Thursday, May 13, 2010

One Week On

This time last week, I was contemplating a shower and a change of shirt before heading out to the Gordon Constituency count at the AECC. Not by that stage in the expectation of winning, since I'd been feeling for a couple of weeks that despite our formidable local campaign and the strong support we were getting, things had just swung too far away from us nationally for us to be able to pull it off.

The TV debates and their total domination of the news agenda for 3 weeks saw admirably to that, as did the unfathomable determination of the media to puff up the Lib Dems, and in Scotland, a tendency approaching the pathological to portray the SNP as little more than marginal grievance-mongers. In the event, the Lib Dems fell back, and the best you can say for their campaign is that they more or less held onto the ground they won in 2005. Meanwhile, in spite of the obstacles put in front of us, the SNP held what it had won in 2005, and regained second place in the national share of the vote.

Only winners and outgoing MP's were due to make post-declaration speeches at the Aberdeen count. As soon as the first few ballot boxes had confirmed my suspicions as to how things were going to turn out, I sought an opportunity to congratulate Malcolm Bruce in person before the declaration. When the opportunity presented itself it wasn't a difficult thing to do, as I have always had a certain regard for him as a politician, and on the many occasions where our paths crossed during this long, long campaign, we've always got on very well. I even had occasion to write a press release for him a few months ago, but that's perhaps a tale best kept for another time!

In the event, while we didn't win in Gordon, we recorded a strong result. Despite not taking the support we'd hoped from the Conservative and Labour candidates, both of whose support held static, the chunk we took out of the Lib Dem vote saw us jump from fourth to second place. In the event, it was the highest ever vote for the SNP in the seat for Westminster, both in total and in the percentage share of the vote. It was the 2nd largest anti-Lib Dem swing in Scotland – 7.6% in favour of the SNP. It also saw Malcolm Bruce re-elected with 36% - his lowest ever share of the vote in the seat – taking his majority from 11,026 over Labour to 6,748 over the SNP.

And so, when the result finally came in at just before 5 in the morning, the curtain came down on what has been, for me at any rate, a life changing couple of years or so. The curtain has also come down on Gordon Brown, who in the event, left office with great dignity. His departure was inevitable, even if his party's departure from government was entirely its own doing, leaving us with a coalition which few in Scotland would have countenanced before, far less wanted afterwards.

Despite the Conservatives sub-contracting Scotland out to their new Lib Dem partners, this coalition has only one more seat than had Margaret Thatcher after the 1987 'Doomsday' election. And before anyone starts throwing Gerry Hassan's latest nugget of wisdom at me about this not being the 1980's, the point is intended to be illustrative.

We are not – yet – embarked on a course of cuts which are 'deeper and tougher' than anything managed by Margaret Thatcher. While we're not going to see the negligent and vandalistic industrial devastation of the 1980s being bankrolled by our own resources, there is an enormous risk that in their mutual desire for cuts in capital spending and to continue with wasteful items such as a replacement for Trident, our shiny new Con Dem nation will see recovery snuffed out and opportunities for future growth squandered. There really is no sense of recognition from either party that Britain's inexorable post-Empire decline has left it an over-centralised and hyper-indebted mid-ranking European power with creaking infrastructure, which suffers from a dangerous overreliance on the City of London, and labouring under an exaggerated sense of its own significance in the world, which it is no longer capable of underwriting, whether economically, militarily or diplomatically.

Despite promises of respect for Scotland and further powers for Holyrood, the new coalition will be judged in deed and not word. In that spirit, it would do well to recognise the limitations of its 'mandate', and seek to govern in its areas of responsibility with the same spirit of consensus-building as has marked the past 3 years of minority SNP Government in Edinburgh.

No party, least of all Labour and certainly not the SNP, has a monopoly on good ideas and legitimacy to govern. With that said, while wishing the new government no harm, I can't help but wonder how the election might have gone in Scotland had people known that Labour would fail their voters by refusing point blank to work with other parties, and that the Lib Dems were prepared not just to support the Tories, but to join them in Government.

Perhaps more to the point, how will this play at the next Holyrood elections? We've less than a year to go to find out...

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