In the absence of an alternative to the left, will the SNP be seen as the best shield to protect the Scottish people?
The Tories I bumped into at Westminster after Theresa May’s snap general election call were cock-a-hoop. The Prime Minister’s rhetoric about uniting Britain in the face of a divided Westminster didn’t cut much mustard with them, they saw it as a chance to get an increased majority at Westminster. Scotland was clearly discounted “we might nab a seat or two” was the height of aspiration voiced by one of them.
One Nation Toryism - as supposedly championed by Benjamin Disraeli in the nineteenth century - was always a mirage, behind which lurked the arid reality of hard, ruling-class politics. But today the reality is that May leads a party centred on England and, to a lesser extent, Wales and particular areas that vote for them - which, in the main, voted leave.
One Tory I overhead was asked if they’d retain a 6,000 majority. His reply was that it was a leave constituency and that would be no problem. That reflects the fact that a majority of Tories voted leave and, whatever stance their MP took, that has to be taken into account.
But that should not mask the fact there are still deep divides in the Tory Party over Europe. May presides over different wings of her Cabinet. There are those like Hammond who want to come to terms with Brussels over departure particularly in defending the City of London, and the Johnson, Fox and David Davis wing who back Hard Brexit.
For May it makes sense to get this election out of the way before negotiations begin and potential splits start to appear in the Tory ranks.
While the main explanation for May’s sudden u-turn in calling an election is her commanding lead in the polls over Labour, another factor must be that this is the best chance the Tories have had - and perhaps will have - to win back UKIP voters, given that party’s dire state.
A party which once saw itself as the champion of an Empire on which the sun never sets is reduced to championing what some call Middle England.
No matter, that should be sufficient to return May and Crew and mean they can rule on until 2022 - they think. But, to the north, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also grasped that this throw of the dice could reward her.
Sturgeon is cautious, but Theresa May’s rush to the polls allowed her to play the Thatcher card, once more arguing it was vital:
“… That Scotland is protected from a Tory Party which now sees the chance of grabbing control of government for many years to come and moving the UK further to the right – forcing through a hard Brexit and imposing deeper cuts in the process.” This was then “an election about standing up for Scotland, in the face of a right-wing, austerity-obsessed Tory government with no mandate in Scotland but which now thinks it can do whatever it wants and get away with it”. One friend in Glasgow put it another way when he said “Let’s give the Tories a bloody kicking”.
It will be hard for the Scottish National Party to win 56 out of 59 Westminster seats as they did two years ago, but they should take the majority with ease. Labour in Scotland is way to the right of Corbyn, whom it hates, and rushed to embrace the Unionist cause as soon as a second independence referendum was mooted.
In the absence of an alternative to the left, the SNP will be seen as the best shield to protect people. It's Westminster MPs have voted on the right side over austerity, Trident renewal, refugees’ rights and much else and Sturgeon et al will hammer home the message that re-electing a cohort of SNP MPs to Westminster is a good way of ensuring Scottish interests are to the fore.
Chris Bambery is an author, political activist and commentator, and a supporter of Rise, the radical left wing coalition in Scotland. His books include A People's History of Scotland and The Second World War: A Marxist Analysis.
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