With the red rose of Labour expected to decay into a few sparse petals while the virile SNP thrives on the scorched earth of post-referendum politics, the map of Westminster constituencies will soon reflect the ramifications of that “once-in-a-generation” event. Whatever the consequences of the SNP’s growth for the make-up of the UK Parliament – be it the surest way to another Tory government, as Labour aides repeat ad nauseum; a minority Labour regime reliant on SNP support; or something much worse – any blame must be laid squarely at Labour’s door. In abandoning any pretence of following its founding principles and acting in synchronicity with its erstwhile enemies for the sake of preserving a dysfunctional union, it has both alienated its traditional voter base and signed away once and for all any claim it had of being a respectable party of the left. It is this which will reverberate long into Scottish politics.
It is only natural that into the vacuum of representation caused by such a pyrrhic victory have stepped the much-taunted ‘Tartan Tories’, wearing the mantle of social democracy. This is not to say that the SNP has not hesitantly embraced social-democratic ideas – even putting some into practice in the face of Labour opposition – merely that the guise of social justice is an uncomfortable fit for a party that once dreamt of lowering Corporation Tax to the levels of pre-crisis Ireland. Yet their steadfast opposition to austerity, and vocal denunciation of such humiliating coalition initiatives as the ‘Bedroom Tax’ and the ATOS-administered, target-based Work Capability Assessments has secured for them a reputation alluring to Labour apostates.
However, the current strength of the SNP lies in its being both a ruthlessly efficient, tried-and-tested party of government, and a hub for disillusioned Labour supporters. With the appeal of the first unlikely to diminish, it is the underlying volatility of the second that is likely to lead to any seismic events in the future of Scottish politics. Should the party tire of its current approach, it will haemorrhage support faster than profligate Westminster frittered away North Sea Oil & Gas revenue. By then, there may be an outfit waiting to receive them.
For this, we need only look to the explosion of extra-parliamentary movements concurrent to the decline of Labour, most of which find their origins in the hectic atmosphere of the referendum campaign. One of these, The Scottish Left Project, has as its object the presentation of a viable left alternative at the 2016 Holyrood elections. Learning lessons from their European counterparts, they are determined to unify the pro-independence Scottish left at a time when both the anti-independence left, and the right are increasingly fractured. Furthermore, the other pro-independence movements, each claiming thousands of members, are continuing to hold conferences, and very clearly not going anywhere. If they choose to throw their weight behind a party, Holyrood’s system of Proportional Representation will ensure that their voices are heard. What all this means for Scotland is a marked leftward shift in political discourse, and the idea of independence, newly liberated from the SNP, firmly etched onto the political canvas for some time to come.
While Scotland may not have won total sovereignty on 18 September, its gains from this lost opportunity are arguably far greater. With the SNP at the helm, and energetic upstarts biting at its heels, Scotland has emerged from the referendum a self-confident, highly politicised nation; a nation indeed to be reckoned with. What will go down in history as the SNP’s greatest loss, may yet be Scotland’s greatest triumph.