As Labour and the SNP continue to vie over who won the council elections, it will be how those parties respond to that result that will inform the referendum debate rather than the result per se. And early indications are that the FM considers it job well done while Johann Lamont continues to express a gracious humility that can only be to Labour’s advantage given their previous gross complacency.
For regardless of what the SNP says now, there are lessons to be learned from what went wrong on 3 May. The party undoubtedly made the local government elections a battleground for the referendum; instead of talking local, they talked global, instead of listening to what they were being told on the doorsteps, they listened to each other and they batted away criticism – even from their own candidates – like a negative contagion being spread by pro-unionists out to spoil their fun.
With their interminable tweeting and retweeting of each other’s opinions, they did nothing other than affirm each other’s self-importance with messages about ‘insightful’ and ‘thought provoking’ pieces of party pap dressed up as journalism, and blogs that said more about them than it did about the electorate. And yes, while the psephologists will argue that there were great gains for the SNP, in that they won the largest share of the vote, gained the greatest number of councillors and managed a spread of support throughout the country that meant they could justifiably talk about being the national party of Scotland, the problem remains that on the Friday after the election, the SNP foot soldiers felt they had won the war but lost a battle.
And while the party hierarchy may continue to revel in their increasingly irritating positivity agenda, where nothing but good, great and lovely is allowed to infiltrate, they ignore the doubts and fears that are being expressed not just on the doorsteps but in the boardrooms, editorial conferences, civic halls and public meeting places. Answering any opposition to their view with accusations of ‘doing down Scotland’ means the SNP are in danger of sounding like the Stepford Wives, putting their fingers in their ears and ignoring anyone that tries to sully their sanitised view of the world or gets in the way of their goal.
It’s a surprising disengagement from a party that had previously made political campaigning into an art form. The SNP, of all parties, should know that not all elections are the same. If they had learned anything from the past, it was surely to expect nothing at the ballot box.
But the party had begun to talk as if the astonishing result in 2011 was a definite trend. And puffed up by that breathtaking performance, the First Minister and his acolytes made the mistake of believing in their own publicity. They went into these elections buoyed by a year-old election result for an entirely different institution which was called historic for a reason. There is a myth that the SNP are perpetual winners when they were serial losers up until 2007, yet even they believed that the outcome would be as overwhelming as the year before. Never was that confidence more misplaced than with Salmond making Glasgow an unambiguous target. And that no mean city responded with its infamous kiss.
And no wonder. An arrogant self-belief, an SNP group leader unable to answer simple questions on local government funding, a ban on live cross party debate and the damning indictment that the council election result would just be a stepping stone to independence. Local elections are about local issues and amazingly for a party that had recently taken a long hard look at what would make it electable, it was found wanting.
The SNP understandably has its eye on a bigger prize but it has meant that instead of focusing on the minutiae and mundanity that can be part and parcel of local politics, party apparatchiks were talking about NATO, nuclear weapons and Scotland’s global assets when they should have been talking about dog fouling, pot holes and street lighting. They will argue that is not true but if you speak to those knocking on the doors they tell a different story, namely, families are struggling with bills, unemployment and insecurity and they didn’t want to talk about independence and they didn’t recognise Salmond as a man who would stand up for the common man and be concerned about human issues of planning, refuse collections and bad neighbours. They saw him as a statesman and in these elections that could well have been more of a liability than an asset when somehow, ordinary issues seemed eclipsed when compared with Murdoch, Trump and multi-billion-pound renewable contracts.
So, yes, the party won in real terms but one hopes for its sake that behind the bravado there is some serious soul searching going on. It should be asking where the local party leadership was, what the priorities were and what the lessons learned will be because Johann Lamont was right when she said that the SNP won the election on the arithmetic, but on the politics, they got stuffed. She would be wrong however, to read anything more into it other than neither she nor the FM managed to engage or enthuse enough people to even bother to vote and that is no victory for democracy.
Since last time…14-year-old has been using his dad’s Chanel aftershave on the basis that it looked cheap…marked the first anniversary of a true friend’s death by simply remembering him that little bit more…family now tweeting each other making domestic arrangements embarrassingly public…