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Monday, 9 February 2015

The Scorpion and the Frog

"Leadership does not always wear the harness of compromise" - Woodrow Wilson.

The fable of the Scorpion and the Frog is well known but for the uninitiated: a scorpion comes to a river and being unable to swim, asks a nearby frog if it will carry it over on its back. The frog is naturally afraid the scorpion will sting it to death and says so. The scorpion says, "Why would I do that as then we would both die?" The frog decides that this makes sense and therefore agrees but when they are only half way across and at the deepest part of the river, the scorpion stings the frog, who asks with his dying breath, "Why, why did you do that?" The scorpion replied, "It is just in my nature." I would ask readers to keep the fable in mind as they read on.

I raised the issue of the SNP's decision to go into a coalition with Labour at Westminster, in the event of a hung parliament, but to refuse to agree to any kind of deal or support for the Tories "under any circumstances", on 19th November 2011 in the blog "Vote SNP - And Get Labour" and again on 22nd January in, "Could a Coalition With Labour Split The SNP?" I am glad to see Ian Macwhirter raised the same issue in the "Sunday Herald" where he said, "Miliband is in a poker game with the SNP which he can't lose". The National's new columnist, George Kerevan, used his first column on February 9th to discuss the same topic. He claims to have spoken at an SNP meeting in Edinburgh, at which he asked for a show of hands of those who were opposed to a deal with Labour, even on SNP terms. Half the audience obliged. My only question is why it took Macwhirter and Kerevan so long to recognise the SNP's position is untenable?

Something about Labour, both UK and Scottish versions, which independence supporters would do well to remember: it is a long time since they had any pretensions of being a socialist party and even longer since they were supporters of "Home Rule". Labour is first and foremost a Unionist party and if any independence supporter had any doubts about that, it was surely confirmed, not just by the alliance with the Tories in the Referendum but in the very obvious delight of Labour Party members at the various counts, each time a "No" vote was registered. Despite Miliband and Balls declaring their intentions to "save the NHS" and "abolish poverty", Labour has already committed itself to the same austerity cuts championed by the Tories - £30 billion of them. Just how does Nicola Sturgeon intend to follow a "progressive and constructive" political programme with partners like that and what does it mean for Scotland?

The First Minister has said the "SNP will push Scotland's interests at Westminster" but it is difficult to see how when they have removed from the equation the most potentially effective counter to Labour the SNP have - a deal with the Tories. The SNP can forget any idea of getting rid of Trident and nuclear weapons because there is a massive majority in Westminster in favour of keeping it. Having made it a "Red Line" issue, what will the SNP do when Labour says they have no intention of getting rid of Trident or its successor? No one really expects SNP to have any success on that issue, therefore failure to achieve one of their main objectives may not do them too much damage. But what about the promises to get "extra powers" for Scotland or the "Home Rule" that Alex Salmond has said is the prime SNP objective for this election? Alex Salmond was very quick to put a dampner on the expectations of SNP supporters when he announced the May election is "not about independence" and made "Home Rule" the pinnacle of the party's ambitions. We have already had at least three definitions of Home Rule which only muddies the political water even more, making it almost impossible for the Scottish electorate to be certain of what they are being asked to vote for.

The current coalition between the Conservatives and the Lib/Dems has demanded an extremely heavy price from the junior partner, which will lose over 50% of its seats, according to most recent polls. No matter how often Nick Clegg emphasises that the Lib/Dems have been instrumental in ensuring the UK has been sheltered from even more austerity, by blunting some of the most extreme Conservative policies, the electorate is in no mood to listen. In the election of February 1974, the Liberal Party polled 19.3% of the popular vote and returned 14 MPs, while it polled 18.3% of the vote, returning 13 MPs in October the same year. In March 1977, Callaghan and Steel agreed to the Lib/Lab Pact which allowed the then Labour Government to defeat a Conservative initiated "No Confidence" vote. No matter how much the Liberals claimed their support for Labour was for "the good of the country" which did not need another general election so soon, in March 1979 the party's vote fell to 13.8%, returning 11 MPs. Will the SNP suffer the same fate, taking the blame for Labour failures but getting no credit for any victories, bearing in mind that a "victory" for Scottish interests, almost by definition, will be at the expense of the interests of the rUK? We could write the headlines now.

The Smith Commission could not have made it any plainer; Westminster will not give up power lightly and some tax concessions granted under Smith's proposals, will be unusable because the monetary powers needed to complement the tax concessions, are absent. It cannot be said often enough, "there is no such thing as fiscal autonomy", at least autonomy that can be made to work. Any deal to support Labour and keep it in power, must compromise SNP principles - Trident being the most obvious example - and for how long will the deal last? Having decided not to play off Labour and Conservatives against each other, Labour will want any deal to have longevity. They will argue legislation takes time and the economic problems are so serious, they must take precedence over constituional issues. Smith has already been agreed and Labour may be prepared to "tweak" the edges but we can rest assured, there will be other demands from the rUK, which will be given priority. The longer the SNP keep Labour in power, the greater the contamination of the SNP there will be, but withdrawal of support, on what will be presented by the media as "the flimsiest of reasons", will be condemned outright. By then the SNP will have reached the deepest part of the river.