Back to the Future: Is it Time for a 1980s Revival or Not?
The Scotsman, May 8th 2010
The Scottish election results throw up numerous challenges for all the parties and their prospects in next year’s Scottish Parliament elections.
Scotland has on one reading confirmed its difference. We are a different political place. Labour held its own, while falling back everywhere else. The Tories have got nowhere, while Lib Dem and SNP hopes have been unfulfilled.
Just as the Westminster elections were about the mantle of ‘change’, with the prospect of a minority Tory Government, the battle in Scotland will be about who can be seen as the best defenders of Scottish interests.
The SNP have suffered a significant reverse in the election. The party showed no real strategy, instead articulating a ‘little Scotland’ message. It may be that its populist cheeky chappy style of governing and constantly campaigning under Salmond may have reached the limits of its popularity.
The conventional narrative has been that the election of the Tories would be good for the SNP. This isn’t automatically so. Scottish Labour in Holyrood and Westminster in opposition, could find themselves as in the 1980s, re-emphasising their nationalist as opposed to their unionist roots.
The Lib Dems polled poorly in Scotland, but they could emerge as kingmakers in Holyrood next year, going back into coalition with Labour or forming an alliance with the SNP. Underneath this, the Lib Dems need to decide if they will only ever go into partnership with Labour, and if they are at least open to the idea of an independence referendum.
The Scottish Tories have earned plaudits for Annabel Goldie’s style and debating in Holyrood, but what does it add up to? What is the point of the Tories beyond trying to be nice? There does seem at the heart of the Scots Tories to be no idea of what they are for, or any sense of a post-Thatcher centre-right agenda.
These are good results for Labour, but they throw done numerous questions for Iain Gray. Does Scottish Labour have the spirit to become more energetic, dynamic and radical, rather than just knee-jerk and opposing every SNP pronouncement? This could be a challenge to Labour politicians who detest the SNP so much that it could prove a problem for them trying to embrace a nationalism with a small ‘n’.
There is a danger in all of this – of a sense of entering a time warp we all feel we know and dusting down our old Proclaimers 1980s records, and for the centre-left, believing it is back to the barricades of that decade.
The Conservatives do face difficult questions if they enter Downing Street, but Labour, Lib Dem and SNP politicians with the Scottish Parliament elections next year cannot just return to the old music hall classics and clichés of the Thatcher era.
Scotland has entered a ‘Doomsday Scenario Mark Two’, of Scotland not voting Tory, but as looks likely getting a Tory Government. Yet, the politics of devolution, and economic, social and political crises, demand that our politicians reach out of their cosy comfort zones, and just seeing these results as re-affirming a northern social democracy which repels the barbarians at the borders.
Scottish centre-left politicians are going to have come up with new ideas which are both oppositional to the Tories, and positive in what they say about the future of Scotland. This has to entail a search for a politics which goes beyond opportunism and mere positioning, and instead speaks in a different way and voice for a Scotland not still living in the 1980s.