A confident Tory Prime Minister. Labour led by an untested left-winger. The SNP surging north of the Border.
If Election 2017 feels awfully familiar it’s because we have been here before.
Just two years ago, Britain went to the polls in the wake of a divisive constitutional referendum that upended decades-old allegiances. And there were two big winners back then: The Tories and the SNP.
Nicola Sturgeon is getting the band back together with talk of a ‘progressive alliance’, a pact between Labour, the SNP, and the Liberal Democrats to shut the Tories out of power. The progressive alliance is among the greatest hits of political wrongheadedness in Britain. It is close kin of electoral reform, another junk idea based on the premise that the country keeps voting the wrong way and so the way the country votes must be changed.
This scratchy old record is dutifully spun by the lesser thinkers of the English Left, those who reckon the global routing of social democratic politics can be connived away rather than tackled head on, with all the painful debates, concessions, and changes that would invite.
Paul Mason has given the progressive alliance another boost by proposing a compact to freeze Theresa May’s Conservatives out of power. Mason is formerly economics editor of Channel 4 News, which tells you what Channel 4 News thinks of economics.
Now, Jeremy Corbyn has ruled out such a ‘rainbow coalition’ but recall that Ed Miliband did the same (eventually) last time around and it did nothing to kill off the idea. That’s how rumour works: Plant enough smoke bombs and you’ll convince people there’s a fire.
This kind of talk is music to Nicola Sturgeon’s ears. She has no intention of working with left-wing UK parties to stop the Tories for the vital reason that she doesn’t want to stop the Tories. The SNP leader has thrown everything at the Union and the Scots remain stubbornly wedded to it. Miss Sturgeon calculates that she has one card left to play: The dread prospect of decades of Tory rule at Westminster, Scotland lumped with its favourite bête noire no matter how many SNP MPs it returns.
The apparent injustice of Scotland not getting the government it votes for is a grievance Miss Sturgeon would very much like to mine. In fact, she would like to engineer it and there is no surer way of doing that than talking up an anti-Tory front of leftist and nationalist parties. The fear of a weak Ed Miliband in Number 10 propped up by Scottish Nationalists drove enough English voters into the arms of David Cameron in 2015 to give the Tories an outright majority. It might seem ironic that a Scottish nationalist would seek to foment animosity towards Scotland in the rest of the UK but that is to underestimate the callous cynicism of the nationalist worldview.
Publicly, the SNP lamented the possibility of another Tory government and Miss Sturgeon did her ‘social justice’ routine, a hand-wringing performance that won the bleeding hearts of the left-wing London commentariat but left viewers back home somewhat bemused. They were used to their First Minister talking like Tony Benn and governing like Tony Blair but they never reckoned folk down south would be so gullible as to be taken in.
This is especially galling to Scottish Labour activists who point to Miss Sturgeon’s record in government and query whether her party qualifies as progressive. The Nationalist government has overseen a widening of the attainment gap in schools, a higher education set-up that favours the wealthy, and falling literacy and numeracy standards in primary and secondary education. Campaigners say Labour shouldn’t form a progressive alliance with a party boasting that record — it should act as a progressive alliance against such a party.
But Nicola Sturgeon knows that facts such as these take time to communicate to voters in Scotland, let alone those elsewhere in the UK. What matters is mood music and she played her tune yesterday, announcing: ‘If the parliamentary arithmetic lends itself to the SNP being part of a progressive alliance to keep the Tories out of government then the SNP will seek to be part of that as we said in 2015… My job first and foremost is to stand up for Scotland. Only the SNP will stand between Scotland and an increasingly hardline and right wing Tory Government.’
She accepts this outcome is unlikely but knows her intervention will be the final prod that prompts moderate Labour voters scunnered by Jeremy Corbyn to give the Tories a go, maybe for the first time in their lives. That means a bigger landslide for Theresa May and, Miss Sturgeon hopes, enough to give Scottish voters a prod of their own — from No to Yes.
After years of complaining about a ‘Project Fear’ against the SNP, she is running her own scaremongering operation south of the Border. That is politically canny and tactically adroit but is making her homeland a bogeyman for Middle England really standing up for Scotland?
Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Contact Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org.