The Humbling (A Tale of Nemesis and Hubris)

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If nothing else, the Lord Ashcroft ‘Scottish Battleground’ polls released earlier this week are indicative that Scottish Labour are in for a torrid time at the coming election.

Should the poll be approaching an accurate prediction of what is to occur in May, then we will see the party almost wiped out in terms of MPs north of the border and if repeated in the Holyrood elections the next year, then Labour look to be in for an even bigger drubbing than they received in 2011.

Indeed, the 2011 Holyrood election is probably the real watershed moment for the SNP’s ascendance at Labour’s expense, as the general election result the previous year taught a lot of left-leaning Scottish voters that the Liberal Democrats were not to be trusted and that the whole ‘vote Labour to stop the Tories getting in’ ideology didn’t work.

Given Labour’s awful record as a party of opposition, where they have singularly failed to offer an real alternative to the Conservative-led government (and barely made a coherent opposition to the SNP in Holyrood) and tendency to vote for austerity and nuclear weapons while demeaning Scotland as a whole during the Better Together campaign, it’s a wholly deserved beating.

Almost the worst thing – and the reason that I shall shed nary a tear for Labour’s misfortunes – is the fact that Scottish Labour still seem to think they have a Gods-given right to rule Scotland, that the status of biggest party around these parts is enshrined in stone and that election results and polls to the contrary are an affront to the natural order of things and can only respond by increasingly nonsensical pronouncements and name calling.

As in all Greek tragedies, such hubris is rewarded by the attentions of Nemesis.

Labour’s Nemesis has come in the shape of the rejuvenation of the SNP, cannily adopting the centre-left high ground long vacated by the red rose while retaining enough (stealthily masked from their increasingly progressive supporter base) ‘tartan tory’ policies to draw support (or at least acceptance) from business, the middle classes and the media.

As Labour drift ever further from their core support, they find themselves outflanked on both sides – by an increasingly neoliberal mien in London, best personified by the Conservatives and UKIP and a resurgence of popular progressive sentiment in Scotland (and indeed, across the UK as typified by the Green surge.)

With the UK party committed to maintaining the Blairite approach of wooing business, media and middle classes, their working class support base is bleeding away, especially in Scotland where there is actually a ready made, distinctly more progressive option.

Labour are faced with a choice in Scotland – stay the course and hope that the SNP self destruct, or try and change. Of course, their overweening sense of entitlement and arrogance won’t allow the second option, so it looks like they’ll sit on the sidelines, sniping and desperately stabbing at voodoo dolls adorned with yellow and black ribbons.

It is my dearest wish that Labour recover themselves, reconnect with their grass roots and founding principles and at the very least provide a meaningful opposition to the Conservatives / SNP (depending on which parliament you are looking at) but I just can’t see it unless the party shows some humility.

Sadly, this seems unlikely given many of the personalities at play and the fact that they may still win the general election in May, albeit with a majority looking unlikely and Scotland almost entirely lost.

However, a note of caution must be sounded as to the cyclical nature of such tragedies.

Since 2011, the SNP have become more than a credible party of government in Scotland. They have become the avatar of all who are fed up with Westminster, seek independence or even just a more progressive approach for Scotland’s governance.

The popular swell of almost fanatical support for the party has been awe-inspiring to behold, but also a little bit scary as folks minded to support other progressive parties are lambasted as ‘splitters’ or ‘traitors.’

As I intimated above, the SNP have actually hedged their bets quite cleverly, presenting themselves as a centre-left, progressive – even socialist – party of government while continuing with some distinctly right-wing authoritarian policies.*

* Including but not limited to – cutting corporation tax, freezing council tax, opposing devolution of power from Holyrood to the local authorities, equivocating on fracking, wanting to stay part of NATO…

The fact that a significant section of their support do not acknowledge this balancing act and choose to be outright abusive to supporters of pro-Yes parties other than the SNP, combined with the party’s top down organisation and seeming electoral dominance for the foreseeable future and I can see a pattern emerging…

The SNP are adopting Labour’s ‘entitlement to rule’ attitude and are similarly becoming attached to power, willing to say one thing and do another in pursuit of their goals.

We’ve seen where that leads and with Scotland’s electorate more motivated and informed than ever before surely nemesis will come to punish the SNP for their own hubris before long?

Of course, it seems likely we will have a second independence referendum within the next decade and the result of that vote could change everything – a victory would surely lead to the SNP’s dissolution (or at least a split along ideological lines) as it’s stated mission is completed, while a defeat could well see their support tail off through frustration.

I only hope that Scotland can emerge from this period with a healthy, pluralistic parliament rather than one dominated by one party (because one party states are A Bad Thing) with the opposition sulking in a distant second place and everyone else reduced to a handful of MSPs at best.

That future requires a real Labour party in Scotland, as well as strong representation for Conservatives, Liberals and Greens alongside whatever becomes of the SNP.

For their own sake and for Scotland’s sake, I hope Labour finally learn the lessons of this humbling experience.

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