Tuesday, December 01, 2009

As You Were

The received wisdom of Scotland's blethering classes over the past couple of weeks or so has been that the Scottish Government, but in particular the SNP, had somehow hit the skids. The glee in certain quarters has been palpable.

The basis for this observation seemed to be that there'd been a credit crunch. That the SNP hadn't managed to take a rock-solid Labour seat at a by-election. That there'd been a hulaballoo over the cancellation of the rail link to Glasgow Airport. That minimum pricing for alcohol was likely to face defeat in Parliament. That there was still a majority in Holyrood against an independence referendum. Winning 20 Westminster seats was now 'off the agenda', we were told by those who know, just as was independence. Go back to your constituencies and prepare for opposition etc etc.

Mostly, though, it seemed to be because an echo chamber of opposition politicos and unionist-inclined meeja types all agreed with themselves that it would be desirable if this were indeed so.
What was absent was any semblance of a note of caution – I mean, how many times since the SNP started to achieve a leadership position in Scottish politics have we been assured that the wheels have come off what has regularly been described, somewhat inaccurately, as an SNP 'bandwagon'?

Mood music matters in politics. Despite what politicians would have you believe, it's rare that any one single event ever acts as a watershed – instead, it's the drip drip effect over time which alters perceptions and ultimately, voter behaviour. For that reason, it's understandable that people opposed to the SNP and all its works will always do all they can to try and pretend that the party's aims are unpopular, and that its figures and policies are somehow out of step with public opinion, whether this is the case or not.

The problem with this sort of political pyramid selling is that without more people piling in behind to back up the message, if the basic prospectus lacks support amongst the general populace, it quickly falls apart. And so it has, if a new poll published by Ipsos Mori is to be believed.

The SNP has restored its lead in the polls for Holyrood and crucially, for this observer, for Westminster too. When fed into Electoral Calculus, the SNP would on these figures win 16 seats, putting the party on target for its aim of 20. It also puts the support for a future independence referendum running at 75%, even if that is split between 25% who want an immediate referendum which isn't on offer, and a further 50% who say they want a vote at some date in the future.

People will make their own judgments on the so called 'bread and butter' issues, and will continue to take a jaundiced view of the opportunism which sees the main opposition party taking major policy decisions based less on principle than on the perceived tactical advantage they might yield. If Scottish Labour carries on as it has been, alcohol pricing will not be the only touchstone issue where, as Susan Deacon says, the party finds itself 'in the wrong place for the wrong reasons'.

On Calman too, it's back to square one. Labour won't implement any reforms before the next election. Rather than take the initiative now, the party seems willing to risk leaving matters in the hands of a possible incoming Tory government, which has pointedly refused to say what it will and will not implement in the report. The Lib Dems, meanwhile, seem to have got precious little for their efforts. Even after Calman, we still have three parties still holding three different positions, united only by their agreement that they neither want independence nor to give voters a say on which, if any, of the constitutional futures canvassed for Scotland ought to prevail.

For the constitutional debate, read also the policy debate. Everyone, even and especially those in the SNP, recognises that it remains a minority, albeit a sizable one. The difficulty for those who seek to oppose the party at every turn seems to be, exactly as it has been since 2007, in recognising that the non-SNP majority remains remarkably resistant to being moulded into anything coherent.

Just because a majority appears to be against something is no guarantee that a majority in favour of something can be found within those numbers. Both domestically and on the constitution, the debate on Scotland's future has a way to run yet...