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Splitting or Maximising?

A call for unity.

Friday, March 8, 2024
7 mins

Splitting or Maximising?

by Cath Ferguson

“How dare they stand against us!” is a common cry in politics. Especially so in first-past-the-post elections. It makes a certain warped sense: “If you don’t vote for my horror, this other horror will get in.” Westminster is Tory-Labour-Tory, Buggins’ turn, everything remains the same for those gaming the system.

This is why Scotland United was considered by some the best option for this year’s general election: stand only one pro independence candidate in each seat so as not to split the vote. The SNP rejected it out of hand, as is their right as the largest party. However many others were appalled by the idea because, for whatever reason, they wouldn’t have wanted to vote SNP (or Alba, Green or whichever candidate they ended up with). This is also their right - no party owns voters or is entitled to votes.

So we have a situation where the SNP will stand across the board, including against people like Neale, Kenny and Angus McNeil. The Greens are planning to stand in a swathe of seats, Alba are committed to fielding at least twelve candidates, and we now have independents like Eva Comrie declaring as well.

A bùrach? Some might say so. But is it really?

We are at a point when politics is at the lowest ebb it’s ever been, political parties devoid of trust. Where once a party like Labour was community and grass-roots based, raising up people able to speak for their communities, now they are gate-keepers, ensuring “common” voices are not heard. And Scotland is at an even worse point, millions of eyes open to the fact our voices are not heard at all in Westminster. Our representatives are pointless. It’s over three hundred years since Defoe said, “The Scots will be allowed to send to Westminster, a handful of men who will make no weight whatever. They will be allowed to sit there for form’s sake to be laughed at.” But finally, many are waking up to the fact: unless we vote correctly i.e. for the union, our reps are pointless wastes of space who can never have any say over UK government. And if we do vote the right way, we’re voting for people sworn to uphold a system where there is no such thing as Scotland or “Scottish interests”, only the UK.

Scotland is, in short, reaching a point where we are ready for independence. However what we lack in Scotland is any normal political landscape. Normally governed countries, especially those governed by PR systems, which an independent Scotland would expect to be, have a range of parties from left to right, which generally have to work together to govern. This is a good thing, because everything is linked: a strong economy is needed for quality of life; decent infrastructure, health, education and welfare is needed for businesses to thrive. There are no zero sum games in running a country.

For the past ten years, Scotland has had a toxic pretence of a political landscape, centred only around the constitutional question. Three (sometimes more) parties, registered in England, backed fully by the UK civil service and all UK and Scottish media (bar the National) fight endlessly for the union. This mostly involves continually bashing Scotland and its ambitions, institutions, elected politicians and anything else it can find to sap confidence. It acts like a black dog on the shoulder of the national psyche. Opposing it is an SNP which feels like it’s had every ounce of confidence sucked out of it. It has run out of ideas, is producing bad and unpopular policy and has no discernable route to, or appetite for, independence. However it can all too easily push bad policy through and carry on regardless, because “We’re the only pro-independence party; we’re not “them”. You have to vote for us.

As a result, not only does Scotland not have a political landscape, it doesn’t even really know what its own political landscape is, or will, look like. We have no media to host any national debates and conversations. We’re talked down to like a child, rather than afforded the agency of hearing our own voice and making our own decisions. And Scotland’s voice, when it is allowed to shine through, is passionate, creative, witty - it led the enlightenment at one time. We need to start hearing it again.

SNP voters are as scunnered as the rest...

In this coming general election, there has never been less appetite in Scotland for returning MPs, of any hue. The old, “You must vote for this to avoid that” mantra will enthuse absolutely no one. It’s not only pro-independence people: unionists also despair of their representatives. The turn-out is likely to be extremely low.

Given that, we have an excellent opportunity to instead use this general election to allow a nascent new political landscape to emerge, one which can form a window onto a new

independent Scotland. Because, at its root, unionism and all its parties can offer only one thing: continued rule by London; you’ll get what England votes for and Westminster tells you; your MPs are there “for form’s sake to be laughed at”.

By contrast, a host of Scottish, pro independence parties and independents can stand for

anything they want, unhindered by whether it’s constitutionally possible within the union. They can stand on issues that will galvanise people, engage them, get them out to vote. In doing so, we can raise the percentage of overall pro independence votes. This will not harm the SNP - bear in mind Labour won in Rutherglen with less votes than it attracted when it lost heavily to Margaret Ferrier. SNP voters are as scunnered as the rest, staying at home. Come the general election many will come back out but with heavy heart and held noses. They are likely to lose seats. However, most predictions still show them winning a majority of seats. What they will never achieve is over 50% of the vote.

Now add in two, three or more other pro independence parties or independents...imagine them running campaigns that can motivate voters who wouldn’t otherwise even be registered? Few, if any, could hope to win a seat, but what does that matter in a campaign that is not about Westminster, a place few will want to go to for any length of time? With multiple campaigns engaging, registering, providing a positive to vote for, it’s easy to see Yes finding itself over the 50% mark, probably quite easily in this election. This would change the game. It would also provide that glimpse through the grimy window onto the new landscape that is possible, but only with independence.

Such an approach would also make coordinated media attacks conflating the SNP - or indeed any one policy position - with independence far harder. And, perhaps more critically, we will see where Scotland stands. Are most people still happy to vote SNP, even when there are other options? What percentage of Scotland is ready for abstentionism? What percentage can be galvanised by particular policy positions? What other ideas out there might catch fire? For the SNP itself, it is likely such an approach would also motivate their own voters to come out, both because there will be more of an independence campaign going on around them, and to ensure they keep the seat if that’s their preference.

Yes, there is a danger we do lose some SNP MPs to vote splitting, but that will be democracy: if the MP wasn’t popular and pro-indy voters did come out to vote, but wanted to put their X elsewhere, that’s their right. And if, regardless of the SNP result, the pro-indy vote is over 50%, that will put severe pressure on both Westminster and the SNP to act before the Holyrood elections.

Could we do it? Could we work together enough to make this - wholly up in the air, and possibly Scotland’s last ever - Westminster election something truly different? A new Yes campaign, moving us away from the “don’t split the vote” mindset, back into the creative, positive spirit of 2014 where a thousand flowers bloom? Into a “maximising the independence vote” campaign instead, a shop front of ideas for real change, only available with independence? Perhaps the Yes movement can even re-discover some unity on the campaign trail, as well as finding strong voices and candidates to take us forward into 2026.

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