Posted by Euan Bennet on 06/08/2014
How’s that for a bold prediction. For the purposes of this discussion I will use the definitions proposed by the ‘Political Compass’ website, which shows the positions on the political spectrum of UK political parties based on their 2010 manifestos.
Notice on the graph that for Scotland, the pro-independence parties the Scottish National Party (SNP), Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), and Scottish Green Party (SGP), are positioned left of centre to varying degrees. The pro-Union parties are all positioned right of centre, some quite far right. Notice that the Labour party have formally been a right-wing party since their rebranding as ‘New Labour’ in 1997 – for more on this see the excellent film made by Jack Foster of Rough Justice Films: (relevant section starts at 4.25, but the entire 30 minutes is well worth a watch).
Using the current composition of the Scottish Parliament as a baseline, we see that the 129 seats break down as follows:
Left of Centre (71):
- SNP (66)
- Independent/Green Group (5) [comprised of 2 SGP and 3 Independent MSPs]
Right of Centre (57):
- Labour (37)
- Conservatives (15)
- Liberal Democrats (5)
For a total of 128 MSPs. One seat is vacant due to the untimely death of Margo McDonald (Independent, Left of Centre) in April 2014 – the fact that she was an independent candidate elected via the regional list means that her seat is not filled until the next election, in 2016.
So far, so objective fact. Now for some speculation of likelihoods, with the usual caveat: this is personal speculation based on the available evidence. I don’t have a crystal ball that can see into the future, and neither does anyone else. There is a huge difference between me saying something is “likely” and showing my working as to how I arrived at the conclusion, and claiming something is “certain” which I am absolutely not doing here.
It’s obvious from the political compass graph that in political party terms, the referendum is Left (Yes) versus Right (No). That’s not surprising, given the prospectus advanced by nearly every Yes campaigning group includes strong collective responsibility and social justice. Meanwhile the No campaign at its heart proposes that Scotland should accept that massive debt, permanent austerity and food banks defended by weapons of mass destruction is “the best of both worlds” and the best that we could possibly hope to achieve.
So, after a Yes vote, which parties will be in the ascendancy? Well the SNP, SSP, and SGP have already outlined their policies for an independent Scotland. The pro-Union parties refuse to acknowledge that a Yes vote is even a possibility, so they have not proposed any policies. It is reasonable to assume that some Labour, Conservative, and Liberal Democrat candidates will stand in the first independent elections, but the construct that has, since 2007, been their sole raison d’etre (Unionism) will no longer exist, and their activist base is already depleted. In contrast, the pro-Yes parties activist bases have grown exponentially throughout the referendum campaign, and there are now a very large number of people actively engaged in politics who will continue to campaign to make sure that a Scottish Government is elected who will bring in the policies that they have campaigned so hard for just to have the chance to implement.
Take the previous high watermark for Left/Green parties as an example. In the 2003 Scottish Parliament election the SGP received 132,138 votes (6.9%) and the SSP received 128,026 votes (6.7%) on the regional list. This translated into 7 and 6 seats respectively. In 2007 and 2011 the vote share of both declined for a number of reasons, but the point is that the significant support for their policies hasn’t gone away: it’s out there now in some of the most active Yes campaign groups. The RIC and Green Yes campaigns are the embodiment of this past, and growing support.
The other big question is what will happen to the SNP? It’s well known that the SNP is made up of people from across the spectrum – though the objective assessment provided by the political compass shows the majority of the SNP are Left of Centre. My informed prediction has been for some time that fringes from either extreme within the SNP will fray off and find new homes, either in existing parties or new, but the rump of the current party will continue in roughly the same position on the spectrum, if not pulled further Left by the emerging competition from the Left/Green parties.
Based on past elections as well as current ideological trends among the energetic and highly engaged Yes campaigners, some informed predictions for the first independent government are:
- There will be no overall majority in the Scottish Parliament for some time, if ever. The system is designed such that the only way to achieve a majority is to win overwhelming support in all eight electoral Regions of Scotland. I have yet to write the post that will back up that statement fully. The SNP improbably managed this in 2011; it is not likely that it will happen again for any party anytime soon.
- The largest party will likely still be the SNP: the Left of Centre rump left over after the inevitable rebalancing.
- The activist support evident on the ground for the Yes campaign groups will translate into decent support for parties such as the Scottish Green Party, SSP, and whatever the Radical Independence Campaign coalesces into.
- Then there is the wildcard option of Labour for Independence (LFI) – will those activists reclaim their true Labour party, or will they form a new party altogether?
- All of these will win seats and return MSPs in 2016.
The first independent government will be a coalition (either formally or based on case-by-case support as with the SGP during the 2007-2011 minority SNP Government) between the SNP, SGP, SSP, plus whatever happens with RIC and LFI. Such coalitions of many parties are completely normal for most European countries as I have already discussed. If such a government is formed then the possibilities for achieving meaningful and transformative change within the first parliamentary term are very exciting indeed.