Blain’s Morning Porridge Feb 16th: Scotland… Independence or vote Labour? It’s a critical call for the UK!
“If they elect Captain Haddock it might sound a bit fishy..”
This morning: Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation as Scotland’s First Minister has triggered fervid speculation about votes going to Labour – another nail in Tory hopes of electoral recovery. Things seldom play out as expected – the Scots are a troublesome lot!
If you are invested in the UK – navigating the torrid waters of our increasingly fractious politics for signs of upside is increasingly cloudy. It just got darker following Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation.
UK Politics is a blood sport.
Farewell Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish Nationalist Party’s First Minister of Scotland – the latest servant of the people to fall! We shall shortly welcome someone new to her role, someone you’ve likely never heard of outside the Edinburgh by-pass. (Which is pretty much 95% of the Porridge Readership I would think.) While Scotland might just be a wee, insignificant bit of sheep infested mountains away to the Far North in the minds of many market watchers… it’s actually highly significant to the future of the UK.
If only things had been different…. Imagine if Nicola had joined the Scottish Labour Party instead…. I doubt Brexit would have happened had such a passionate and competent campaigner been leading UK opinion. She’d be the Labour leader set to win a landslide at the next general election. Nope! She would have wiped Boris in 2019, appealing to voters by her honest pragmatism and sheer electability. Gallus wee Lassie frae Irvine in Ayrshire would have trounced posh-boy Boris at the polls. Ach, weel, another opportunity missed…
There is lots of commentary this morning saying Sturgeon picked the wrong hill to die on – transgender politics. Probably. But probably not. Like Jacinda Ardern, the recently retired New Zealand Premier, I suspect Sturgeon realised the game was up some time ago. Scottish Independence was her raison d’être, and when saw the likelihood slipping away she saw the downslope. Rather than be another statistic proving the adage “all political lives end in failure”, she got out as close to the top as she could. How very unlike Boris, Truss or any of the other numpties that have flirted with No 10 in recent years.
Sturgeon admitted she is polarising – which is today apparently a sign of an electable politician – but she was effective. It will be difficult to replace her, and my chums in Edinburgh all suggested different leaders who might emerge – strongly suggesting she’s leaving a power vacuum behind her.
Resignation was a mature move from the UK’s most effective politician. Few folk outside Scotland had time for her, but she was damn good. Calm and in control – a brilliant campaigner and communicator. Compare and contrast her grasp of topics, how prepared she was for any questions, her lack of waffle, her directness – she was streets ahead of any of the current crop of Tories or Labour. (Liberal Democrats you ask? Please, let’s stick to what matters.. although Sir Ed Davey is a very nice chap.)
That said… Scotland under Sturgeon and the SNP’s watch hardly thrived.
Her job was independence, but her SNP administration is a collective drawn together for a single purpose rather than shared fundamental belief in economic policies or delivery. 16 long years of SNP dominance in the Holyrood parliament has achieved some redistributive success, but taxes are higher than England and services across Education and Health are in crisis.
Critical economic issues have been missed. One glaring example is Scotland’s Ferry network. The Western Isles are held together by state ferry firm Caledonian MacBrayne – CalMac. Its failing to a catastrophic degree. Its aging fleet is subject to breakdowns, cancellation and “staff-shortages” leaving the Islands cut off and unsupplied. New Ferries are years late and overbudget. A private ferry firm recently put a new car ferry (The MV Alfred) on its offshore route to Orkney, on time and on budget for £14mm. The CalMac “Glen Sannox” (destined for the inshore Clyde crossings) and its sistership are 6 years later, have so far cost £340mm and are still nowhere near delivery.
Little parliaments are very noisy and seldom achieve much. Holyrood, at the bottom of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, is a very little parliament. Aside from Nicola, the rank and file of the SNP is not characterised by particular political intellect outside their one-issue demand for independence. The outnumbered Conservative and Labour MSP’s can argue about growth, education, health and taxation policies, but the other side was seldom listening… unless it was about how to achieve independence.
Single issue politics seldom work in government. And so it has proved in Holyrood. But the SNP still get the votes! Historically, the best description of Scot’s Politics is in the title of the 1707 song: “Such a Parcel of Rogues in a Nation”.. referring to the English purchase of the legislature through bribes – but no time for history this morning, except to note the SNP deliver what their electorate want: a commitment to independence!
The papers this morning suggest Sturgeon’s departure is a massive win for Sir Kier Starmer’s Labour party. They think the Scots will flock to the Labour Banner now that she has gone. I hae my doubts about that…. No matter how more devolution he is prepared to give Edinburgh.
Just when you thought things could not get worse in the UK, they have a habit of doing so… The last few big political resignations brought us the tumbling down succession of May, Boris then Truss. (Sunak is just the ball hitting the cushion…) The chances someone better than Sturgeon succeeds her and can put the Scottish state back on track are not looking good. But that doesn’t mean the Scots will turn away from Independence.
Why does/did Sturgeon matter?
There are 59 Scottish MPs in the Westminster Parliament. 45 of them are members of the independence obsessed SNP. In 2015 the nationalists gained 50% of the Scottish vote – just a year after they’d narrowly lost an independence referendum gaining 45% of the vote.
45% of Scots, the SNP voters, will be waking up this morning convinced another referendum is now off the cards. It means, to them: “decades more shackled to the sh*thole failed kleptocracy the Tories have created”, to quote a Scottish constitutional expert, who shall remain nameless because my chum doesn’t want to upset his English wife too much…
Problem is, even Scottish Tories – who represent 25% of the Scottish vote – pretty much think the same way!
They see Scotland as neglected by the floundering Westminster Party – which has pretty much written off Scotland as “already gone”. The Tartan Tories want nothing to do with the current Westminster party – embarrassed and humiliated by the political circus bouncing from crisis to crisis. (Scotland has always been perceived as a bastion of Socialist/Labour votes – not so, there is a strong conservative tradition, and when I were young, a Tory majority among Scottish MPs!)
Some vote watchers expect Scottish Labour – currently 18% of the vote, but only one seat – will gain some seats from the SNP, but there is no guarantee. At least half the SNP vote was Labour at one point. Labour will no doubt promise more devolution in return for the SNP vote – and that’s a bargain SNP supporters will be loath to take. They want Freeeeeeedom now… not tomorrow. Sir Kier Starmer would be unwise to rely on Scot’s votes coming his way.
It doesn’t really matter which party garners support in Scotland – they are all united by their contempt for the current Westminster government. The reality is the Scottish Block in Westminster could prove a massive frustration to the new government likely to succeed the Tories. And that’s the big unknown.
Imagine Labour win the next election, but with a limited majority. Scotland holds the critical votes. What will the SNP demand?
“FREEEEEEDOM…. !” (apologies Sir William Wallace)
Nothing is ever simples here in Blighty.
And, living in England I don’t have a vote in the issue of my nation’s future…
Five Things to Read This Morning
Out of time, and back to the day job…
Strategist – Shard Capital