The new old firm


by Murray Ritchie

Our general election is beginning to take on the character of Scottish football. Around the time we go to the polls next month our two biggest football clubs will, as usual, be battling for the league championship. The SNP and Labour seem to be emerging as the Old Firm of politics, two giants who dominate the rest and abominate each other, just like their footballing equivalents.

I am not sure this is a welcome trend given that not so long ago the Scottish Parliament gave voice to a more refreshing range of political opinion through representation from four established parties plus assorted smaller groups including Greens, socialists and independents. Most of them disappeared four years ago. But there is one undoubted advantage to the direction of Scottish politics. If we want to defeat the bad old ways of Labour and Tory self-interest we have to be strong enough in ourselves to keep the Unionists’ old joint grip on Scotland broken. And to that end we need to reinforce the SNP’s recent years of advance.

If the results go the way the polls are suggesting we may well end up with the political Old Firm crushing most of the opposition again. A clash of major parties might not be pretty but it has one advantage. There was a time long ago when one party – the Tories – dominated the old Scotland. They brought no lasting benefit. Sure, they coaxed heavy industry north of the Border in the 1960s but they simply took it away again in the 1980s.

When Scotland turned to Labour during the Thatcher/Major years our pathetically feeble MPs found themselves powerless to stop the devastation. They simply put their precious Union before their country. But at least Thatcher’s dogma and Labour’s impotence spurred on nationalism strongly enough to give us a Scottish Parliament after 300 years.

That parliament is now a precious thing, a bulwark which the SNP, even in minority government, is using brilliantly to protect us from a return to the bad old days when the London parties casually took Buggins’ turn at running Scotland as no more than a handy source of Unionist voting fodder.

So at least we can say we have moved on. The SNP has replaced the Tories and, as half of the new political Old Firm, is proving itself effective against discredited direct rule. To make this change permanent we need a strong force against the combined Unionist parties. With the SNP Scotland can continue the journey away from our powerless past and prepare us for an independent future. For that reason we should suffer a two-party squeeze if it helps to prevent a return to the bad old days. The Holyrood voting system should ensure at least some smaller voices are still heard – and most of them will also support independence – while the big picture remains exciting for those of us who believe in Scotland reclaiming its lost sovereignty.

All of which is why I hope we return an SNP government with Alex Salmond, unarguably the outstanding politician of his generation, as our first minister. And I couldn’t care less about the other Old Firm.


Murray Ritchie was the former political editor for The Herald.


Published with thanks to the Scottish Independence Convention{jcomments on}