The Scottish polls and a tale of two coalitions

Labour's proximity to the Tories within Better Together may have damned it forever

By Philip Johnstone

The recent polls returned by Lord Ashcroft show a Scotland painted yellow with SNP colours.

Of course it covered only 16 seats and the results in May most likely won’t be as catastrophic for Labour as this and other polls suggest, but the results can’t be ignored. The SNP will most likely be the third biggest party in the UK and completely dominate the Scottish political landscape.

The situation we are in now baffles many from outside Scotland. We had a referendum a mere six months ago resulting in a vote against independence by 10 per cent. Now Scotland is on the cusp of voting overwhelmingly for a party which wants independence.  How can this be?

Of course the voting habits of Scots have evolved with devolution, leading to wildly different results in Scotland and Westminster for the SNP and Labour.  By the time of the 2016 Holyrood election the SNP will have been in power for 9 years, including the emphatic 2011 victory.  The rise of the SNP to power has converged with public disillusionment with UK Labour policies notably the Iraq War, the free rein given to bankers and the vow to continue austerity economics.

2003 Iraq War ProtestDuring the SNP’s time in power Labour and the Conservative have governed at the UK level. Indeed it was the last Labour Government that introduced so many of the policies which damaged the party in Scotland and the Tories remain as unelectable as ever in Scotland. Nevertheless Scotland returned 41 Labour MPs in 2010 with the SNP coming a distant third with 6. It would seem that the old message that “only a Labour vote can stop the Tories” still had the desired effect despite being demonstrably untrue.  But if Lord Ashcroft’s polls are anything to go by, this situation will not be repeated.

While the motivations behind voting intentions are complex, some primary factors can be identified.  The effect of coalition Government on the public should not be underestimated. This is clearly demonstrated that voters needn’t be corralled into voting for one the “main” parties merely through fear of the other getting into power.

The Tory – Lib Dem coalition illustrated the mechanism by which voting for a smaller party isn’t a wasted vote, whereas before 2010 coalition Government had been an abstraction not seen in peacetime. The way the Lib Dems, a party supposedly on the left, adopted the Tories’ catastrophic austerity economics hasn’t destroyed public trust in coalition governments, just in the Lib Dems.

The referendum has been the biggest political catalyst Scotland has seen in living memory, maybe ever. Grassroots campaigners and groups such as National Collective, RIC, Common Weal and Women for Independence made the Yes side so vibrant and engaging.

The Better Together campaign was largely devoid of such grassroots campaigning and consisted of the unification of Labour, Conservative and Lib Dems in a coalition to fight independence. The absence of any grassroots involvement and the sight of the supposedly diametrically-opposed Labour and Tory parties gleefully campaigning together convinced many that the daily theatrics in the House of Commons are a poor imitation of democracy.

These two coalitions could provide an answer as to why so many No voters are willing to vote SNP in May. The first showed that smaller parties can make a difference to the composition of the government.  The second coalition between all main Westminster parties during the referendum hurt Labour the most and may prove fatal for the party in Scotland, especially with signs of a new party of the left emanating from the Scottish Left Project.

Caught up in its desperate attempts to save the union, Labour aligned itself so closely with the Tories they were indistinguishable and like one of the magic eye posters that were popular with children, once the image jumps out at you wonder how you ever missed it. accepts unsolicited articles for consideration in our Citizen section. If you have something written – or just an idea – let us know using the Contact form on this site. We cannot guarantee that your article will be published, but we will respond to all inquiries.


  1. The Tory plan was they would position themselves to be able to be returned in England with a clear majority this May. It is not going to happen. All the signs are indeed that the next UK government will be a coalition, or a minority government with essential support when needed to get their budget through. That it is the SNP that is the voice of Scotland can no longer be denied. Times are a changing and for the better.

  2. Central strategies of the state stay the same for generations and we get the two party charade down at westminster to vote for every few years. It has always been easy to see if you believe in Scottish nationhood and the sovereignty/ authority of the general punter. The SNP are more timid than they should be but have few friends in the press at the best of times. When the voter in Scotland gets restless for real change then we see the traditional media closing ranks to protect the union. This country we call Scotland is little more than a colony. It’s painful. I’m hoping that all those groups and parties who were prominent during the referendum can gain seats in the Scottish parliament so that the limits of the debate around public policy can be widened. That is what Nicola Sturgeon needs in order to make her government go further than they can at the moment.

  3. It was more than them aligning with the Tories.
    It was the supposed party of the people lining up with the Corporations,finance industry,supermarkets,Media,arms industry etc to amplify and cheer on their threats.
    Who could forget the picture of the Labour leadership grinning smugly at the front of Asda the day they threatened,at the behest of Downing st, to put prices up on the poor and struggling families of Scotland?
    The Better Together campaign took to stepping on Scotland to elevate Britain and the Labour mob were only too happy to climb on board in trampling,kicking and undermining anything and everything.
    Then there were the lies…

  4. For Scottish voters it’s increasingly hard to see reasons for not voting SNP: the argument about more SNP members letting the Tories in has largely been debunked. All that it would do is make a Labour/SNP coalition of some sorts more likely which in this era of suspicion of political parties in general is considered desirable. For right wingers in Scotland a vote for the Conservatives or UKIP is truly a wasted vote and the prospect of giving Labour a sharp kick in the ribs by voting SNP instead must be a tempting one. For those who really do believe in the UK they can vote SNP reasonably confident that it wont (at least immediately) lead to independence, and anyway surely Scotland having a strong voice at Westminster is exactly what unionists are SUPPOSED to believe in?

    In all a perfect storm of circumstances which results in the recent poll findings I think.

  5. There are additional factors; Alex Salmond came to inspire people and Nicola Sturgeon has the same quality, people had hope which the Together parties did all they could to drain away.
    Mr Murphy doesn’t inspire, but is a place man of the Labour Party and the media.

  6. During the Referendum people in Scotland became very politically aware. There is a plethora of Independence sites to read including many good sites on Facebook. Once Scottish people woke up to the reality of Westminster double dealing I don’t think they will go back to being treated like peasants! The genie is truly out of the bottle! They are astutely aware that a vote for the SNP is the only option at the General Election, but will go back to voting for other parties at the Scottish Elections in 2016.

  7. And that is the point which has apparently escaped the ‘victors’ of September 18th. Their political coalition, their strategy, their willingness to visit that strategy on the electorate. Epitomised by the image above Labour and the Tories became indistinguishable in their party political approach to the referendum. The YES campaign was driven not by the SNP, SSP or Greens but by its grass roots movement – people, not politicians.

    One campaign spoke of hope, aspiration, social justice, fairness, constitutional change, a new direction for economics and taxation, better management of resources. The other spoke of currency sanctions, border controls, acrimonious negotiations, otherness, calamitous instances of financial crashes and employment exodus, the collapse of pension schemes and the cross border collaboration NHS authorities.

    They used the mass media to threaten their own electorate into remaining their own electorate. They used, as we are now fully aware, all the machinery of big government including the supposedly non partisan civil service (see Mr McPherson’s own admission on this), to colour their narrative of fear, uncertainty and doubt. Post referendum they wasted no time in pushing EVEL to the fore, harmful pension reform, NHS privatisation agenda progressed, Trident 2, Fracking licenses handed out, devo max (home rule) removed from the table and replaced with the Smith Commission fudge and £30bn of austerity cuts given the green light.

    All of those things they claimed to be safe in their hands, all of the promises of a powerhouse parliament gone, yesterdays campaign. Gone yes, forgotten no. And this is why the sea change in Scottish politics in the post referendum period. If the politicians seriously thought we’d forget what they said to us, about us, what they promised our electorate?

    Well, they have another think coming.

  8. There has been much talk about the possibility of the SNP holding the whip hand in the next UK government. Like many supporters of Scottish independence I would hate to see the SNP corrupted by the Westminster system, and I have to say that I see this as the almost inevitable outcome of supporting any of the mainstream parties, even on a confidence and supply basis. If the SNP finds itself with the balance of power after the May election would it perhaps be better to take the Sinn Fein line of not taking up the seats, or alt least of not voting at all, but with the threat always there that it could bring down the government whenever it chose? This would very possibly lead to a Conservative led government, but who cares now? Who can tell the difference?

  9. Milliband is weird and Murphy is creepy.Their policies are Tory.I can’t see many YES voters putting their faith in them.

  10. Slightly O/T, but a prime example of why you couldn’t trust a word they say here:

    Whatever is said in a campaign driven by establishment politicians really cannot, at any time, be taken as the gospel. And what else did they lie about? Currency, border controls, the NHS, Clyde work orders?


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