Scotland needs a Parliament with more radical voices
Sunday Mail, March 13th 2016
Nearly everyone assumes an SNP victory in the forthcoming Scottish elections.
There is a battle for second place between Labour and the Tories, while the leftovers will be fought over by the Lib Dems, Greens, UKIP and new left RISE.
An SNP majority government seems likely. The odds on the Nationalists winning every one of the 73 constituency seats are decent. There is the distinct prospect that they won’t quite manage it – with the Tories and maybe even Labour holding out in one or two places.
A significant amount of energy and expectation is being put into the return of a SNP majority, with supporters calling for a campaign of ‘both votes SNP’, and trying to closing down any kind of debate.
We have to ask however if majority government is a good thing in a Parliament elected by PR and with no second chamber? Does it aid better politics? And does the SNP deserve to be elected as a majority again?
The SNP have now been in office nine years, and like any administration of such length they have a mixed record, some good, some bad. They have undoubtedly shown their competence and ability to govern.
The first SNP administration from 2007 was a minority, elected with only one more seat than Labour. It did some big-ticket things. And as importantly, its tone was one of humility and of working with others – while resetting the centre of politics.
The second SNP period of office from 2011 has had a majority, which represented a huge shift to the Nationalists and away from Labour. Yet, apart from the undoubted achievement of holding (and losing) the indyref, there have been few policy and legislative achievements.
What will another SNP majority government produce? It will be argued that Nicola Sturgeon, winning her own personal mandate, will be free and with renewed legitimacy.
Sturgeon has been First Minister for one and a half years and while her tone and style is very different from her predecessor Alex Salmond, there has been little shift in policy to more detail and substance. Some had hoped for more.
Would a new SNP majority be liberated? To address the growing fiscal gap in domestic public finances which will amount to £2bn by 2020? To be truthful about increasing pressures on education, health and local government? To analyse the gap in public spending between Scotland and the rest of the UK; and to develop an independence offer which is different from the flawed offer of 2014? All this is needed, but sadly as of yet is nowhere to be found.
There is a whiff of déjà vu. In 2003 Jack McConnell – having taken over as First Minister from Henry McLeish – believed that if he won his own mandate he would be liberated to be bolder. It is difficult to remember now that McConnell was once viewed as a radical ‘young Turk’ – wrongly as it turned out.
The SNP manifesto may surprise us, but even more important is the tone of the administration. When Salmond and the SNP won in 2007 and 2011 they did so with a sense of positivity – talking up Scotland and the potential of self-government.
Post-referendum this outlook seems to have been lost. Instead, a mindset of niggle and grievance has come to the fore, of seeing Westminster perfidy and treachery as responsible for all the woes of Scotland.
Scottish politics – and even the prospect of independence – might actually be aided by the election of a Parliament of minorities, where no one party has an overall majority.
Scotland and independence are not synonymous with the SNP. Democracy needs diversity and vibrant opposition to aid its flourishing. At the moment, we don’t have enough democracy in Scotland.
First, Scotland needs a government that will talk to us about the hard choices ahead with honesty and treat us as adults. Second, it requires an opposition which is healthy and not petty minded – but can rise to the big occasions and questions.
Finally, Scotland needs more radical and outspoken voices in our Parliament. Too many politicians from the mainstream four parties have contributed little of worth to our national debates.
The hopes of the independence generation, of ‘the third Scotland’, and of the energies and idealism of Common Weal, Women for Independence, Radical Independence Campaign, and artists and cultural figures, needs to be rekindled.
Politics cannot be reduced to administrative management. The vibrant spirit of 2014 will not be best served by reaffirming safety first politics, but by encouraging the Greens and new left RISE, to gain greater presence and votes. That requires greater boldness, depth and maturity from such forces.
Scotland needs more democracy and debate not less, more diversity and new voices, along with a bit more honesty. It is time to start living a little more dangerously!