Scotland and the 2015 General Election

Two weeks from today, those who come under the designation of British will take to the polls to vote for the Members of the UK Westminster Parliament. There are exceptions to this of course, such as those who have already voted by post or by proxy, and those who won’t see the point in participating at all.

The number of people who end up lumped into the inaccurately labelled category of ‘apathetic voters’ is substantial, a phenomenon common in mature political democracies the world over. This often elicits protestations that the disengaged and disaffected should spoil their ballots rather than abstain, or that there is some sort of moral imperative to cast a ballot due to the sacrifices of those that have come before. These tired old arguments come around like the seasons, and have little discernible effect. The simple truth for many is that there is little point in taking even a symbolic stand if you don’t believe there is any real prospect of change.

This time may be different.

It can be easy to forget in amongst the laboriously prosaic campaigning, but this time we find ourselves at a genuinely exciting moment in British political history – whatever the outcome of the election may be. The old assumptions and expectations have been broken down in a way that few people would ever have predicted.

One of my earliest memories relating to the general election that didn’t just involve getting the day off school was when Tony Blair’s New Labour party were seeking to gain power from John Major’s Conservatives in 1997. The Daily Record displayed a headline that stated: ’18 Reasons We Need a Fresh Breath of Blair’, one for each year the Tories had been in power.

Back then it seemed like there might be real change afforded by voting for Labour, but of course, that seems almost laughable now. What was on offer was nothing more than the illusion of something different; a choice between two barely indistinguishable parties, cloaked in rhetoric and false promises. This was just the other side of the coin in a bleak partisan system where nothing really transformative ever took place. Nowhere else was this more keenly felt than in Scotland, where each successive election just seemed to confirm that voting had no impact upon the actual result.

Tony Blair and George Bush

Now, things seem fundamentally different. The far right has inevitably smartened up enough to present itself as a credible threat in the form of UKIP and Nigel Farage, simultaneously managing to make the Tories appear more rational, whilst also pulling them to promise more extreme action. The Lib Dems have all but completely extinguished their relevance as anything other than a party designed to prop up whoever is in power at any given time and needs a hand – the Parliamentary equivalent of a temp agency. Labour are having an existential crisis, faced with a complete meltdown in their traditionally safe heartlands… and not only do we now have televised debates, but the Greens and Plaid Cymru are represented on there as well (though why Patrick Harvie wasn’t included in Scotland is still a mystery).

Nigel Farage

Even the ever dependable First Past the Post system, so desperately lauded by the mainstream parties for its ability to produce sizeable majorities (and therefore allegedly ‘stable’ governments) has failed to achieve even that basic task. The irony of that is compounded by the fact that not only do we have a popular SNP government in Edinburgh, but that they have a majority under a proportional system designed specifically to prevent such a scenario from taking place. Ouch.

Nicola Sturgeon

It should not be underestimated how fascinating all of this is, especially when we remember the situation that our American friends are still trapped in. However, sadly the details are at risk of being nothing more than window dressing if it doesn’t actually have the potential to produce real change for people. Whether the Greens are getting on TV a bit more often is irrelevant if it remains the case that they cannot garner enough nationwide support to be in a position to actually make an impact. For many across the UK, this is still the reality they are faced with when deciding how to vote. This is not the case for those of us in Scotland.

Scotland Westminster

One of the main underlying issues around the debate over Scottish independence was a dissatisfaction with the status quo; a rejection of the helplessness of the Westminster system that favoured those already in positions of power. People were fed up of being stuck with the Hobson’s choice between red or blue – though it is extremely generous of me to imply that the Tories were ever actually really an option. For many who voted yes, there was a crushing resigned fear that the result would signify a return to the old situation, but it hasn’t. Rather than doggedly stick to supporting a single party in a system that offers no alternatives, for once we are able to vote in such a way that not only will it actually count, but in a way that could also bring about a genuine shift in politics across the UK. Hell, arguably it’s already happened.

For the first time, our ballot feels like it actually matters again, and that those in Westminster are having to sit up and take notice. You can’t tell the Scottish people that they will be better as part of the United Kingdom and then expect them to not want a seat at the head table.

Image of Tony Blair and George Bush is in the public domain.
Image of Nigel Farage from Euro Realist Newsletter used under Creative Commons licence.
Image of Nicola Sturgeon from the Scottish Government used under Creative Commons licence.
Image of ‘Scotland Place – Westminster’ by me.

Scotland Will Vote Yes

As far back as I can remember, I have had an innate longing for the independence of Scotland. When the unthinkable happened, with the SNP gaining a majority in the Scottish Parliament (despite all explicit designs to the contrary), I was sure that the (small c) conservatism in Scotland would mean that it would inevitably be a ‘no’ vote. We might have big baws in some areas, but we’re actually incredibly feart of taking steps into the unknown in practical terms; independence was just some inconceivable notion, an ideal that may be achieved in 30 or so years… if ever.

It may well be my own bias that is driving my perspective on this, but for the first time in my life, Scottish people seem to have a purpose greater than just our own immediate concerns. Rather than spouting pish about inconsequential events that are local to only us Glaswegians, the city is on fire with debate. Instead of small talk about ‘how our night has been’, the conversation of club patriots, taxi drivers, and bystanders alike has been alive with discussions about the fallacies and promises of the so-called ‘Better Together’ campaign. Anecdotal though it may be, my experience has been that of Scots passionate about asserting their own voice in the future of the country in which they live.

Despite all of the odds, I believe that we are going to vote for independence.

It’s not been a straightforward journey. The debate has been fraught with mediocrity and nonsense. Up until recently, I have dismissed out of hand any claims about supposed bias from the BBC. As far as I’m concerned, impartiality from an institution is not demonstrated by their failure to give substantial time to your particular political view. Often, despite being pro independence, I would despair over such cries, vehemently defending the broadcaster’s reputation and stance. However, in the past week I have witnessed, with disgust, the blatant spin of desperate claims dug up by those who are in opposition to independence. To me, the BBC’s Political Editor Nick Robinson has never been a particularly likeable fellow, but is one who I’ve always had the utmost respect. Despite wanting to root for his defence, I couldn’t quite believe that he would have the audacity to give a bare-faced lie about the supposed failure of the First Minister to answer a question when the contrary was so clear. (Context here.) I am genuinely stunned at how clear the attempted manipulation of people has been displayed in general.

Anecdotal though it may be, the overwhelming majority of people that I have contact with are in favour of a vote for yes vote for independence. This isn’t about nationalism – something that people outside of the effects of the debate find hard to realise. This isn’t about some (yawn) Braveheart notion of Bannockburn and Scottish identity. Scots (adopted or otherwise) easily see through the token gestures offered by a desperate political elite. We easily dismiss the duplicity of career journalists like Nick Robinson, or the hypocrisy and cynicism of the tactical deployment of Gordon Brown in a failed campaign to stick with the status quo. We know that there are larger forces at play that twist news stories to confuse and manipulate feelings about everyday costs and job creation or maintenance such as that in the case of Asda, Standard Life, or RBS.

As was noted at the time of the SNP landslide in the Scottish Parliament a number of years ago – the Scots have proven to be amongst the most sophisticated, and unpredictable of voters in Europe (if not the world). I do not believe in polls, or the false comparisons between those with differing methodologies. I believe that the Scottish people are going to vote yes. Why? Because for once, Scotland feels alive.

I believe Scotland is going to do it. We are going to vote yes, and take responsibility for our own decisions, rather than blame successive Tory Westminster governments that we can easily claim not to have voted for.

As tough as it might have been at times, I just hope that we retain the same level of peaceful physical decorum and respect as we have afforded each other so far. We don’t need to look too far across the water to see how different it could well have ended up. I am proud to be Scottish, and excited to be part of this part of our history. All that said, I’m sticking my neck out to say: Aye, it’s going to be a Yes. I’m fascinated to see what happens next.