Stop Complaining (and Vote)

If you live in Scotland, you’re almost certainly registered to vote – practically everyone was in the referendum in September 2014, and if you haven’t changed addresses since then, you still are.

House of Commons - emptyIf you didn’t receive a polling card because you registered too close to the 20th April deadline, or for some other reason, you can still vote: find which is your local polling station from your local election office and just go there. You don’t need ID to vote, but if you don’t have a polling card it would be a wise precaution to take some proof of address/identity with you: a local polling officer may not know the regulations and it would be faster to provide your proof than to argue with them. (You shouldn’t have to argue with them and you probably won’t, even if you don’t have a polling card: please don’t go in with a confrontational attitude.)

If not for the rise of the SNP, Labour would be looking forward to five years in government, the Conservatives would be lagging behind Labour by 30+ MPs, and the LibDems would be looking forward to five years as the party that helps either Labour or the Tories form a majority government.

If not for the rise of the SNP, Labour would be comfortably the largest party in the House of Commons after 7th May instead of desperately trying to save what they can in Scotland, and the LibDems might be expecting to lose only half their seats, instead of a likely two-thirds.

(The only two parties the rise of the SNP has not affected are UKIP and the Greens. UKIP’s best hope is three seats, their only surety is an MP who was a Tory for most of the past ten years, and no one can say about the Green Party.)

Because of the rise of the SNP, all three parties are facing a doubtful future: the Tories know the SNP won’t ally with them in coalition, and so are claiming that an electoral result decided by the SNP is somehow illegitimate: the LibDems look forward to being only the fourth party with too-few MPs to be of use to either of the larger parties, and Labour would (obviously) rather have a majority at Westminster than depend on the party that’s been their Opposition in Scotland for nearly 16 years.

Nonetheless, none of them have any basis for complaint.

First and most obviously: all three parties campaigned for Scotland to remain part of the UK. I voted No at the referendum: Scotland remains an integral part of the UK. Therefore, Scottish voters have a right to democratic impact on the government of the UK. So much should be obvious. If in this general election enough Scots vote SNP that there are 50+ SNP MPs at Westminster, that outcome is exactly what Labour, Liberal Democrats, and Conservatives were campaigning for in Better Together. Perhaps not the party they envisaged being represented at Westminster, but they certainly cannot complain that Scots are willingly taking part in UK general election and voting to send the party of their choice to affect UK government. That was the goal of Better Together, wasn’t it?

Secondly: The LibDems have persistently said that in their rulebook (which is slightly different from the official rulebook) it’s number of MPs that count. They will support the party that gets the most MPs to be in government. It follows that they believe the third-largest party has a right to affect UK government based on their number of MPs. If the SNP win 40+ seats in the general election and choose to put Labour in government, they should in principle have no stronger supporters of their right to do so than the LibDems.

Thirdly: The SNP may win a game-changing number of seats in Scotland, and be the third-largest party in the UK, because UK elections are firmly based on first-past-the-post one-constituency-at-a-time politics. The LibDems can justly note that this is a bit unfair – they have consistently pointed out in past elections that they get fewer MPs than their share of the vote allows for. But Labour’s never really objected to this system for Westminster elections, and the Conservatives actively campaigned against any change whatsoever as recently as four years ago. If FPTP now means the SNP get 40+ MPs, well: FPTP is what both Labour and Conservatives want as the system of democracy for Westminster.

This could be a record-breaking general election in Scotland: at the last general election there was a 63.8% turnout, but this year, over 80% of Scots polled say they’re certain to vote. There hasn’t been a turnout close to that in Scotland for 40 years.

What’s shameful, for Scottish Labour, the Tories, and the LibDems, is that they are far too busy complaining about which way Scots are likely to vote, to take any pride and pleasure in this resurgence of democracy.

It would be stupid for Labour to conclude they lost in Scotland because of a resurgence of nationalism. The SNP are the only one of the top four parties to be talking good economic sense about austerity. Nicola Sturgeon, as Fraser Nelson wryly noted in the Spectator, is breaking all the rules of modern politicking: she’s talking directly to huge rallies and to individual voters, delivering positive messages about what her party can achieve rather than negative campaigning about how bad the opposition are.

Traditional Labour voters are voting for the SNP in part no doubt because of the outrage of the English media and English politicians at the idea – Alex Massie, also in the Spectator, understood clearly that nothing is more likely to get Scots to vote SNP than to see the right-wing press and the Conservative party howling in unison that this would be awful, terrible, and wrong. The chorus of disapproval at the mere idea of an SNP victory from down south has surely tipped many voters from “maybe?” to “definite”.

In March last year, the Labour Party leadership issued a three-line Whip (which the vast majority of Labour MPs, including my own, obeyed) to vote for the Tory benefit cap. In March this year, a majority of the Supreme Court reluctantly ruled that the benefit cap is lawful, but noted that it is not compatible with article 3(1) of the UN convention on children’s rights. In a dissenting judgement, the deputy president of the supreme court, Lady Hale, said:

“The prejudicial effect of the cap is obvious and stark. It breaks the link between benefit and need. Claimants affected by the cap will, by definition, not receive the sums of money which the state deems necessary for them adequately to house, feed, clothe and warm themselves and their children.”

Iain Duncan Smith was of course delighted:

“I am proud to say that it is one of the most significant reforms we’ve implemented over the past five years.”

Contrast Douglas Alexander, Labour shadow minister, on the benefit cap and the other Tory welfare reforms, with Nicola Sturgeon:

Douglas Alexander, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, speaking at the IPPR:

“Let me be clear, we are not against caps in the Housing Benefit system and indeed it was Labour that introduced the Local Housing Allowance and further measures to address this issue in the March budget. So, while we oppose the sudden imposition of a national cap on an arbitrary and accelerated timetable, in a way that would risk higher homelessness and incur significant additional costs, we remain prepared to consider a staged approach and the case for a system of regional caps that would better reflect regional variations. On a number of the other measures such as non-dependent deductions, shared room rate for under 35 year olds – we do not object to the principle but we are again concerned about the speed these changes are being introduced and the lack of impact assessments produced resulting in unintended consequences and potentially higher costs. “

Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister and leader of the SNP, to BBC Radio Scotland:

“We’ve got a situation where the poorest in our society are plunged being deeper into poverty, where in-work poverty is on the rise. So I don’t agree with the obsession of benefit caps. I want to look at how we lift people out of poverty. …. I’ve said repeatedly that we shouldn’t be holding benefit increases below the rate of inflation because if you do that, and you continue the freeze that we’ve seen, you drive people on the lowest incomes deeper into poverty.”

Which of those two sounds like a leader in a left-wing party? The one who’s promoting the idea that the only problem with the Tory welfare reforms is that they’re happening too fast, or the one saying explicitly: I oppose.

Labour wants the left-wing vote back? Labour needs to vote in the Commons and campaign in public like a left-wing party.

And finally, for clarity, two points that Labour and the Conservatives and their supportive press have all been trying to muddle:

If Labour and the SNP together have enough MPs to outvote the Tories, LibDems, and DUP MPs, then Ed Miliband will be Prime Minister by the end of May, because unless the Tories and their supporters have enough votes to pass a Queen’s Speech, David Cameron cannot claim to have “the confidence of the Commons” and must resign. Apparently Cameron is planning to squat in Downing Street if the Conservatives are the largest single party, but to form a government he needs to be able to show that a working majority of MPs in the Commons will vote for his legislative programme.

And also:

The SNP held a referendum on independence in 2014 because the SNP had a democratic mandate for a referendum, achieved at Holyrood elections. In 2016, the SNP may set the conditions for the next independence referendum in the SNP manifesto for the Scottish Parliamentary elections. The last time, those conditions were: to hold a referendum on independence when the SNP had been in government twice. That condition was fulfilled in 2011, and so the SNP declared the referendum would be held in the second half of that Parliament – September 2014.

The SNP’s ability to set conditions and see them fulfilled for another independence referendum is not affected by the number of MPs they have at Westminster. It seems highly improbable – UKIP-in-government improbable – that there will be another independence referendum before 2025: two referendums within 10 years, both voting No, would kill the idea of Scottish independence for a lifetime. So, since Labour and the Tories both seem determined to muddle this idea: if you vote for an SNP candidate tomorrow, you are not voting for another independence referendum but you are voting for a party that’s determined to keep the Tories out of government for another five years.

I don’t plan to vote SNP. But that’s for another blog post.

2 Comments

Filed under Elections, GE2015

2 responses to “Stop Complaining (and Vote)

  1. keaton

    FPTP is what both Labour and Conservatives want as the system of democracy for Westminster.

    In fairness to Labour, they’re split on FPTP, and Miliband, at least, campaigned for a Yes in the AV referendum. I’m not sure of his views on actual PR, though. It would almost certainly be against Labour’s electoral interests, even now, to have a proportional system.

    • Labour were certainly uncomfortably split on AV at the referendum – and the LibDems compounded their problems by failing to negotiate their one real acheivement properly. They should have got a commitment out of Cameron that the Tories would either campaign for change or be neutral in that referendum, and it should have been a referendum for PR to replace FPTP, not locked into AV/no to AV.

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