Friday, 6 May 2011

The strange death of Liberal Scotland.

It is uncanny the extent to which Liberal voters in Scotland endorsed the SNP.  I suspect that this is not a deep-seated desire for independence but a recognition that Scots politics are centre-left and that Labour have failed to engage since they lost their divine right to rule in 2007.  It also raises the issue as what happens next in mainland British politics, given the essential contribution that Scotland has made to anti-Tory majorities in the past.  The uncanny parallels between bland and boring Iain Grey and the Boy David are also becoming clearer - neither of them could galvanise much more than their core vote to come out and put their choices (democratically in Scotland) against the Labour box, and neither look as though they have positioned their parties well for the 2015 General Election.

That, of course, assumes that there isn't one this year.  The Tories may be tempted to cut and run, given the Liberal collapse and Labour's inability to restore itself sufficiently in the areas where Blair managed to pull off his new-right con tricks.

Salmond has been surprisingly successful as First Minister, and he did manage to run a minority government that got most of its programme through.  The Scots are generally fed up with Westminister politics and I'm sure that many of the people I know who used to vote Liberal Democrat have been quite happy to vote SNP given the hostility of the Labour Establishment (permeating local government, the civil service and the media) to the nationalist agenda.  There were confident predictions that the administration would fail, and in many respects the electorate have rewarded him for it.

What is most remarkable is the extent to which the Liberals have been eliminated.  Fortunately Orkney and Shetland return separate MSPs or there would have been only one FPTP seat won - and the regional list looks disastrous.  The Celtic fringe sustained the Liberal Party through the wilderness years after 1935, and this is particularly disastrous given the failure of the party to put down roots elsewhere.  Areas where the Liberals had been extremely strong, such as the Borders, are now no longer strongholds - and it is only the fact that the Tories did pretty badly too that masks the extent of the catastrophe.  The position looks irretrievable.

How the party political cards fall out over the next few years is subsidiary to the need to build up a consensus around a reformist agenda.  Tribalism is no longer valid - there are values and revolutionary upheavals to be progressed!  Labour will need to look to how it engages with the Nationalists at Westminster - adult politics require a constitutional reform agenda that most people to the left of David Blunkett can sign up to.

The other lesson to draw is that a PR system (the Additional Member System) can deliver a decisive result if the voters will it.  It is a key argument for the pro-PR campaign that the 2011 Scottish result was delivered in a two-plus-two party system where the electoral system would have dampened any unrepresentative landslide.  PR does deliver a clear-cut winner, but only when the electorate actually wants one.

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