Despite what the houdies croak for doom, the SNP are on the rise, says Thomas Hay.
Disillusion is a word I’ve been hearing a lot during this election campaign. We’re constantly being told by journalists from across the political spectrum that people in Britain today feel no connection with politics. I’ve always been struck by the supercilious tone with which the collective voice of the mainstream media discusses this issue, as it half-heartedly attempts to maintain a veil of concern. Telling us how much we don’t care is one of the safest and widely accepted things to say in their business.
In all honesty, I would have until fairly recently identified with this feeling, but the events of last year transformed my view on what it meant to be involved in politics in this country. Without being part of any mainstream political party, I found myself engaged in one of the most exciting and vibrant democratic events in recent memory. Those who allowed themselves to enter the discussion will understand what I mean by this. Something that still amazes me about the whole referendum experience was the speed at which traditional social conventions regarding politics were stripped away in such a relatively short space of time.
When I was growing up, I had always been told never to discuss politics in certain social situations, but overnight all of that seemed to change. Something special was going on, and the people could feel it. The day after Scotland said No, the emptiness felt by many ultimately came down to their own understanding of this feeling.
Those who were inspiring them to think differently did not look, or sound, like the traditional architects of social revolution. For them, the referendum heralded a grassroots revival of political engagement. In many cases, the people involved had never had any interest in politics before. In many cases, they were not natural orators, nor were they trained in the art of persuasive political jargon. But therein lay the beauty of the Yes movement. Smooth sounding soundbites were cast aside in favour of an entirely different form of political discourse. What strengthened and bound this movement together was something that transcended the conventions of any campaign that we had seen before.
Like many of the great civic movements, this was ultimately about power. Whether they were Yes or No, the people recognised that if they were to change anything, they first had to accept that the dream of a compassionate, fair society could be nothing more than a dream if ordinary people continued to have such limited control over what happened in their own lives. The biggest reason that traditional social attitudes towards politics were transformed last year was down to the fact that for the first time, ordinary people sensed that they were the ones with the power. In the eyes of some, the rejection of independence at the ballot in favour of the status quo was a rejection of this principle, and to hear the result being described as “definitive” by numerous conservative commentators was crushing for anyone who had ever put their faith in it. The SNP would carry the baton for the Yes movement, but it looked as if their wave had finally broken.
And yet, if the polls are to be believed, there could be something quite spectacular on the horizon for the independence movement. Despite the referendum defeat, and despite an intense onslaught from the mainstream media and the Westminster establishment that has at times bordered on the hysterical, the SNP are set to sweep the board in Scotland. Based on the findings of the latest poll conducted by Ipsos-MORI , the Electoral Calculus website suggests that the SNP could win all 59 Scottish seats. Other electoral calculators project Labour and the Liberal Democrats saving one seat each.Even with these figures, Scots who voted Yes in September could be forgiven for maintaining an air of pessimism. They’ve seen it all before, of course.
It has been argued that their hegemony of the mainstream press was the Unionists’ biggest weapon during the referendum campaign. However, as Professor Tom Devine suggested days before the vote, Westminster’s willingness to embrace Project Fear may ultimately prove to be its downfall. In running such a negative, regressive campaign, the No side had dragged the most unpleasant aspects of Westminster politics into the sunlight. As we move into this election, it’s becoming increasingly hard for them to sneak back into the shadows as if nothing has happened.
This is particularly true for Labour in Scotland. There are many reasons why the demonisation of the SNP as a party of radicals hasn’t had the desired effect. For me, it simply comes down to poor judgement, namely because they’re going on the assumption that nobody in Scotland actually knows anything about what the SNP stands for. They haven’t quite grasped the idea that in a society rejuvenated by the referendum, the Scots are now more politically engaged than ever.
In a country that for decades has been dominated by Labour, people are coming to terms with the idea that the SNP, with its anti-austerity, anti-Trident, pro-social justice agenda, is occupying the ground that once made Labour such an institution north of the border. Much to the chagrin of Westminster, it is not the politics of fear this time around that is striking a chord with the Scottish electorate, but the politics of hope.