A Liminal Moment
‘A relationship is like a shark. It’s got to keep on going forward. What we have is a dead shark.’
– Woody Allen
Woody Allen’s views on the British constitution are not well known, but he neatly describes the relationship here as Scotland takes another big slide – against all the odds only a few weeks ago – towards a very different future. Scotland’s relationship with England and the Anglo-British State is shuddering backwards, sideways, shunting about in Cameron’s post-Diana oblivion.
The Dead Shark of Britain may have been all dressed up for Kate’s wedding but a Take That concert at Wembley would serve the same purpose. For all the Dimblebores, David Starckeys and the most extravagant display of deference since England elected its Bullingdon Club Cabinet this was a blip of pomp. A temporary autonomous zone of Pedlar’s-Mania.
As slebs and Royalty inter-mingled it was a cast of Hello gathered for a knees-up at our expense. Good on them. But the idea that this actually means something is a stretch of the imagination.
Between now and Friday we are in a liminal moment: ‘between’. We remain there for four or five years. That, despite the Tavish’s hysterics and Iain’s wailing, may not be a bad thing.
Greens talk of ‘transition’ and it may be that the term can be expanded not just to mean a shift from a petro-chemical society of relentless consumerism but ‘transition’ to a state of self-determination, beyond the British State. This stateless nation, in transition from ‘Scotland’s oil’ to ‘Scotland’s wind and water’ may not seem a dynamic place to be. It’s turgid media, dullard leaders and conservative politics may seem to be dominated by a cheeky, too-chipper leader, the Smart Alec of popular press (the British establishment don’t like their Scots so cock-sure) – but the facade masks some bigger real shifts happening.
The Lib-Lab Suicide Pact
Much has been written about Labours hopeless tactics, to confront the whole campaign as a Labour versus Tory decision, when it was about who would form the next government of Scotland. Might this be the last time the Labour Party attempt this approach? It failed in 2007 and it failed five years later.
Then, suddenly, in a co-ordinated awakening the Liberals and Labour awoke and started ranting and raving about independence. But the idea seemed absurd. Hadn’t the previous campaign been all about how no-one was talking about independence, now it was the Nats obsession. Like the idea that Labour put jobs before everything – yet opposed a plan for apprenticeships – or were focused on violence – but opposed control of alcohol – it didn’t add up.
Tavish Scott, landed gentry from Shetland who seems like a character out of a John Buchan novel. Unable to disassociate himself from his London Liberal party – who have come to personify the sort of shabby, lying deceitful politicians as a sort of charicature – he instead turned more and more crabby with the media. His campaign dissolved as quickly as Labour’s did. There is the argument that the Liberal meltdown is more significant than Labour’s. In Scotland, the Liberals have always acted as a bulwark against real change, the rural Tavishes, the Highland Liberals, a safe anodyne alternative, has been brutally exposed. The sad sight of ‘Fag-Ash Charlie’ wheezing on to pretend that Nick Clegg hadn’t happened fooled nobody, and the BBC and STVs decision to exclude Patrick Harvie will now look like the petty narrow media failure it was.
If the Scottish Green Party make the sort of breakthrough that’s now widely predicted – and God hopes they do – it will be because they deserve it.
A block of six, seven or more MSPs will be an inspiring block of sanity in any parliament given no better accolade than the Scotsman’s hilarious editorial. The Greens – the dying publication told us: ‘are often seen as cuddly people, who just want us all to recycle more rubbish. They are not.’ No. ‘They are a serious party, but with left-wing policies.’ Instead the earnest organ informed us that ‘we feel Mr Salmond, in association with Miss Goldie, with whom he has a personal rapport, would be the best team to take Scotland forward in the next half-decade.’
This – as serious editorial in a national newspaper is so lacking in credibility it’s beyond parody.
But the breakthrough for the SGP will be far more important than any victory for George Galloway, should that come.
The Tories have had what some commentators have called a ‘revival’, but it’s a revival based on the vaudeville act that is Annabel Goldie protecting the toxic brand. Keeping the Scottish Conservatives protected from the realities of modern Scotland doesn’t amount to a revival, it’s a retreating tactic to stop the rot, doubtless popular in rugby clubs and golfing bars up and down the land, but otherwise a meaningless presence in contemporary Scotland.
Let’s not pretend this election is a fluke or a freak. Gerry Hassan has called this ‘one of the most disastrous election campaigns in recent memory anywhere in the UK’. Labour Uncut’s Calum Wright called Labour’s campaign, ‘uninspiring, ill-conceived and unsuccessful’. It was thought that things could not have got any worse after the travesty of Wendy Alexander’s short-lived but ill-fated reign, but it certainly did.
The collapse of the unionist parties is a more significant shift than many realise. Repeated studies show that once voter loyalty is broken the pattern of behaviour is rarely resorted to automatically. People voting for the SNP or the Greens for the first time will have dislodged loyalty to Liberals or Labour. It may have been the Stephen Purcell debacle, the competence of the Green opposition or the incompetence of the Labour one, but something substantial has moved in the Scottish political landscape.
Discussion will quickly move to the referendum, but this debate should be delayed, not for long but long enough for a more dynamic energised administration to show some impact unencumbered by the unionist shackles.
If an upturned boat is a watershed, what’s a landslide?