Everyone in Scotland is so focussed on the referendum that they’re forgetting the European elections on 22nd May. (And that’s worrying, because low turnout is how parties like UKIP get in.)
Illustrating this forgetfulness about the European elections, last night on Have I Got News For You an English comedian made a joke about “Methadone elections” and Susan Calman took audible offence because she’d forgotten about the EuroElections and thought he meant the independence referendum was methadone: but the English comedian had forgotten about the Scottish referendum – he was making a joke about the methadone of the European Parliament elections compared to the heroin smack of a General Election.
My guess is – it always has been – that No is going to get the majority in the independence referendum, because consistently that’s what the polling data says. (I have a bet on with a prominent Yes supporter in Edinburgh: if Yes gets the majority, I’ll buy him a bottle of whisky of his choice: if No gets the majority, he will.) I emphasise the polling data, because I want to be clear: this guess has nothing to do with how I vote or with which way I hope the referendum goes. The polling data could be wrong, but it is consistently showing a majority for No.
(Arguments that undecideds might go Yes in September are optimistic: I was undecided until a couple of months ago and I’m leaning No. The SNP is the party with the power to change my mind, but their campaign tactic of promising nothing much will change is too consistent for me to hope they’ll abandon currency union before September.)
In April 2012, The Economist helped along the Yes campaign with an ugly, jeering cover describing Scotland as “Skintland“.
This week, The Economist sanctimoniously argues that if losing America cost George III his sanity, losing Scotland ought to cost David Cameron his job.
If Yes gets the majority, who is going to resign at The Economist for the Skintland cover?
Of course the Economist is wrong both about David Cameron and the madness of King George III (whether GIII suffered from porphyria or was bipolar, it certainly wasn’t America). David Cameron will have to quit after May 2015, because he will have lost the General Election, and that’s how the Tories treat leaders who lose elections. As everyone in the party hierarchy is well aware of this, there could be no impetus to fire David Cameron for the Scottish referendum result, since whoever took over would almost certainly be fired for the General Election results. Iain Duncan Smith might be clueless and arrogant enough to take that bargain, but who’d vote for him?
Again: I’m confident Labour’s going to get the majority in May 2015 because that’s what the polling data consistently says and because the Tories haven’t managed to win an election since 1992 and the LibDems are likely to lose half their current seats in 2015, making them useless as coalition partners.
It’s appealling on a very visceral level to think of the expression on David Cameron’s face if Yes gets the majority. But that is not by itself a valid reason for voting Yes.
What is and remains a strong reason for voting yes is UK Labour’s veering to the right. They’ve voted for the welfare cap, they’ve fallen into the Iain Duncan Smith policy hole of treating unemployed people as ungrateful layabouts to be punished with destitution, they’ve refused to commit to re-nationalising the NHS in England or bringing back British Rail, and they’ve complied with the pressure from UKIP and the EDL to treat immigration as if it were a problem. Labour’s leaders appear to be quite confident that they’ve got the left-wing vote tied up because who else is there to vote for*, and to be aiming instead by right-wing policies to capture the LibDem and moderate Tory vote.
*Quite literally the worst thing the LibDems have done to electoral politics in the UK, is to remove themselves as a credible alternative vote by their highly-cooperative coalition with the Tories.
Labour will certainly get the majority in 2015, and obviously, better them than the Tory/LibDem coalition that’s made our lives a misery since 2010. But it’s Labour’s refusal to campaign for a better UK after 2015 that is the problem with the independence campaign. “Better Together” is primarily a Labour campaign in Scotland, almost as much as “Yes Scotland” is an SNP campaign, and the sad thing for voters is this: Neither one has been able to campaign positively.
- “Better Together” can’t, because Labour isn’t interested in giving Scots good reason to want to stay in the UK by restoring the invaluable British institutions the Tories have damaged or destroyed.
- “Yes Scotland” can’t, because the SNP’s calculations are that more people are likely to vote Yes if they think nothing much is going to change.
Party-political activists are very apt to complain of low turn-outs and voter apathy, about how young people today don’t get involved in politics. But that isn’t true except in the very limited sense of party politics. What is true is that a young person who wants to make a difference in the world, who wants to campaign to change things for the better, is very unlikely to join Labour or the LibDems or the Conservatives or the SNP: they are much more likely to join an activist group. Joining Labour or the SNP or the Conservatives is the first step in a career in politics – as has been made horribly clear to all of us over the past twenty years, grassroots party members don’t affect party policy in government.
If people tend not to turn out to vote at elections, that is exclusively and entirely the fault of the political parties in failing to provide anything positive people want to vote for: yet party activists and pundits blandly and hypocritically blame voter apathy.
(I note that LibDem blogger Richard Morris, writing in the New Statesman, while making a good point about Ed Miliband as a lucky general, is taking the head-in-sand view that Labour’s rejection of the LibDems as coalition partners stems from their rejection of Gordon Brown in 2010: LibDem supporters are in general refusing to acknowledge that the LibDems are now a toxic brand to be avoided and polling data says they’re unlikely to be useful coalition partners to anyone after 2015.)
One of the things I am hopeful we are going to see in September is a very large turnout – probably larger than for the General Election in 2015, almost certainly higher than recent by-elections: because on 18th September, voting Yes or No is being pushed as making a difference. (And certainly, to be valid, the referendum needs a high turnout.) Whereas in 2015, after No gets the majority (polling data says it will, remember?) there’s nothing much to vote for: the Labour party isn’t promising to make a difference, just to win.