There is a binary choice in Scotland—and the party has not positioned itself firmly on either side of itby John McTernan / May 10, 2016 / Leave a comment
Read more: I cannot wait to see what Ruth Davidson does next
The revival of the Scottish Conservatives has taken some observers by surprise. After Thursday’s elections, they are the second largest party in Holyrood, 32 seats behind the governing Scottish National Party but seven ahead of Scottish Labour. What does it all mean?
One of the obvious takeaways is that the electoral system of proportional representation can keep a party from catastrophe. It rescued Labour this time, and has been saving the Scottish Tories since the first Holyrood elections in 1999. There is also a lesson in this about the longevity of parties: the Liberals are still around as the Liberal Democrats were recently in government for the first time since Lloyd George. Labour revived after the 1980s and the damage done by Bennism and the Militant tendency—and it will survive despite the damage Jeremy Corbyn is doing to it. Great political parties can take a lot of ruin.
The other conclusion to be drawn is that Scottish politics has found something new to articulate itself around: independence. With the voters split 55/45 over the issue in the 2014 referendum, both last year’s general election and this year’s parliamentary one show the nation is now split 50/50. The half leaning towards independence only have one party to turn to but the others have three and a half to choose among (the half being the Scottish Greens, whose support for secession does not form part of their core brand).
It is easy to cast this year’s result solely as a disaster for Scottish Labour. It is a bitter blow indeed, but it derives from their inability to master the new binary choice in Scotland—are you for or against the union? Labour said “Both” and people punished that equivocation by voting SNP or Tory. Some detached observers would see a poetic justice in this electoral punishment. After all, Labour had spent the period from 1983-2010 asking the question: are you for or…