Saturday, 4 August 2012

What’s next for the Union parties?

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.


  1. As usual a good piece and some points to ponder and fresh ones,thrown into the mix.

  2. I've always anticipated that Scots parties will realign after independence.

    The professional politicians in every party will do their best to continue their careers and, if shifting parties/creating new ones seems their best bet, they'll do that.

    Hopefully, our parties won't just align on an antiquated "left/right" dimension of politics, but also vary on centralisation/decentralisation. Green/corporate etc issues as well.

    I'd favour pre-election announced coalitions along the Nordic model by the parties that think they can work together - the relative strengths of the parties within the winning coalition would allow the people's views of the issues to determine the winning coalition policy for government.

  3. The three Unionist parties may indeed form a coalition following a "yes" vote in the referendum – but something about them bothers me personally. While the (once) Unionist politicians shuffle and shoulder to re-start their individual careers in a free Scotland, I will not be able (or willing) to forget their behavior in trying to keep the Union together. While they, themselves, knew what the SNP knew (that there was a fine future waiting for an independent Scotland), they deliberately LIED to their own people and tried their best to spread FEAR among the voters regarding independence – all to keep London in charge. My word for each of them will always be "traitor"; for no other word is appropriate to what is simply the betrayal of their own people for the sake of their own careers.

  4. Lintie
    I couldn't agree more. They are entitled to use legitimate facts to argue for the union but the complete BS they produce, some that the Pre war Germans and post war Russians would have been impressed by, is totally unacceptable. Applying your own perspective to facts is part of politics but how will we be able to trust people like Anas Sarwar or Jim Murphy in an independent Scotland. They have to fight dirty now, they are desperate. Their careers are over if Scotland wins independence.

  5. And one has to take into account those of their members who would regard such a coalition as the final betrayal. There are many such Labour supporters in Glasgow who have been brought up to believe that their party cannot afford division, and even if you don't like some aspects of policy you stick with the herd. That attitude is already fragmenting as they begin to see the cost of their loyalty to their principles and to the traditions of their party.
    Frankly, I see Labour in Scotland as an empty shell furiously trying to pretend it still adheres to its core values while becoming more like the Tories every day. A coalition with the remnants of their ancient enemy would bring that edifice tumbling down. There is no place, nor will there be a place in Scotland for the sham that is the modern Labour Party. Sooner or later, their members will realise they've been lied to and conned into supporting a political careers machine that doesn't really give a damn about Scotland. They are plainly liars, hypocrites, power-seekers, careerists and traitors - if not to Scotland (although that's highly debatable) then to their own once-proud traditions.

  6. The thing that this analysis completely ignores is the trade union movement. Now of ourse there are plenty of union bureaurats who are just as self-serving as Labour Party bureaucrats and local cooncillors. Nevertheless, there are still people for whom the idea of Labour amalgamating with the hated class enemy, the Tories, would be total anathema. And you can't just assume that, in rejecting an amalgamation with the Tories, such people would join the SNP. The very first Labour MP, Keir Hardy, did not in fact represent the Labour Party. The Labour Party wasn't formed until considerably later. What Keir Hardie represented was the Labour Representation Committee, whih had been set up by the trade unions ("labour") to ensure that they would be represented in parliament. And in an independent Scotland, particularly if an SNP government should be perceived to be pursuing policies not in the interests of trade union members, you would have moves by folk in the S.T.U.C. to ensure representation of the interests of labour in parliament. They might decide to throw their weight behind the SSP. Or, more likely, there would be a re-alignment including the STUC, the SSP, and some of the more authentic elements of the Labour Party: a new Labour Representation Committee, endorsing and working to support candidates, while repudiating the old Labour Party MPS etc.


    "I regret that since I began arguing the case against NATO, a rather large number of SNP supporters have demonstrated the kind of unwillingness to tolerate dissent of any kind, on Twitter, on YouTube, on the blog, and, I regret to say, in violently abusive comments which I have removed at the pre-moderation stage, and in abusive emails.

    (I had heard such accusations made against a sector of the party support, but always argued it was an unrepresentaitve minority.)

    I'm sad about that, not for myself but for the 'nice' party's image.

    Of more concern is the apparent inability to engage with any debate above the level of sloganising and protestations of undying loyalty to anything the party says or does, or with complex, detailed arguments, and the 'magic wand' approach to independence.

    This is matched only by the uncanny silence of the party hierarchy and professional communicators, who nonetheless produce, daily, a blizzard of press release on just about anything under the sun - except defence matters and NATO."


    "I have decided to cancel my SNP party membership, effective immediately."

  9. sm753August 6, 2012 5:05 AM

    What on earth do those comments have to do with the post I have just read above?

    Talk about off topic.

    Another interesting article Hazel.
    What I cannot wait to see is how these 3 parties will try to convince the people of Scotland that..
    a) Scotland CAN AFTER ALL run its own affairs
    b) You can trust us (insert Lab, Con, LibDem as appropriate) to run it even although we have spent the last few decades telling you that it couldn't be done.

    Unless these 3 parties at least try to offer Scotland SOMETHING better than the Status Quo or 'pie in the sky when you die' then they are indeed doomed to oblivion after a vote for Independence in 2014.

  10. The article predicts the demise of the mainstream Scottish parties after "inevitable" independence.

    Just thought it was ironic timing, given that the SNP is about to fracture over its defence policy, and prominent members are tearing up their cards already.

  11. sm753August 6, 2012 7:10 AM
    I assume from the above you are referring to Moridura?
    Moridura said himself he was only using SNP as a vehicle for Independence given that he could not trust the other parties to deliver. Considering he has only been a member for a few years in what way is he 'a prominent member'?
    Do you have information on other prominent member(s) who are 'tearing up their cards already'?

    I think I am getting a sense of wishful thinking here. However you are,as always,entitled to hold whatever view on the matter you wish.

    PS Didn't Andy do well yesterday.

  12. sm753 !the SNP is about to fracture over its defence policy" ... you wish

  13. Friends, let us not feed the troll. This is the individual who uses mature rhetoric and lines of persuasion by referring to me on other blogs as "Hazel Looney" .... need more be said?

  14. Oh I never realised that thanks for the heads up Hazel.

    1. No problem, you saved me the effort of having to actually address his inane and irrelevant posts!

  15. """"""""""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.""""""""""""

    I think they already have -- do they ever actually disagree with each other in Holyrood over anything whatsoever?

    I agree with the article.

    The troll posts such tripe on his own 'blog'. He said that after the May 2011 victory that it had basically been ana accident with lots of people he knew going, "oops". However, the SNP Holyrood vote has maintained its election level and actually increased.

    1. LOL.... one helluva "accident" then.....