Saturday, 10 June 2017

Reasons To Be Cheerful

Movie: Brexit, The Movie  starring Meryl Streep.

  Main theme. Titles roll as... A ministerial car with its train of motorcycle outriders sweeps in triumph along the route from Buckingham Palace, passing hordes of cheering crowds waving Union Jacks and throwing flowers into its path.  The car turns into Downing Street where the door opens and we see Theresa May emerge with her husband Philip, waving and greeting the adoring throng. She steps to the microphone, a hush falls over the crowd, and she calmly announces that following her landmark election victory, giving her an unprecedented 200 seat majority, she'd be off to Brussels to negotiate the Hardest of Brexits her adoring public have voted for. To a cacophony of cheers and clicking cameras she graciously disappears into Number 10.

Cut to: Suburban living room, day. A glum faced Jeremy Corbyn, now former Labour leader, watches the live broadcast on his television and wipes away a tear. Where did it all go wrong? 

Cut to: Drawing room of Bute House, Edinburgh. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon drains her glass of Glenlivet and glares balefully at the reinvigorated Prime Minister preening on her television screen. On the wall behind her, the Election Night constituency map bristles with a forest of little blue flags. On the floor below, the trampled remains of the little yellow SNP flags they have replaced. With her party and cause so comprehensively trounced her position is no longer tenable. How did it all go wrong? She takes up her pen and scratches her signature on her resignation letter.


OK, that didn't happen. But that was the script the Tories had written and aren't you glad the electorate didn't fall into line? We have a lot to be glad about this weekend.

When I watched Theresa May announce the snap election back in April I felt sick to my stomach. It's taken me until now to work out exactly why I had that emotional reaction. The results in Scotland have been distressing, but when we consider the circumstances they were better than the unionist parties planned.

From the outset the SNP were on the back foot. With the mandate for a second indyref on the table there would be no avoiding the issue in this election campaign. Unionist parties talked of little else, highlighting it relentlessly in their flyers. 'Send a strong message to Nicola Sturgeon - NO SECOND REFERENDUM'. So, like it or not, this would be a de facto referendum, but with the disadvantage that Brexit negotiations have not even begun yet and nobody knows what Brexit will look like, or even if it will ever happen.

Yet despite that the SNP still won the election. The message the unionists so badly wanted us to send to Nicola Sturgeon turned out to be 'We DO want a second referendum'.

Not that the loss of 21 seats doesn't sting a bit, or even a lot. I'm not going to theorise about which groups voted for who and why, there's plenty of that elsewhere. What I will say is the expectation that the SNP could come close to repeating its phenomenal 2015 win was completely unrealistic. 

In 2015 we saw a 'perfect storm' for the SNP. The indyref was only a few months past, feelings on the issue still ran high. Expectations about the now discredited 'Vow' and subsequent Smith Commission gave the SNP a unique selling point of 'holding Westminster's feet to the fire' in delivering new powers. We'd seen the departure of Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont, damagingly complaining about the UK party treating Slab as a 'branch office'. Bitterness about Labour's role in Better Together, their uncharismatic new leader Jim Murphy, all contributed to the collapse of its vote. In stark contrast to the incumbents the new SNP candidates seemed young and energetic, a breath of fresh air. And the attractive new SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon wiped the floor with her rivals in televised debates.

This time round the odds were not so favourably stacked. Once bitten, twice shy, the unionist parties pulled out all stops to make damn sure they regained some ground, with not a little help from a sympathetic media and underhand tactical voting. Issues were helpfully muddied as the SNP was constantly attacked on irrelevant Holyrood policy rather than UK wide issues.  

Yet, despite the weight of all that, they still returned a very respectable 35 MPs. And given the hung parliament those 35 will likely wield more influence than the 56 in the previous parliament. Brexit still looms and May will find it harder to get parliamentary approval for whatever deal she brokers. Deals will be offered, concessions will be demanded. That's not a bad place for the SNP to be.

So, a day on from the election result I'm finding reasons to be cheerful that May was denied her landslide. And if the SNP lost theirs, well maybe that was a price worth paying.

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