THEY SAY a week is a long time in politics. Well, someone said it at some point and it’s sort of stuck, but it makes a good introductory line so let’s stick with the conceit that time isn’t a constant and varies relative to the subject under discussion.
We’re just a week or so into 2015, and, to borrow another stock political cliché, the starting gun has already been fired on the General Election campaign. With more than 100 days to go until the election, it seems we’re in for a long haul. Or, if you’ve been covering the Scottish independence referendum for the last two plus years, a pleasantly short campaign.
That being said, we no longer live in a country where a General Election involves two or three parties campaigning for votes across the UK with the same message. If devolution didn’t change that dynamic noticeably, then the referendum has. This will be the first General Election in history to be fought in a United Kingdom where 45% of the residents of one nation no longer wish to be a part of it. Two of the UK’s major cities, one of them a former second city of the Empire, no longer believe the UK serves their interests.
It’s with this in mind that I find it hard not to cringe at the response of some to Jim Murphy’s plan to use Scotland’s share of Labour’s proposed mansion tax to fund 1000 extra nurses for the Scottish NHS. Both press and politician alike have leapt on this as wealthy English (read London) home-owners being persecuted so that Labour can pick up more votes in Scotland. I’ll leave it to Alex Massie to dissect this particular notion in detail, but it marks the latest in a growing line of examples of supposed unionists doing the SNP’s work for them.
Whether it’s David Cameron’s decision to talk about English votes for English laws (EVEL) within hours of Scotland voting no, Charles Moore in the Telegraph likening the SNP to “date-rapists” (I don’t like the SNP but come on, he could have said PPI cold callers and made exactly the same point) or Boris Johnson scoring political points by likening Scots to muggers, it’s hard to get away from the idea that Scotland (and you could extend this idea to much of the rest of the UK outside London and the South, without too much difficulty) is, at some level, the second tier of the United Kingdom.
It really doesn’t matter whether this series of events is born out of ignorance or complacency or plain old stupidity, the final result is the same; support for the SNP rising. Too many people believe that every person who voted No to independence did so with absolute certainty that they were right and with joy in their hearts. This simply isn’t the case. Many of those who voted no did so more on the basis of giving the UK, the Westminster parties & their Scottish counterparts “one last chance” to get their act together. Although giving the Scottish Parliament the powers to be more than just a talking shop and money distribution centre may go someway to giving voters hope that Westminster cares about them; the biggest problem isn’t one of devolution. It’s one of respect.
When Katie Hopkins sounds off on Twitter about “sweaty little jocks”, with the exception of cyber-nats who are always spoiling for a fight and that strange group of people who find themselves offended by anything that isn’t written in the Guardian, we don’t care. We don’t care because it’s “Katie Hopkins on Twitter” and there’s almost no combination of words in any language which can be judged less significant to the human race than that.
It’s a slightly different matter though when politicians and journalists who should know better adopt a tone towards Scotland that feels like it’s only a couple of notches removed from the egregious Ms Hopkins. Is it any wonder then, that so many Scots are choosing to adopt a posture towards the rest of the UK which was summarised by Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus as “Fuck you too, pal.”?
The referendum didn’t settle the question of independence forever, (signs suggest it didn’t even settle it for the promised “generation”,) the complaints and grievances that provoked the referendum in the first place haven’t gone away. Scotland may well be a comparatively small section of the UK’s total population but small doesn’t mean insignificant and although I’m in no doubt that London is important to the fortunes of the rest of the UK, the rest of the UK should similarly be as important to London.
Like 55% of Scottish voters, I said No to independence. However if the response to Jim Murphy’s policy (however questionable it may be) is any indication, it won’t be long before more and more No voters start to ask “why did I bother?”.