Nobody knows exactly how well the SNP will do in next week’s general election, but by 8th May their MPs are likely to represent the vast majority of Scotland at Westminister, and one poll this week suggested they could take all 59 seats.
In recent decades, Scotland has drawn its MPs from a mixture of the Labour Party (the dominant force since the Thatcher years), the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and a small smattering of Conservatives. This May, then, could see major change—but what impact would such a homogenous bloc of MPs have on the country they serve?
Jim Gallagher—former government Director-General for Devolution
One party states don’t work. We used to see that in Scottish local government, until the late Donald Dewar agreed with the Liberals to change the electoral system. Today we have something surprisingly close to it in the Holyrood Parliament where, despite a supposedly proportional electoral system, 45 per cent of the vote delivered the SNP a substantial majority, ruthlessly exercised. In both places politics ceases to be open competition between parties and is replaced by internal factionalism. The result is poor public policy. SNP dominance in both Holyrood and Westminster will leave half or more of Scotland feeling not just unrepresented but misrepresented, certainly on the constitutional question, which they thought they had answered.
A new left
Cat Boyd—radical independence campaigner
The final days of the election in pictures:
I think bringing pro-independence MPs to Westminster is a good thing. Primarily, it is an expression of the abject failure of the Labour party in Scotland. No matter what the outcome of the general election is Scotland will still be marginalised. I’m not a member of the SNP and disagree with certain parts of their policies. But, is it worth it to vote for a party which says austerity needs to end and that it will not renew Trident? Yes. There are people who didn’t vote for independence who are voting for the SNP in the general election, for them it’s about making Scotland’s voice heard and challenging the Westminster establishment. In the long-term, I would like to see the flourishing of other left wing pro-independence parties to challenge the SNP. What we need in Scotland is not a one party state but rather a new left wing force to replace the Labour party which has collapsed.
Voters need choice
Peter Kellner—President of YouGov
One-party societies are bad for democracy. Voters need a real choice, not just a theoretical choice. Sometimes the one-party interlude is fairly short and no great harm is done. But over the next five years or so, Scotland needs a Labour revival, a split in the SNP or a new force to challenge the SNP. Luckily, Scotland’s PR system for Holyrood means that the SNP won’t be as dominant there in next year’s election as it is likely to be in Westminster next week. But it remains to be seen how effective the forces of opposition in Holyrood will be—Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Green.
David Grieg—playwright and independence campaigner
We have always had a one party state in Scotland, as a result of the first past the post system. A vast majority is inevitably won by one party. For a long period of time it was the Labour party, and before that somewhat ironically it was the Tories—they had over 50 per cent of the vote in Scotland in the 1950s. What Scotland does with Westminster is vote defensively, it doesn’t reflect what people really think—it’s more about who will best make our voice heard. Because of the way first past the works it gives the impression that Scotland is 100 per cent SNP, which is absolutely not the case. We are governed mainly by the Scottish parliament which operates under a system of proportional representation, so it’s unlikely that the SNP will completely dominate in the 2016 Holyrood elections. But, if a clean sweep for the SNP spooks the establishment at Westminster so much that they bring in proportional representation and a more federalised system across the country, then that would be a positive.
Look to Ireland
Iain McLean—Director of the Gwilym Gibbon Centre for Public Policy
Yes. A one-party state is disastrous everywhere. In 2015, half the votes in Scotland may deliver almost all the seats. That shows what a terrible electoral system we have for Westminster. The Irish Party’s monopoly of seats in Catholic Ireland from 1885 to 1918 was a disaster for Ireland. It made the English Tories totally intransigent. Irish MPs had nothing to do except obey Charles Stuart Parnell and his successors. When, by 1914, they had failed to deliver Home Rule to Ireland, they were swept away by Sinn Fein. Irish independence then required a guerrilla war against Britain and a civil war in Ireland
Iain McLean and Jim Gallagher spoke at the British Academy’s “What Happens if No-one Wins” debate on Wednesday, and have co-authored a paper on nationalists at Westminster
Confidence is key
Dr Gerry Hassan is co-author of ‘The Strange Death of Labour Scotland’
Scotland is in transition from something old, predictable and understandable, to something new, less predictable and very different. The Labour Party one party state is coming to an end, but what happens if we shift seamlessly to a new SNP hegemony? There is a profound tension in society. In recent decades, Scotland has become more pluralist and diverse—one where people challenge authority and importantly as witnessed in the Indyref, created their own notions of authority.
One critical faultline of the future will be how this self-determining, self-organising culture relates to the more controlling vision of the SNP. The latter offers a very conventional, modernist, near-left politics, the former, something much more daring, exciting and dynamic. How this latter diverse assembly of radicals finds voice and form over the coming years will be one of the fascinating aspects of a Scottish political culture increasingly confident that it can and is making its own collective future.
This week’s Big Question was edited by Serena Kutchinsky and Josh Lowe