The SNP Majority is a British OpportunityTweet
The SNP taking 56 out of 59 seats in the British Parliament may appear to be a blow for British Unionism but it is also an opportunity if we continue to take our Big British Picture and stand for all that is best about Britain, says Alistair McConnachie.
Pic: The full intake of all the new MPs in the British Parliament, photographed 14 May 2015, courtesy of the UK Parliament Facebook page, facebook.com/UKparliament
This article was posted on this site on 19 May 2015.
In our last article we explained that the 38% of the Scottish electorate which voted for separation in 2014 all largely voted, understandably, for the SNP at the General Election. Under our First-Past-the-Post system, that meant it took 56 of 59 seats.
In this article, we're going to consider what this SNP presence at Westminster means for them and us, and we're also going to look at some Strategy for Unionism in the British Parliament.
We define 'unionism' as "belief in the maintenance of the Union of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland."
On the 18 June 2015, we will be speaking in London on the subject of "One UK: The British Union from First Principles". Mr Cameron made reference to 'One UK' the day after the General Election and we are going to help him to understand how it is built, and held together. We will help him to understand the ties that bind, which could be severed, if he grants further powers to an already powerful nationalist Holyrood.
For now, though, let us lay out some incontestable constitutional basics…
THE CONSTITUTIONAL REALITY
The SNP is a British Party and has a Right to be in the British Parliament
The SNP is a British Party which has been elected by British people, whether or not the SNP, or its supporters, identify as such.
Short of joining the Armed Forces, there is little more quintessentially 'British' than becoming a Member of the British Parliament.
By taking its seats, it has legitimised the role of the British Parliament in continuing to decide political matters for all the people in Scotland. That is a good thing!
It could have 'done a Sinn Fein' and refused to take its seats – which would have caused considerable social turmoil in Scotland.
The SNP has a Right to Vote on all Matters
The SNP has a right, which it is perfectly entitled to exercise, to vote on every single matter which comes before Parliament.
Some people will object by saying…"The SNP does not have MPs in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, which means that everyone in the UK cannot have a say on the party's programme at the ballot box. That means that the idea that England just has to 'put up with the SNP members voting on things which affect the rest of Britain' is rubbish."
However, many parties in the UK do not stand throughout the UK. There are the obvious examples of the Northern Irish parties, and Plaid Cymru, but even some of the mainland parties do not stand everywhere.
Labour and the Lib Dems do not even stand candidates in the 18 constituencies in Northern Ireland. That means that no-one there has a chance to vote for them.
Not every constituency in the UK had a chance to vote for a UKIP candidate. Only one constituency had a chance to vote for the sole independent MP in Parliament Lady Sylvia Herman.
Does this mean that the votes in Parliament of UKIP's MP Douglas Carswell, and Lady Herman, should not be counted? The point is: If we believe in the Union, then all of us, wherever we may live, just have to accept this.
Furthermore, Scotland only has one Tory MP. Does that mean that the Conservative Government has 'no mandate' in Scotland? Of course not, the Conservatives received 434,097 votes in Scotland!
Does it mean that the Labour Shadow Cabinet cannot speak for Scotland because it only received 1 MP in Scotland? Of course not, Labour got 707,147 votes here.
Of course, the SNP MPs do not believe in the Union in the first place – and that puts them in a unique position – and an understandably objectionable position to many. But there is no need for the rest of us to go down its divisive way of looking at things!
Rather, it is for us to encourage the SNP to work for the best interests of everyone in the UK, and to condemn it when it fails to do this and when it falls into parochialism.
It is for us to encourage it to rise to the British Occasion – and if it doesn't then to show it up for failing.
SOME ADVANTAGES FOR US
The Re-emergence of the British Centre in Scottish Political Life
Since devolution and prior to now, the British Parliament in Scotland has tended to play second billing to Holyrood.
However, whether we support the SNP or not, the 56 SNP MPs have now helped to raise the importance of the British Parliament in Scottish political life again.
We can think of it as the re-emergence of the British centre in Scottish political life. That is an opportunity for the Union.
The SNP must become More Responsible
With participation comes responsibility. For many of them, prior to now, it has been easy to sit back and throw stones. Now it has to grow up. Now it has to deal with the reality of the UK, and with the many problems which need solved – problems which the rest of us have been trying to explain to it for decades.
Now the SNP has to play in the Big Boys' playing field for the first time, and it will have to adapt appropriately. Looked at one way, that might be a problem for unionists. Looked at another way, it is an opportunity for us to introduce them to the Big British Picture. For example…
The SNP will have to Become more British and Widen its Perspective
Some of the younger SNP MPs will have lived their entire adult life under a Holyrood Parliament. Perhaps the very idea of the UK is baffling to them.
Many of them may never have heard the argument for the United Kingdom properly articulated. Many of them have been denied the knowledge, so far, of the Great things about Britain. Some of them may never even have visited London before!
By going to the British Parliament, 56 SNP MPs are going to have to learn how to be more British, whether they really want to or not, and that is a good thing.
They are going to learn that there is a whole British World out there and they can help shape it.
Consequently, their extreme Scottish parochialism is bound to decrease somewhat. Perhaps not a lot, but inevitably, among some of them, it will decrease a bit.
However, if MPs from the rest of the UK see short-term party political advantage in 'having a go' at 'the Scots', and using Scotland as a political football, then the SNP people might just find their prejudices reinforced. That would be a bad thing.
Ideally though, being part of the British system will help some of them to widen their horizons and move away from an insular, exclusive and short-sighted position. It could allow for an attitude adjustment among some of them. And we should encourage that movement wherever possible.
PROBLEMS FOR THE SNP
It has a Confrontational Basis at odds with the British Ideal
British MPs have 4 loyalties in the British Parliament. These are to: Their own conscience, their party, their constituents and their country – the United Kingdom; because this is the United Kingdom Parliament. Within that country, they can also represent their own particular part of the UK – England, Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales – as necessary.
To the extent that they do this, the 'British Ideal' is that they represent their part of the UK with an eye to ensuring the overall best interests of everyone else in the entire UK are also served.
If everyone puts the interests of 'the United Kingdom' first, then things can run smoothly because there is no parochial interest to set against another. However, once a group of MPs start up on the best interests of 'Scotland' or 'England', in opposition to the best interests of the entire UK together, then there is going to be disharmony, and the British Ideal starts to break down into acrimony.
Clearly, the SNP is starting with this parochial and confrontational basis. However, that doesn't mean that some of them can't be introduced to the British Ideal over time.
The SNP must Serve us All Most MPs represent all their constituents for while the constituent may not agree with the MP on tax rates, or attitudes to education, or spending, or the partisan policies of the MP's party, the constituent at least knows that the MP, whether Labour, Lib Dem or Conservative, believes in the continuation of the basic country, even though they differ in the policies which should be applied to govern it.
SNP MPs, though, stand in a different relationship to their constituents. SNP MPs don't believe in the continuation of the United Kingdom. They don't believe in the basic premise of the country in the first place; the premise which most of the other parties accept.
This means that the SNP MPs are far removed politically from most of their constituents.
However, they must represent them, whether they like it or not. They must provide to us, and our beliefs, due impartiality.
In this sense, they are in an unusual and difficult position compared to normal MPs. Are they simply to reject the national loyalty of over half their constituents? If they do, they will eventually fail in their roles because British democracy only works if we accept the votes of our fellow constituents.
Their inability to represent all their constituents remains a major trip-hazard for the SNP MPs.
The SNP will be in Danger of Splitting
Nicola Sturgeon has massive expectations to manage, especially with a huge 'membership' (£1 entry fee) consisting of thousands of people who simply have no clue about politics…at all.
These consist of people who genuinely believe that when David Cameron said he was going to bring in 'more powers' that he could do it, himself, the next day.
(We know this for a fact because we help admin 9 pro-UK Facebook pages and we see this constitutional illiteracy every day. It is shocking, and it is a terrible indictment of our educational system – and society in general – that so many people don't understand how our democracy works at its most basic level.)
There are Bad Spirits Abroad in the SNP
If it is the hostile, aggressive, seeking to destroy the 'auld enemy' spirit which reigns, then the party will probably corrupt itself. If it is the insular, parochial 'Scottish not British' spirit which reigns then it will perish in its own frigidity.
If it is genuinely seeking to make all the UK a better place for us all, including Scotland, then it may have something to bring to the table which could be helpful.
It may move both ways, with a split occurring between those who come to realise the benefits of Britain and who might have something genuine to bring to the British table, and those who insist on retreating to their Scottish Fastness on everything, throwing stones and bearing their bums.
HOW to BEAT the SNP in the BRITISH PARLIAMENT
Put the UK at the Centre of Debate, and Make the SNP Dance to the British Piper
Why is there a fear that the SNP will somehow be able to dominate in the long-term? That is like saying that the UK has nothing to say for itself!
If the basic importance of the United Kingdom is the foundation upon which all matters are discussed at the British Parliament, then it will be the SNP which will find itself marginalised, outflanked and irrelevant to the debate – unless it changes its tune and dances to our British Piper.
Build on the Things which the UK does Best Together, and Create Better Policies to Make them Happen
By concentrating on the things which we do together well – which were those things we campaigned upon at the referendum – and by working to strengthen and develop those things (such as the shared economy, job creation, welfare, defence, and the social and cultural aspects), then we can create good pan-UK policies which the SNP will not want to vote against.
Basically, we take those things which the UK is good at together and we develop them and make them even better.
Even this Conservative majority government could make the SNP vote for its policies if it has policies which are recognised to be valuable and which are pan-UK – or even just for Scotland. We're not talking about 'more powers' or dangerous stuff like that; but good policies on the economy, job creation, welfare, defence, social and cultural matters.
We outflank the SNP by creating better policies for everybody in the UK than it could ever come up with, and then dare it to vote against them.
If it votes for such positive policies, then it will ultimately weaken the appeal of leaving the UK. If it votes against them, then it can be maneuvered into a position where it appears to be the wreckers, or where its presence seems pointless, or where its bad side is too often on display.
If the SNP appear simply as wreckers then they will lose a lot of support. They have to be constructive. If this causes internal conflict between the wreckers and extremists of the Salmond/Sillars variety, and those who want to be constructive and pragmatic, then sobeit.
However, we certainly do not make the SNP pointless by giving it everything that it demands. That is just making it even more relevant and powerful and encouraging separatism.
It has to play our game. We don't play its game. We make the rules. It doesn't.
Do Not Make Concessions to the SNP
The case for the UK is still a very strong one. The Union can, and will, survive through the coming centuries. And that is the time scale we should be thinking about and planning for – not the next week in politics, or our own short-term party political advantage.
There should be no need to feel pressured into giving the SNP anything at all. What is it going to do if it doesn't get its way? Elect more MPs? Have another referendum? The truth is, even if it wins the Holyrood elections in 2016, the SNP is not wanting another referendum any time soon.
As a reader wrote to us recently and said, "It is vital that the battles ahead are fought boldly on principle and do not continue to be a skirmishing retreat."
To conclude: We are often grateful for the perspective of the unionist blogger Bill McMurdo. He wrote something recently which struck us as wise, and so we end with this thought from him:
Another thing I said and wrote a lot last year was that Scotland's destiny was not to run away from the Union in a sulk at wrongs and injustices imagined or otherwise but to bring leadership to the Union. I didn't have in mind the hostage politics Nicola Sturgeon is now playing at Westminster but the SNP's spectacular capture of power over the UK political scene actually shatters their own myth of Scottish impotence at Westminster.
Our political system is tired, drained and strained. It is in major need of radical overhaul. The answer is not to jettison the Union. The Union transcends politics. A major problem with the debate over the Union is the fallacious idea that politics can provide the solution.
The answer is to change society by bringing cultural transformation. This includes transitioning from our hackneyed system of hostility politics to a new, harmonious process. It is seeking transformation rather than confrontation.
A great example is our continued use of the word 'Opposition' to label parties who are not in power. Imagine if we changed this to 'Support' or 'Partner' parties.
It is all about perspective.
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