April, 2015

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Be an agent of change in May

Sunday, April 5th, 2015

I have very little time to write this kind of thing now, as over the past three years, I’ve successfully increased my workload greatly instead of winding down towards passing the pension post.  I’m not an activist and have not been since the mid-1980s, and when I signed up as a member of SNP it was after a 30-year gap without any party membership.

All I want to do here is to pass on a few things I’m fairly certain about. The most important of these is that rapid change, of any kind, is good. Change for the better needs no explanation, so why should apparently negative change also be good? It’s good because the response to it must be further change. This is one reason I hope the Scottish Westminster MPs form a voting bloc after the election. As it happens, I don’t mind whether they are SNP, Labour, Conservative, Green or Liberal as every one of these parties has something positive to offer. I’ve always said that a government where Tories run the private economy and Socialists have control of welfare and the public economy would be successful, and that’s why I helped form the Social Democratic Party three decades ago.

In Scotland, the SNP Holyrood parliament has come closer to achieving that than Westminster ever has. Anyone who accuses the SNP of being ‘Tartan Tories’ or ‘in bed with the reds’ is right. They are both, and that’s the great thing about the SNP. And neither, at the same time. You may say ‘well, that was the idea of New Labour’ but we know what became of that – the lure of City riches, and the gradual erosion of standards created by the Westminster environment…

However, underlying the dual (or multiple) standards of the SNP there’s one thing which shines out. They have suffered over the years from a sustained campaign of deceit, propaganda and manipulation by the Westminster parties and their client Press – the press which prints different headlines for England and Scotland because the ‘news’ depends on who is reading it. This has left SNP candidates, party members, supporters and sympathisers absolutely determined to maintain a kind of moral high ground. At its best, this high ground would mean the abolition – outlawing – of the party whip and replacement by voting according to personal conscience or decision by all MPs. Along with this, proportional representation (or its moderated form as found in Scotland) would increase the diversity of voices within Parliament.

The spectre of Scottish MPs ‘destroying’ Westminster life is a change for worse from only one point of view, and a change which would demand rebuilding on a better model. It’s not what Scottish MPS acting as a bloc would demand, or how they would use their support to influence Labour or some other coalition which interests me. It’s how the whole Westminster ecosystem will respond. Change will provoke change.

Scotland has a chance to send a cadre of MPs to Westminster with the real power to bring about change for the better, with a remote chance of switching defence policy away from Trident, and preventing austerity measures from targeting people in the most difficult circumstances. Beyond this their very presence may advance the cause of proportional representation, strengthen the voice of English regions as well as Wales and Northern Ireland, and calm the baying and bawling of question time. It’s unlikely to drag Westminster out of the 18th century, or see the House of Lords replaced by a smaller elected second house.

To those who think this is all about Scotland, it’s not. Scotland has a political history which is even worse than that of England, or the United Kingdom. ‘Enlightenment’ is praised as an idea and Scotland is praised for its past moderation, by English and Scots commentators alike, so show how the ‘extremism’ and lack of economic nous of the SNP is so very un-Scottish. Well, Scotland of the past exhibited such extremes of inequality, religious superstition, oppression, sexism, racism and avarice that it’s best not to go there. That golden era included cabals of aristocrats, judges and clerics procuring 13-year-old girls to undress and be admired, so they could ritually weigh the outcome of their disturbingly congenial self-abuse. It was world of migrant seasonal labour, hiring fairs, indentures and tied cottages to make today’s zero hours contracts, minimum wage, payday loans and private landlords look utopian.

Recently the rest of Britain has woken up to understand that the SNP is not a ‘nationalist’ party in the extremist sense, but a very moderate and flexible coalition within itself, one used to working with other parties (all of them) and responsible for keeping a most orderly and hardworking house at Holyrood. I regret that many of my friends and neighbours in Scotland may still have doubts, and feel that casting a vote for SNP is almost like burning the Union Flag. I hope they will reconsider this, think about the contribution their elected Westminster MPs have made or failed to make in past decades, and look to the future.

Scotland has produced some powerful Westminster politicians, all standing for the three leading parties. Those days are past as those parties simply do not attract principled minds or individuals with vision and vigour – they are magnets for those who seek comfortable careers isolated from the problems of real life. Instead, we find that the SNP and the Green Party attract candidates with some kind of edge, some drive, some burning discontent and desire for change. These are the people you need to represent you at Westminster in future.

As for the importance of leadership – the Salmond and Sturgeon succession – one likely effect of voting SNP in May is a that you also bring about change within the SNP itself. New blood, on Westminster benches, will create two separate groups within SNP. There will be MSPs, and MPs. The two groups will not overlap as both are full-time jobs (even if many Westminster MPs think otherwise). They may compete, they will form different relationships externally and internally, and this will be one of the greatest challenges to survival and integrity faced by a political party in Britain in the last 300 years.

Are we likely to see independence for Scotland? Probably yes, but not in some breakaway form leaving the rest of the UK as an odd threesome. If independence comes, some kind of federalism or a different ‘union’ of four states may come with it. Change, for the future, for the better.

– David Kilpatrick