My friend Donald challenged me in a comment on an earlier post to be fair and add the SNP to my list of critical blogs about the parties. My original response was no, as there wasn’t that much that annoyed me, certainly compared to the benefits of the party for whom I will certainly vote on Thursday.
However, the SNP haven’t exactly set this campaign alight, nor been the radical, different third voice that the Lib Dems have managed to be. And then over the weekend I read this excellent and insightful article in the Sunday Herald really helps crystalise a few things in my mind and made me think “yep, that’s actually what I’ve been thinking all along”.
The SNP could and should have done so much better in their campaign, but as it is, they’ve done some things which have… well, annoyed me.
First, the TV debate debacle, when the party took the BBC to court to get a place in the third leaders’s debate, just made the SNP look silly. There’s no way that it would be sensible to have Alex Salmond as a part of the debates, when his party is standing in around 10% of the UK’s seats.
Instead of the what the SNP were pressing for, there should actually have been four (or four sets of) leaders’ debates for each of the nations, with the format used for the three debates being used for purely England, and the big three party leaders appearing in the debates in Scotland and Wales alongside the respective nationalists. Not that they would have been unwatchable in the other nations, or vice-versa, but if there were specifically branded England-only debates it would have addressed the problem. That’s what the SNP should have pressed for, and pressed for several months ago, and not panicked at the last minute when they saw the effect the first debate had on the Lib Dems.
Secondly, cuts – one of the big themes of the election. The SNP have said that they will stand up for Scotland against the London parties, and try to prevent the worst of the forthcoming cuts from being made in Scotland. Great. Nothing wrong with them fighting for Scotland. But even though some of the things they propose as being cut instead of frontline services (such as Trident or the Scotland Office) would be to the benefit of the whole UK, much of their desire to defend Scotland from cuts left some unspoken words hanging in the air afterwards – that the cuts should happen in England instead.
I don’t believe for a second that the SNP would like to see swingeing cuts in England, or would begrudge England some decent public services. But the way they said they’d stand up for Scotland came over as protectionism and nimbyism, and not the sort of of cooperative, cross-national approach that will win English folk over to the end of the Union (something I reckon is a key ingredient to independence).
Most crucially, those calls to save Scotland from cuts, as well as boasting a potential kingpin role in the new parliament that they have no hope of having given the Lib Dem resurgence, were pretty much the sum of the SNP campaign.
Where were the powerful mantras about the benefit of independence to both Scotland and England? This election has in part been about changing our constitution and reforming our politics – from MP’s expenses to voting reform, this would have been a perfect mix into which to sprinkle a healthy dose of independence. Where were the clear cut, powerful arguments as to why broadcasting, social security or other reserved topics should be devolved? Where were the calls for fiscal autonomy and the benefits that would bring in terms of killing dead the myths about Scotland being subsidised and making Scotland self-funding? Where were the clear messages of how it would benefit England?
The SNP missed a trick, and what’s worrying is that if the SNP have their way they’ll be fighting an independence later this year, and then of course there are the Scottish Parliament elections in 2011 in which the SNP have a wafer-thin majority. If this is the best the SNP can do in terms of confidently and inspiringly presenting the case for independence, or at least further devolution, then I worry for those two polls. No doubt the SNP is short of cash, or at least saving for the massive fight we’ll see in the 2011 Holyrood polls. No doubt the SNP is damaged by its failure to achieve its full potential as the Scottish Government (in fairness, a failure due to parliamentary arithmetic and not much failing on the SNP’s own part). And no doubt the SNP have continued to suffer from a largely disinterested or hostile media.
But that doesn’t excuse a nimbyist, disjointed, reactionary and lacklustre campaign. The SNP have some great communicators, some fantastic policies, and a number of successes in government. They should have had a much stronger springboard from which to… well, springboard. They should have done so much better, and they will in all probability be becalmed on Thursday. They won’t lose their number of overall seats, but their vote and seat share will not much of an increase either.
I’m still voting for them, of course. If I get time before Thursday, and if you really want me to because you don’t already know, I’ll explain why.