I've been having a look once again at the pro-Ulster Unionist (and therefore now by automatic extension, pro-Conservative) blog Three Thousands Versts of Loneliness. I was planning to say something about the new Tory-UUP alliance, but first of all I can't resist responding to Chekov's second most recent post, as it contains a series of digs at the SNP and Alex Salmond. Apparently, the First Minister's "smug countenance" will have been replaced by a look of "indignation" upon encountering the "news" that David Cameron regards the SNP as irrelevant at the next election. Now I don't follow his blog closely, but my guess is that Chekov must have an awfully earnest, almost 1950s view of politics and the Conservative party in particular. In his mind, there's David Cameron, a sage-like figure at the apex of British politics, imparting pearls of wisdom, while lesser mortals such as Salmond can only hang on to every word, desperately longing for any small sign of recognition or respect. In truth, I'd imagine Salmond and his advisers wouldn't have been so much crestfallen at Cameron's snub as rather gratified to note that a political rival who feels the need to 'talk up your irrelevance' is obviously a tad worried that many people don't see it that way.
Cameron knows perfectly well that he doesn't get to choose how 'relevant' the SNP will be at the next election, and words won't make that reality go away. If the SNP stay with only the seven seats they currently hold, they're unlikely to hold much clout even in a hung parliament. On the other hand, if the UK-wide race tightens, and if the SNP end up with 15-20 seats, it's a different ballgame. But even if we assume that Chekov is taking it as read that the former will happen and not the latter, what does the irrelevance of a party with seven seats say about the influence that a party that currently holds just one seat - the Ulster Unionist Party - can credibly hope to ever exercise in their hopelessly unequal new alliance with the Tories?
Chekov goes on to note that Cameron is "right to point out" that Salmond will not be a candidate at the general election. Memo to Chekov - Alex Salmond has made no secret of that, and it's hardly a point of shame for anyone in the SNP. Indeed, I seem to recall the criticism up to now from Unionist politicians has been that Salmond was - as a nationalist - rather too keen to hold on to his Westminster seat. Which raises a simple question - would Alex Salmond be justified in a) staying at Westminster and leaving Holyrood, b) holding on to his seats at both Westminster and Holyrood, or c) leaving Westminster and staying at Holyrood? If the answer is, incredibly, none of the above (and it may well be given that he's been criticised for all three at various points in the last eight years), it's little wonder Unionists find the First Minister so objectionable almost regardless of what he says or does.
Finally, perhaps in an effort to convince himself that everything's going to work out just fine, Chekov asserts that "in previous general elections, Scots have always rejected the SNP in favour of participating in a national contest". Well...up to a point, Lord Copper. I take it he means that the SNP have never won the popular vote in a general election, which is quite true, but they have finished in second place on three occasions, and beaten the Conservatives no fewer than four times (including all of the last three elections). Hardly suggests that Scots have been fully buying into this "only two parties are relevant in Westminster elections" line that both Chekov and Cameron so dearly wish they would. It's also worth noting that until eighteen months ago the SNP had never won the popular vote at any election, Westminster or otherwise - they've now done so twice. Records are only ever there to be broken.