A few days late, I've been catching up with James Mackenzie's blogpost entitled 'Why independence requires the SNP to lose their majority'. In spite of the provocative title and the even more provocative track record of the author, I didn't find it anything like as objectionable as I thought I might - indeed, it would be quite strange if Green bloggers weren't making the odd mischievous pitch for votes from the SNP. In a way, it's actually quite refreshing to see Mackenzie openly admit that the objective is to deprive the SNP of their majority. That moves us on from the gibberish of recent months about how it's supposedly possible to vote "tactically" for both an SNP majority government and a Green opposition.
That said, you won't be surprised to hear that his argument doesn't stack up. He claims, for example, that majority government led to Yes Scotland being conflated with the SNP. No, it was the massive difference in size between the SNP and the other Yes parties that led to that problem. Whether the SNP had 69 or 64 seats was neither here nor there in that regard. Even if the Greens, with a small number of seats, had been part of a lopsided coalition (and past history suggests they themselves might have refused a coalition in favour of confidence-and-supply), the media would still have looked at the SNP as the dominant partner and referred to the administration as an SNP government, and to Yes Scotland as an SNP front.
I'm slightly unclear whether Mackenzie thinks the benefit of the SNP losing their majority is that any future prospectus for independence would be a compromise featuring a blend of SNP and Green ideas, or that there wouldn't be a single prospectus at all, leaving voters with a better understanding that the new Scotland would be a blank slate to be filled in by future election results. Either way, it's not hard to see huge downsides. The Yes campaign took enough of a pounding for alleged lack of clarity as it was - how much worse would that have been if the retort was always "but that's intentional!" And the Greens may think that their currency policy was more electorally robust than the SNP's, but presumably any compromise prospectus would also have required the SNP to give ground on both the monarchy and NATO, which would have been bound to repel voters (and I say that as a republican who wants to get out of NATO).
Going forward, there are two obvious reasons why the SNP losing their majority would be a significant setback for the independence movement, irrespective of whether the total number of pro-independence MSPs remains stable. Firstly, there's the question of mandate. It seems likely that both the SNP and Greens will have quite complicated, conditional commitments in their manifestos on the subject of a possible second referendum, and if the two wordings aren't fully reconcilable, it will become easier for the Westminster government to play semantic games and claim that a joint SNP-Green majority doesn't constitute a clear mandate for a referendum in Circumstance A or Circumstance B. It would be far preferable if the triggers listed in the SNP manifesto receive an unambiguous mandate in their own right.
Secondly, the issue that Rolfe has raised a number of times - the media narrative. If the SNP lose a significant number of seats next May, it won't matter whether the main beneficiary is a pro-independence or anti-independence party. The headlines will be the same - "Hammerblow for Sturgeon and her dreams of separation". Do we really want to make it easy for the media to do that to us?
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Part of the London establishment can't seem to tell the difference between "liberalism" and British nationalism, and another part can't seem to tell the difference between "nice things" and British nationalism. Tim Farron said the following in his leader's speech at the Lib Dem conference -
"If you reject the politics of blame and separation. If you say Britain is best when Britain is together...Then guess what. You’re a liberal. Embrace that diagnosis. It is an utterly decent and British condition."
Afterwards, Isabel Hardman of the Spectator quite reasonably pointed out that, whatever else this might be, it's not a description of what it means to "be a liberal". But she then spoiled things by suggesting that it's actually a description of what it means to be a "nice person who likes nice things to happen". Er, sorry? Why, pray, is an attachment to British nationalism a prerequisite for being a nice person?
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Meanwhile, "Jackanory Jim" Murphy has penned an article about the EU referendum for the New Statesman which contains a line that will reverberate down the ages for its unwitting comic genius -
"We may not be able to count on Nigel Farage being an Alex Salmond – a useful, vote-losing villain..."
Hmmm. Somebody's been shopping at Self-Awareness 'R' Us.