A Time of Change and Hope in Scotland

Gerry Hassan

May 5th 2011

This has been an interesting, illuminating Scottish election; a transition between an old Scotland and a still unfinished new one. This can be seen in the slow shift from Labour to the SNP; in the balance between old voices and new;  the role of mainstream media and new media platforms.

Many of the mainstream media commentariat have missed this. Thus Katie Grant and Lorraine Davidson who I was on the eve of poll ‘Newsnight Scotland’ (1) called the election ‘dire’, ‘lifeless’ and ‘lacking in anything positive’, something I challenged on air and do find a ‘media cliché’ which is inaccurate and unhelpful.

This might not be a classic watershed or re-alignment election, but having spoken and listened to numerous friends and colleagues across Scotland I think a generational change is taking place which such negativity misses. This is that the slow hollowing out of Labour is continuing apace. And a gradual shift to the Nationalists taking place. Gone is the residual Labour identification. And disappearing is the once powerful anti-Nationalist attitude of many which was once so prevalent.

The last YouGov poll gave the SNP a 7% lead over Labour in the constituency vote (42%:35%) and 3% in the regional vote (35%:32%); a much less sensational picture than the STV poll the night before which has now been widely questioned. This new poll would produce a Parliament of 54 SNP (+7), Labour 46(=), Con 16 (-1), Lib Dem 7 (-9), Greens 5 (+3) Ind 1 (=).

Peter Kellner makes a number of good points on the YouGov website:

Elections are sometimes characterised as contests between hope and fear, or the future versus the past. But they are sometimes also battles between ‘the grass is greener’ and ‘keep a hold of nurse’ (from Hilaire Belloc’s cautionary tale about Jim, who was eaten by a lion; he failed to obey the injunction, ‘always keep a hold of nurse, for fear of finding something worse’). (2)

Kellner believes that the trumping of ‘the ‘grass is greener’ sentiment’ by the appeal of ‘keep a hold of nurse’ is evident in the AV referendum, but also in the Scottish elections. Here he thinks Scots voters want to re-elect a Salmond Government, but not trigger a constitutional crisis or at the moment progress towards independence:

As a result, if the SNP does come out ahead tomorrow, the chances are that it will be precisely the government that most Scots want – Salmond to lead an administration that remains firmly within the union.
This seems to be the nuanced result voters are going to create. That will be one with potentially huge consequences in the future: slowly, but dramatically changing Scotland, its place and voice in the union, and ultimately the nature of the union itself. Our national politics are evolving distinctively in a different direction from Westminster and its long shadow across Britain.

That strikes me as an election worthy of calling interesting, even one with a degree of drama, excitement and theatre. It has also been one in which a politics of hope, no matter how vague, has managed to articulate itself in the SNP campaign, and be heard and recognised by many voters, and seen as distinct from its opponents. We cannot let such mildly momentous times be glossed over as ‘dire’ and ‘lifeless’.

Sometimes politicians and politics get it wrong or fall short, but sometimes so do elements of the media and I think the latter has occurred in this campaign. I believe it is time to stop saying how disillusioned and disappointed we are in Scotland and Scottish politics, a school of thought which has a passive view and an active angry one, and dare to dream and hope a bit. Our country and we deserve it.

Notes

1. BBC Newsnight Scotland, May 4th 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01103sm/Newsnight_Scotland_03_05_2011/

2. Peter Kellner, ‘Voting Reform, Scotland and the ‘Nurse’ Factor, YouGov, May 4th 2011, http://today.yougov.co.uk/commentaries/peter-kellner/voting-reform-scotland-and-nurse-factor