The weird pro-Union election consensus gathering against the SNP


Commentary by Derek Bateman

Something strange has happened in Scotland. A transformation of sorts has overturned completely the accepted basis of our politics.

Derek Bateman

Broadly, it went like this:

Whatever the deep and abiding mutual mistrust between Labour and the SNP, and notwithstanding disagreements over the constitution with the Liberals, nevertheless all three parties had a shared policy platform on the centre left. It was variegated of course according to the times, but when there was a showdown over Scotland’s national interest they grudgingly stood together – as in the 1997 referendum. They jointly adopted a default position that was anti-Tory, mirroring the perceived attitudes of the voters.


When it came to the preparation for devolution, the SNP did stand outside the constitutional convention (against Alex Salmond’s wishes, I believe) but only because they wanted to go further, not because they were opposed. All the main parties accepted as an article of faith that the Tories did not represent Scotland, were undemocratic in opposing subsidiarity and self-determination and were political lepers to be avoided for fear of ridicule and contamination.

Yet today, this entire construct has been overturned to the extent that Labour and the Liberals are actively encouraging people to vote Conservative rather than SNP. It seems true that Willie Rennie has instructed Liberal councillors not to form working arrangements with Nationalists, preferring Tories instead. Kezia Dugdale sought an artifice to cover her embarrassment by saying no deals should be struck with parties of austerity – define – yet in Aberdeen today her party’s group has been ready to go into coalition with Conservatives whom I presume we all agree tend to favour austerity.


The SNP has become the unwanted cur of politics, loathed by all as if it were an infection. Vote for anybody opposed to another referendum is the cry from them all. At all costs we must not give in to democracy and allow the Scots another vote. Nothing else matters. Vote No to the SNP. Vote in a Tory if necessary. They are better than the Nationalists because they will ensure you are denied another shot at deciding your future. Any future is better than independence. Any future.

Topsy-turvy Dugdale: Tonight she suspended Labour councillors in Aberdeen for entering coalition with the Tories. Yet earlier today she appealed to Tory voters to back Labour against the SNP in some Scottish constituencies…

Yet that future is almost certain to be anything up to 20 years of hard-right, selfish austerity-driven, anti European Britnat ideology, removing powers from Holyrood, shoe-horning Scottish interests into a Little Britain policy portfolio designed to solve the problems of Brexit. And wherever you look those problems are building. Scotland will be disproportionately hit compared to England. Professor Michael Keating warns that what the Liberals and Labour spent decades building, aided by a generation of campaigners for devolution, is now under clear and present threat.

Why can’t they see where this is heading? What is blinding the parties of devolution to the obvious? The Supreme Court ruling made clear how flimsy is the underlying power of Holyrood. What will constrain an all-powerful Theresa May who can claim some sort of Scottish mandate to add to her towering Westminster majority?


I read commentators whose declared preference is devolution/ federalism gloating at the slippage they perceive in SNP support and delighting in signs that a referendum policy isn’t obviously popular. I get it that this is a ‘story’ and it cuts against the grain of the ever rising SNP but they are adding to an exaggerated sense that we don’t need an SNP power base. Who, I ask, is going to protect Scots from what is coming?

For a short-term anti-SNP gain, they are abandoning a consensus that seeks to ameliorate the excesses of Tory policy. But what happens if those powers are simply removed because Brexit has created a national UK emergency in which all decisions and all fund raising has to be centralised?

Willie Rennie: He’d rather have a Tory in charge

There is I think a glib discounting of the generational harm Brexit could do to our country. It’s as if people have stopped thinking beyond four weeks hence, as if, after a massive Tory win, we can regroup and think again. Liberals and Labour are playing the Tories’ game, doing their job for them and turning the election into an anti-SNP crusade.

The Liberals position in Scotland is a betrayal of all those people who worked for federalism and made the constitutional convention work. I knew many of them who were ready to countenance independence if London couldn’t deliver meaningful devolution. I fear Wee Willie is made of weaker stuff, desperately touting for Tory Unionist support as the only means of staying in the game but sacrificing Scotland’s national interest to do so.


The truth is they need an SNP to scare London. Nobody in Whitehall is frightened of Willie and his honours-seeking cohorts. But they fear Sturgeon and what she might do. It was London’s fear of the Nationalists – and the Liberals’ and Labour’s fear of their rising support – that drove devolution in the first place. If the day comes when the SNP is neutered, the game is up, not just for Nationalists and independence, but for those who boast of being proud Scots whose aspirations are met by devolved self-government. That is likely to become a shell after a right-wing victory and a hard Brexit.

This is one of those times when certainty disappears and the stars realign. After this election and after say a year of Brexit talks when reality bites, then we might perceive just what a mess we have talked ourselves into. No doubt it will be spun as the SNP’s fault, again. Yet they offer the one escape route which we could be begging for before long. It’s clear though, that, with Labour ruling out a referendum in favour of a Tory Britain (with nuclear weapons) that we Yessers stand alone. There is to be no support of any kind from our former centre-left friends for anything other than Tory-led hard-right politics.

The history has been forgotten. The consensus abandoned. Labour and the Liberals who once engaged in coalition politics, have now positioned themselves as the enemy, siding with Britnat politics at any cost. It makes voting SNP even more imperative after losing one-time friends


  1. Snp for Scotland, we don’t need Westminster running our country we don’t want tories, labour or lib dem there all liars they don’t care about the Scottish people only there oil
    Best thing we can do is get independence

  2. Excellent end to my day as I contemplate my local council being being run by Labour (who have same number of seats as SNP) and propped up by the#RapeClauseParty of Tories who came 3rd in elections. It is clear that STV voting was introduced by Unionist Parties to frustrate the clear will of Scots to secure their Independence from the Failed and Corrupt UK State. Hollywood MUST get rid of this Unionist STV System – Yes with Green Party help. Scotland’s progress demands it.
    Only after Independence can we introduce a true proportional system of voting which not been fashioned by London’s grubby morality.

  3. And in the same way the failure of Brexut will be blamed on the EU, people will be queueing up to blame the SNP ongoing for failing to mitigate the effects of harsher and harsher Tory policy.

  4. The choice is becoming ever clearer: a right wing nationalist Britain under the blue-red-yellow Tories, or a social-democratic Scotland we get to shape ourselves. As Derek says, there is only “one escape route”. Let’s hope the SNP take us there soon after June 9th, and not necessarily via another referendum.

  5. Balanced, measured and thoughtful as always. For the sake of historical accuracy,The SNP did not take part in the SCC 1989-1993 because they would have been required to support and campaign in favour of Devolution “to the Exclusion of Independence”, and although Salmond, Swinney, Cunninghame and others favoured supporting devolution as a start, a Gradualism approach, Wilson could not sell it to the Party even if he favoured it himself,
    , and he suffered Calumny and brickbats from the party purists until they realised what was on offer, after which they applogised to Wilson and praised his principled stand. Jim Sillars can verify this if you ask him.

  6. Fantastic article Derek, and right on the money.

    Have long thought the concessions we have under devolution were never set in stone, only the threat of indy prevented such talk. the supreme court decision was a timely reminder of this fragility.
    whether scots back indy or not, there is no argument that having the prospect of it does at least deliver an element of goodwill from London. I’m sure Tony Blair once said Barnet formula was essentially a sop to keep Scotland in the union.

    Even with the dominance of SNP in recent years I thought getting Scottish Labour onboard for indyref2 was the game changer Yes needed- but they seem utterly incapable of changing course.

  7. Interesting, but not entirely accurate.

    SNP has not always worn the garb of the left, and, indeed, made its initial significant political gains by winning Conservative seats, particularly in previously safe rural heartlands. They did not do so on the basis of a leftist platform, although it is true that they fed on discontent with Thatcherism. These were, in other words, conservative-minded voters who couldn’t bring themselves to vote Labour. Unsurprisingly, these are the very people leading the resurgence of the Scottish Conservatives as the SNP has tried to re-invent itself as a leftist party, targeting Labour heartlands.

    SNP are anti-Tory, although their leftist credentials need closer checking. Surplus budgets during austerity? Regressive Council Tax freeze, which has benefited the wealthiest most and put no extra money in the pockets of the poor – who have suffered a double whammy by their greater dependence on local authority services. TTIP? Sure, why not – though, every major party stands accused on that one.

    SNP are political opportunists with only one primary policy. And whilst that is perfectly fine, it is ludicrous to make out that they are something else.

    • The bit about winning in Tory heartlands converting Tory voters is a generalisation. I am from the Highland part of Perthshire and the local (Highland working class) vote for the SNP has been solid for decades. The anti-tory vote in perth is what they have built. Social democracy has always fitted in well in areas like Highland Perthshire, descriptions of us as rich farmers, upper class sporting gents or generalising about the relative affluence of the average voter in Perthshire isn’t accurate. Every political movement has tactics the context for Scotland and the SNP is that the British state controls Scotland’s taxes, resources, military and its media.

  8. My only consolation is that staunch Labour supporters will split the unionist vote in most constituencies,hopefully allowing the SNP through on the unionist designed Westminster voting system.
    As for the councils,once the dust has settled in a few weeks time,the Tories and their new friends are going to have to start delivering on more than just a “no surrender” ticket.
    Should be interesting and lively council meetings in some town halls… you wisnae us it wis them Tories,blah blah blah.

  9. Labour and Lib Dems have *always* been unionists first and last. Anti-Tory in the past yes, but they have never been pro-Scottish parties.

  10. Subservient enemies of Scotland, her people and her interests. In a word, traitors. This is a political war of attrition. A war ‘they’ patently desire to prosecute to their bitter end.

  11. UK institutions need to accept that there are many worse things than a peaceful break-up of the Union. The Union is simply not worth defending as an absolute good. Worse than a break-up would be to preserve a reluctant Union by use of institutional power. That would end up undermining the legitimacy of government in all parts of Great Britain. If the Union is not based on the consent of its members, freely given, it has lost not just its legitimacy but also its raison d’être.

    Alan Trench in 2008.

  12. Do not forget the Greens Derek, we do exist and we do support Independence. This election feels like a showdown, I agree. Yes Ullapool and Lochbroom is trying, like many other groups, to get the vote out. The landscape is changing and polarising but all is not lost.

    • Well, Bateman managed to completely forget Corbyn for a start, who I believe is the only challenger to May in the GE, but he managed to mention some Lib Dem called Willie, several times, who quite possibly isn’t even standing for election (I suppose in that respect Willie would be similar to the Greens in Scotland).

  13. you’ve never spoken a truer word (or even phrased it better), Derek ….. wee Willie ‘mouthpiece’, I’ve yet to hear anything coherent emanate from him, Kezia ‘I’m the leader in Scotland’ .. if they remake the Titanic, she is Captain Smith … Ruthie ‘No Surrender’ I’ll play the Orange Card (not done since the late ’70’s) and have no shame ……. only Nicola (and a nod to Patrick Harvie) are actually telling the Scottish Electorate the truth regarding our future. More of this please Derek.


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