / or the Unionist parties as incompetent, or at the very least substantially less competent than the Nationalists.
With every indication that, in Scotland at least, the cream of political acumen is gravitating to the Nationalists that public perception is unlikely to change. The groundswell of support for Nationalist leaning parties passed the 50% mark for the first time ever at the last Scots GE in 2011. With the SNP marching forwards as a relatively cohesive unit it would be an interesting development to watch what would happen were the Green’s to discover a vibrant and dynamic leadership group.
Undoubtedly the Green’s would take votes from the two principle and two increasingly minor principle parties, but it is entirely possible that the next Parliament could see a 2/3 majority of Scots voting for parties that do not support the Union.
Such an eventuality could well, in and of itself, lead to dissolution of the Union of Parliaments within this United Kingdom.
With multiple scenarios abounding whereby the parliamentary Union is consigned to history’s dustbin, it’s appropriate to take a duster and brush off the crystal ball, perhaps there is already a hint of a future socio-political make up of a future Scotland.
The SNP is a broad church, many think the party might fragment after Holyrood and Westminster part. For many reasons this is unlikely.
Expect the SNP to form the first independent government of Scotland, most likely in coalition, but just as probably as the majority party in a proportional parliament. Everyone who is right thinking will realise this is a time for steady, tried, tested and competent hands at the helm. The upheaval, and it will be there, which is created by the Westminster split will be something which will demand it in the short term.
In the middle to longer term expect the party to mature and maintain its left of center stance – it’s basically sitting at 11 O’clock and has seen substantial success by occupying the position vacated by the Labour party. The SNP will see new adherents and some defections as is normal for a healthy organisation.
The SSP are somewhere around 10 O’clock with the communist party inhabiting the 9 O’clock slot.
Sitting somewhere between the 12 O’clock and 1 O’clock positions is presently what appears to be a void. There is no trustworthy political organisation currently plying its trade in that area for the votes that are out there. In the wings, and registered with the electoral commission are the SDA [Scottish Democratic Alliance] who’s published documents to date appear to indicate rather firmly that this is where we can expect to see them position themselves within the political spectrum.
The Green’s tend to float an hour either side of Noon, and are likely to remain a supporting, relatively fringe party in the absence of truly charismatic leadership emerging.
UKIP and the other Westminster “fringe” parties will be ignored as there is little place for them in the post Independence world.
The remaining question surrounds the historically dominant Unionist parties, Labour, Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives.
Technically these groups all positioned on the right of our clock face, between 1pm and 3pm are fighting for survival. Without a Union of the parliaments they will quite simply cease to have relevance. For them to continue in Scotland after Westminster informing the Scots that Independence is a one way ticket would be like the US republican’s standing in Mexico and the Democrats in Canada.
The Conservatives, during their last leadership competition perhaps gave us an inkling of what they see; a separate party allied to London. The issue is that this idea was posed, examined and failed. Its window of opportunity was always going to be so small in historical terms that time now appears to be gone.
Of much more interest is to consider that the leadership of all these Union parties are primarily made up of failed political animals, they know nothing else and have exhibited little imagination or self direction. Failed is a reasonable statement in UK terms as these parties make no bones about the fact that “the Cream” goes to Westminster. These individuals are not in Westminster.
In a global sense the Liberal Democrats are allied to the Conservatives in London, while all over Scotland these Union parties work cohesively to close doors on the SNP. It is a rare exception to find an SNP/Unionist collaboration irrespective of the democratic mandate issued by the electorate.
One also discovers upon examination that within the applied policy stances of all the major Unionist parties it’s difficult to discern any real differences. For the most part they are largely interchangeable.
The only reason for maintaining three such parties with largely identical stances seems to be in their ability to fool the Scots electorate with the often compliant assistance of much of the media and to split the vote. It would appear that if one Union party could only gain 30% or less in terms of approval from Scotland’s franchise, but three Union parties manage 45% or more then there is a substantial vested interest in London’s maintaining all three.
With the removal of Westminster coinciding with treaty termination such a need by London will no longer have any bearing on the situation.
The membership of these Union parties is already in decline, there’s nothing even remotely on the horizon to indicate a change.
The financial support for the Union parties is decreasing almost by the day.
Taking the dwindling trifecta of money, support and external need together it would appear that the initial route these parties will take is to emulate the Dodo. What will save the rump organisations who now occupy the right of Scotland’s political spectrum from oblivion is the survival instinct of the major players combined with common political ground.
Anticipate in the timeframe after Independence the three Union parties to coalesce, possibly first as a loose coalition that will slowly through a combination of political and financial expediency see the formation of Scotland’s new hard right.
The stage has already been set for this as they demonstrated their willingness and ability to form a unified coalition around the major common cause of Unionism and the myriad minor causes ranging from the Edinburgh trams through student fees to elderly care and prescription charges.
In the event of a yes vote the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and the Labour parties in Scotland will amalgamate, they will coalesce, or they will cease to exist entirely.