Nationalists in decline

Author: 

Dale Street

Compared with the 2015 general election, the number of SNP MPs fell from 56 to 35. Scottish Tory MPs increased from one to 13, Scottish Labour MPs increased from one to seven, and Scottish Lib-Dem MPs increased from one to four.

Eleven of the new intake of SNP MPs have majorities of less than 900. In some constituencies their majorities were wafer-thin: two, 21, 60, 75, and 195.

The SNP’s share of the popular vote fell from 50% in 2015 to 37%. The Tory share of the popular vote increased from 15% to 29%, while the Labour share increased from 24% to 27%. The Lib-Dem share fell slightly, from 7.5% to 7%.

In the language of Scottish politics: Unionist parties won 63% of the vote, and the sole pro-independence party in the election won 37%.

(The three token Scottish Green candidates were an irrelevance. In fact, in five constituencies the decision by the Greens not to stand candidates probably saved the seats for the SNP.)

In other circumstances, winning 35 constituencies and 37% of the vote would be seen as a major victory for the SNP. And some of its cult-followers certainly see it in such simplistic terms. But they are wrong.

Last week’s election marked another stage in the current decline of the SNP’s electoral fortunes. In 2015 it won 50% of the popular vote. In 2016 it won 47% (constituency vote) and 42% (regional vote). In the 2017 council elections it won 32% of first preference votes (on a very low turnout).

The centrepiece of the SNP’s politics – the demand for a second referendum on Scottish independence – took a bad hit in the general election. It was certainly not the only reason for the fall in SNP support. But it was a major factor, especially in constituencies which switched from SNP to Tory.

The election also underlined the growing unpopularity of the cult-leader Nicola Sturgeon. This was reflected in the fact that, in contrast to 2015, her picture disappeared from SNP billboards, from the SNP manifesto, from SNP election material, and from the SNP helicopter.

(In 2015 voters could have been forgiven for thinking that Sturgeon was standing in every constituency in Scotland.)

The SNP went into the election campaign promising to unseat the sole Tory MP left in Scotland after the 2015 election. Voting Tory, they claimed, was simply not Scottish. But now it turns out that nearly 30% of Scots who voted backed the ‘un-Scottish’ Tories.

Even though Labour lost the election, the article of belief that England is inherently Tory (and the only salvation for Scotland therefore lies in independence) was exposed as a fallacy. Labour won 40% of the vote at a UK level – 3% more than the SNP’s share of the vote in Scotland.

The SNP’s illusion that they were Scotland’s anti-austerity party, bravely defending Scotland against Tory cuts, was likewise exposed.

Many voters who switched from SNP to Tory rightly regarded the SNP’s record in Holyrood as one of incompetence and failure rather than as one of anti-austerity. And voters who, in lesser number, switched from SNP to Labour, saw Labour as the party of real anti-austerity.

The election campaign run by the SNP also underlined its unbridled cynicism, opportunism and intolerance of dissent – both within its own ranks and also even outwith them.

When a nurse criticised the SNP’s record on the NHS during the first Scottish Leaders debate, SNP parliamentarians and cybernats ran an organised campaign of character assassination, falsely claiming that she was not a nurse but was, in fact, the wife of a Tory councillor.

When the dishonesty of the campaign was exposed, Sturgeon dismissed it all as “an honest mistake”.

During the second Scottish Leaders debate Sturgeon claimed that Dugdale had told her in a private conservation after last year’s EU referendum that she would drop Labour’s opposition to a second referendum on Scottish independence.

Dugdale has dismissed this as a lie. Irrespective of who was lying, the purpose of Sturgeon’s statement – not an off-the-cuff one, but one rehearsed in preparations for the debate – was to drive opponents of a second referendum away from voting Labour.

(By this point in the campaign the SNP would have been aware of the Labour threat in a number of seats. If anti-independence voters switched from Labour to Tory in those seats, the SNP could come up ‘through the middle’. In other words: Sturgeon was campaigning for a Tory vote.)

At the start of the election campaign Sturgeon echoed the Tory and media line that Corbyn “ain’t going anywhere near Downing Street.” By the end of the campaign the SNP had switched to the dishonestly absurd argument that the only way to get a Labour government was to vote SNP.

Corbyn’s true supporters in Scotland – said the SNP, word-for-word – were not Labour but SNP candidates. Apart from the claim’s inherent absurdity, it ignored the fact that the proportion of pro-Corbyn Labour candidates in Scotland was probably greater than in England.

The Scottish Labour Party, the SNP argument continued, was autonomous from the Labour Party at a national level and did not support Corbyn. But for years past the SNP has dismissed Scottish Labour as a “branch office” of the Labour Party in London, incapable of taking a position different from its “Westmonster” office.

At a local level SNP candidates threw into their election campaigns anything and everything which they thought would help them win, no matter how ridiculous or how poisonous.

In East Lothian the SNP took out an advert in the local newspaper to tell voters that the election had nothing to do with a second referendum. In Perth the SNP launched a campaign for the return of the Stone of Destiny, used over 700 years ago for the coronation of Scottish monarchs.

(The Stone of Destiny was returned from London to Edinburgh Castle in 1996. But the Perth SNP campaign demanded its return – from Edinburgh – to Scone Abbey, near Perth.)

In Airdrie and Shotts the SNP distributed a leaflet showing a handshake with “Labour” and “Tory”, written on the two handcuffs, and headed: “Labour Sell Out to the Tories.” (At the same time the SNP leadership was calling for a “progressive alliance” with Labour.)

The more rational elements of the SNP leadership have registered the setback which the election result represents for the SNP and its demand for a second referendum. But some of its MPs and MSPs have argued that the result strengthens the campaign for independence.

It is a different story with the SNP’s cybernats and activist base, the cult’s true believers: For them, only traitors to the nation voted Tory and oppose a second referendum:

“We, the SNP, won Scotland. The others won fuck all. We still have a triple mandate for independence, as promised. Traitorous bastards, we will remember who sold us down the river, you bastards. For it’s coming yet fur aw’ that.”

“Hey, Unionists in Scotland. If you don’t like Scotland, you can all get the fuck out of our country. We’ll even help you pack.”

“I’m on the streets of Brechin looking for Tory voters. You are scum and devoid of humanity – my granddads fought against you. … Anyone in the SNP saying this (that indyref2 is off the agenda) should be kicked out of the party, no matter how high up they are.”

Inevitably, new targets have been added to the Scotsnat boycott list: an ice cream shop in Fochabers (for selling an ice cream cone to Ruth Davidson), the National Trust for Scotland (for not allowing its buildings to be defaced by SNP banners), and a shortbread shop in Edinburgh (which Ruth Davidson visited).

Cyberbats have also constructed their own lying narrative to explain the Tory resurgence in Scotland and the election of a (minority) Tory government:

Scottish Labour called for a vote for the Tories in selected constituencies; this enabled the Tories to win twelve new seats; if the Tories had not won those seats in Scotland, there would be no Tory government; like everything else, therefore, Scottish Labour is to blame for the Tories’ ‘victory’.

Knowing that only a handful of Tory voters will back independence, the SNP will continue to target Labour. Any calls by the SNP for a “progressive alliance” against the Tories would be no more than a feint designed to provide another pretext for denouncing Labour.

As the election campaign confirmed yet again, the SNP is a lying nationalist cult inherently hostile to the Labour Party and labour movement values.

Scottish Labour has emerged from the general election feeling more confident about its future. There are grounds for such optimism – but they are limited.

Labour’s share of the vote in Scotland was lower than that of the Tories for the first time in a general election since 1970. Scottish Labour won six new seats, but generally only with small majorities: 250, 250, 260, 850, 1,600, and 3,100.

In the case of Rutherglen, the Labour vote actually went down in comparison with 2015, but the SNP vote fell even more. The Tories, on the other hand, more than doubled their vote, both relatively and absolutely.

Labour continues to suffer from the poison of national-identity-politics injected into Scottish politics by the SNP. The Tories have benefited from it. But Labour has yet to put class back at the centre of Scottish politics.

Labour election campaigning was generally low-key, reflecting Labour’s ongoing weakness in Scotland. In general, only a few members in each CLP came out doorknocking and leafleting. And there was no serious social media strategy.

Unlike in England, there has been no large-scale influx of Corbyn supporters into Scottish Labour. Many CLPs do no more than, at best, tick over. Membership numbers remain low. And the Party’s activist base is fairly minimal.

The Scottish Labour left needs to: recruit new Labour voters, especially youth, into the Party; organise them into a campaigning, activist left; and confront and break the grip which the right continues to exercise on broad swathes of Scottish Labour.