Tomorrow the people of Scotland are poised to send shockwaves through the British establishment by handing the SNP a clear mandate to represent the country in Westminster. Having actually lost seats in the 2010 General Election the party which “lost the referendum” will now see anything short of a clear Scottish victory as a devastating failure, with the ‘nationalist’ tide seemingly ready to wash over the entire country.
In response the Conservatives and their allies in the press have sought to delegitimise the voices of Scottish voters; Ed Miliband has threatened to walk away from being PM and abandon us to the Tories if we dare to vote for the SNP; Jim Murphy has relentlessly pedalled the line that the largest party forms the government.
As should be abundantly clear to everyone by now, governments are formed not by the largest party, but by the party (or in this case the grouping) able to command a majority of the House of Commons. This being the case, the ‘Vote SNP Get Tory’ slogan is not just a cynical fear-based electoral tactic – it is also mathematically wrong.
Unless virtually every poll is wrong then one of two things will likely happen after the voting ends tomorrow: either a broadly Conservative bloc (Con-LibDem-UKIP-DUP) will be able to achieve a majority or a broadly Labour bloc (Lab-LibDem-SNP-Plaid-Green-SDLP) will have enough seats to govern. In either case a formal coalition seems unlikely, leaving only ‘Supply-and-Confidence’ deals or a simple ‘Vote-by-Vote’ arrangement. Such a scenario would not just be constitutionally legitimate, it would also be refreshingly democratic.
Given that, regardless of the outcome, Scotland’s votes will be counted in the latter camp, and that the huge swing to the SNP could even boost, rather than reduce, the size of that grouping, it is factually nonsensical to argue that voting for the SNP will increase the chances of a Tory government. The only influence that Scottish voters really have in this regard is in deciding which party has the largest number of seats but that achievement is of absolutely no legitimate value if it is not backed up with an overall parliamentary majority. Make no mistake: despite all the childish posturing and pathetic squabbles witnessed during this campaign, a deal with have to be done.
Nicola Sturgeon is, therefore, entirely correct to state that more votes for the SNP means more power (although not necessarily more powers) for Scotland, and it is on this basis that many Scots who are not natural supporters of the nationalists will back them. I include myself in this camp.
The SNP are not a radical left-wing party or the great red hope of 21st Century socialism. Nonetheless, I believe that they represent the best choice in this election not just for the Scottish left, but for the Scottish people. For too long we have been failed by both sides of the mainstream political debate: ignored by the Conservatives and taken for granted by Labour. For myself and others like me the SNP are a tactical choice – independence was a means to an end, and so is a large contingent of nationalists MPs sitting on the Westminster benches.
For all their faults (and there are plenty) the SNP have clearly gained the trust of the people of Scotland. The place that we call home is a distinct political and civil unit, a nation by any measure, and one whose history, geography and social dynamics produce a different set of needs from the rest of the UK. No unionist party truly understands this, nor do they really want to; the SNP do.
Voting SNP in the General Election will not (and should not) deliver a second referendum, but it is our best chance of shaking up a broken and illegitimate establishment already terrified at the prospect of the Scots actually engaging in the democratic process. Even the threat of a huge bloc of SNP MPs heading to London has rattled the walls of Westminster and Whitehall – there is already talk of electoral reform on the horizon (admittedly as a means of neutering the threat of the SNP) and there is little doubt that some of Labour’s better policy ideas (such as the removal of Non-Dom Tax Status) have been at least partially developed with an eye on the Scottish left rather than the English right.
The progress is incremental, perhaps even glacial, but it is measurable nonetheless.
Many of us voted Yes to independence because of our belief that the Westminster establishment is utterly incapable to reform, that the only way for our country to be the sort of progressive, compassionate nation we believe in is to take control and do it ourselves. This belief may remain, but so long as we are a part of this union then it is incumbent upon us to do whatever we can to make it a better place for the people of these islands. The SNP either proposes, or can at least be a catalyst for, many of the changes we need in the UK: wide-ranging reform of the electoral system, the decentralisation of power, the removal of Trident and the end of heartless (and failed) austerity economics.
Nicola Sturgeon is not the messiah, and the onus is on all of us to ensure that her party are challenged and scrutinised at every turn; however, in the face of a hostile media, a discredited electoral system and a dysfunctional political status quo , the SNP represent our best chance for positive change.