It’s a joyless time for British political parties. Labour is led by a man who the majority of its MPs view as unelectable. Despite promising results in Witney, the Lib Dems are still decimated. UKIP’s all but knocked itself out, literally; bizarrely punished with extinction having achieved their one goal. Even the Tories, after a summer of being smug about Labour, face an unprecedented challenge. Delivering Brexit is in equal measure an opportunity and a curse.
In contrast, the SNP, following a fairly optimistic conference seems to be in a remarkably cheery place.
The suggestion that this is entirely due to the wave of optimism from the 2014 referendum is now a tired, cynical and unfair explanation. Nicola Sturgeon and Angus Robertson (the newly elected deputy leader) have demonstrated shrewd and charismatic leadership. Though once characterised as raving mad socialists from the North, the SNP is privately known as the ‘unofficial opposition’ to some Tories in Parliament.
It is in an extremely privileged, and convenient position. All that is good in Scotland is the work of the Scottish Government. All that is bad is the fault of Westminster. For example, this means the SNP can wipe its hands of any responsibility for declining literacy rates, a real term reduction in health spending and a deficit that amounts to 9.5% of GDP.
Despite this, the SNP remains dominant. Their conference introduced some interesting policies, which may have been missed south of Hadrian’s wall. Most notably was a new trade and export plan, which includes setting up a new Scottish Board of Trade, an export envoy, and a business hub in Berlin. This is alongside some major health plans, to decriminalize medicinal Cannabis, to put half a billion more into primary care, and a pilot ‘survival’ box scheme with essentials for all newborns.
It’s most optimistic members have even bigger plans: to remain the most popular party in Scotland, gain independence, and rejoin the EU (or at the very least remain in the Single Market).
Will they achieve this? In short: probably, probably not and definitely not.
By John McDonnel’s own admission, Corybnism has not caught alight in Scotland. Labour’s project to regain the trust of Scotland (as with the rest of the UK) seems unachievable as things stand.
‘Indy ref 2’, is unlikely to take off. Polling suggests that despite Brexit warnings, there is no obvious increase in appetite for Independence. A weak currency and low oil prices means the economic basis for the Independence argument is weaker now than it was in 2014.
Let’s say this is wrong and independence does happen. “Freedom!” will likely mean isolation. François Hollande has already opposed the idea of Scottish EU membership.
Even more problematic is that unless a coalition of Catalonian pro-independents gain power, it seems unlikely that any Spanish Prime Minister would allow Scotland to join the EU. Doing so would be a deadly carrot to Catalonians, wanting independence themselves.
More widely with the highest deficit in Europe, the EU will be unlikely to welcome an economically sick member, when it is already in such perilous territory. Scotland looks unlikely to get independence or stay in the EU; but on the plus side they can still be resentful about the English, continuing hundreds of years of Scottish tradition.