Scotland has made this election campaign surreal. Previously impossible events are clashing uncomfortably with once reasonable assumptions.
I would have been Labour by default. You voted Labour if you valued communities over individuals; to support workers, not bosses. You trusted public service and viewed Tories with suspicion. But Labour has lost its soul, and lost its way. They introduced tuition fees, NHS privatisation, and recently voted through £30bn of austerity cuts.
They still speak about social justice, of course. Get rid of the non-doms, bring in a 50p tax rate. But there’s no substance any more. How is it social justice to raise the minimum wage to still less than the Living Wage? How will your tax policies help people when economists say they’ll lose money? Labour’s social justice rhetoric is a poorly designed façade, giving the impression of radicalism with headline grabbing policies with austerity hiding between the lines.
Labour is now part of a generally reviled establishment which equates its prejudices with reasonability. The founding article of The Stepford Student acknowledges this. The establishment says if you oppose bankers’ bonuses, financial deregulation, Trident renewal, or lower spending then you are one of the loons.
No one mentions that outside of the South these policies are wildly popular. It goes unnoticed that economists agree austerity is holding back recovery by impeding growth, and that productivity is still falling. A global financial crash happened and we talk about immigration more often than banking reform. Labour is even inventing their own half-hearted immigration controls. Labour has changed so much that expecting a fair society from them is foolish.
If a party that truly believed in social justice stood beside Labour, the illusion would shatter. It’s happening in Scotland now. When the SNP propose abolishing tuition fees, arguing no politician should take away privileges they benefited from, it’s small wonder the Labour proposal to cut them to £6000 looks wafer thin. Every principle that Labour advertises is done better by kamikaze Nicola Sturgeon than plasticine-faced Ed Miliband. That simple statement should not excite any progressive voice. Meanwhile, Labour strategy in Scotland resembles shit hitting a fan hoping anything will stick. I will vote SNP, because Labour abandoned my ideals. And that hurts.
All very well for Scotland, you might say. Like malevolent Mary Berry impersonator Anna Soubry MP, you may think SNP influence “would be a betrayal, not just to the English, but to the whole of the United Kingdom.” Other fears centre on Alex Salmond, or the assumption that all nationalism is bad.
This is scaremongering. No one seriously expects Nicola Sturgeon will raid the UK Treasury for pocket money. Instead, her plan seems more cunning and long-term, trying to persuade the Labour Party to return to their collectivist roots. She doesn’t want England to be afraid of her; she wants it to welcome her.
It’s unlikely Saltires will be selling out in Gloucestershire any time soon though. Sturgeon has a difficult job to be seen as a reformer in England, when everyone paints her as a separatist. The London-based press are content to sow national resentment, partly because it makes good headlines and partly because an SNP contingent would threaten establishment assumptions. So the SNP rise is framed as a false choice: support Britain by embracing the disappointing status quo, or live in fear of the progressiveness of the vile Jocks. We are all going to have to be careful to reject that divisive rhetoric. Democracy is supposed to be for everyone, and if we make it impossible for progressive ideas to be realised, the Union really will be doomed.
Instead, we should find room for constructive compromises. Labour could adopt the SNP’s anti-austerity spending plans and still meet their deficit targets, the IFS says. Sturgeon’s strict gender equality stance will improve Westminster. Their anti-Trident stance will prove more controversial. Whatever happens, Sturgeon will drag Labour leftwards. The reception to her TV performance showed us that much of England actually support her in taking on the Westminster club.
The jist is this: if the polls are correct, Britain will have to start taking the political aspirations of Scots more seriously. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. However, England’s left are going to have to consider what is more dear to them: their Englishness or their progressiveness. Make the wrong choice, and we continue on our current trajectory. Make the right one and a new progressive force may emerge from the political shadows, to banish the establishment fuckery we’ve all come to loathe.