Kezia, Jezza and Indy: Where are the Big Ideas of the Next Scotland?
This week the SNP hit a new high mark in the polls – 62% for next year’s Scottish elections. Elsewhere Kezia Dugdale was elected Scottish Labour leader as the Jeremy Corbyn bandwagon came to much acclaim north of the border.
What do you with popularity? It is a question politicians seldom have to answer. The nearest equivalent to the SNP now is Blair’s New Labour – which, less we forget, was once hugely popular.
There is the question of where opposition comes from and what form it takes? The same poll – with the SNP on 62% – put Labour on 20%, Tories on 12% and Lib Dems on 3%. These are the three great parties of pre-SNP Scotland and each is now reduced to tiny, impotent rumps. All are likely to face a difficult election next year.
The Greens are doing well, there will be a new left party and even the attempted return of Tommy Sheridan, but none of these will sweep the board.
The more important challenge is what drives and shapes Scottish politics, and what, if any, are the big ideas which inhabit and inform public life? There is, of course, one indisputable big idea: independence. But this raises the issue of what kind of independence and even more crucially, independence to do what and create what sort of society?
The commonplace SNP trope has been the mix of the Big Tent – to take the economic levers into our own hands, to champion social justice and stop Tory cuts.
To a sizeable part of Scotland this is attractive and enough. A respected commentator such as Iain Macwhirter thinks the SNP’s success is because it is ‘left-wing’ and that ‘politics is about morality’ – which is both true and very Scottish at the same time – ignoring the grey areas of compromise and need for a link between deeds and words.
Politics needs ideas, debate and disagreement – and a number of faultlines will come to the fore in Scotland. The Tory-led cuts will produce huge hardships and injustices, but will also blunt the SNP’s ability to portray a safety first message of continuity and little change in public services while talking left.
The revivalist show of Jeremy Corbyn, now favourite to win the Labour leadership is already causing ripples. His seemingly inevitable coming to office will impact on the left-wing account of part of Scotland and one take of the indyref, offering some competition on that territory, with consequences for the SNP.
All politics loves heroes and villains, and Scotland knows who falls into the latter camp in recent years – Margaret Thatcher with her poll tax and dogmatic ‘ism’, and Tony Blair and how he sold out the legacy and values of Labour to win Middle England.
It is a potent story and one which both the SNP and Jeremy Corbyn have successfully fed on. It has anger, indignation and some good lines about anti-austerity, the evils of the Iraq war and Trident.
What it doesn’t have is much beyond anger and invoking abstracts. It misses that Thatcher and Blair didn’t create the world the left despise – they amplified and articulated existing trends – as successful politicians do. You need to understand that first base to begin to challenge their ideas.
Across the world there is a tangible discontent at the status quo: at the world which the Thatchers, Blairs and Reagans created. They promised freedom, choice and liberation from the suffocating state, and what they have bequested is insecurity, anxiety and a world of have-lots and have-nots.
There is a link in this to the disillusion many feel with top-down parties and top-down politics – a system by the elites, for the elites, representing the elites.
Labour historically have been poor on democracy, whether in the party, Scotland or the UK, and the SNP while invoking the spirit of the indyref, have shown themselves adept at command and control.
This is the territory to move into, beyond the rage against the machine and the system; valuing democracy, voice, localism and community. It would recognise that Scotland has historically done weak democracy. It would challenge vested interests across society – whether in public services, and in the even more powerful corporate elites. And it would make new forms of co-operation and creativity.
This isn’t an agenda for conservatives, but one for radicals, befitting an era filled with both energy and uncertainty, where so much isn’t permanent. That next Scotland is already present – it just needs to be championed and nurtured and made into a Big Idea. Why not call it Power to the People?