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Feeling the fear

Feeling the fear

It is beyond irony that last week, the Rt Hon Sir Malcolm Rifkind was seen as a credible defender of the sanctity of the Palace of Westminster over the potential threat of an army of SNP MPs laying siege upon it.

The idea that Sir Malcolm, who all but destroyed his distinguished career in public office with two little words – ‘how much?’ – should be urging the electorate to have faith in his kind of democracy was beyond the pale. 

In chivvying his fellow Tories across Scotland to vote Labour or the Lib Dems to stop the SNP being elected, he asks: “Is there an alternative approach to try and stop the nationalists?”

Well, yes, of course there is, if the parties would up their game. But that would be too simple a solution. And probably too late. Just ask Jim Murphy.

So instead of focusing on the flaws in their own arguments and scrambling around for an abacus to work out the arithmetic if there’s no outright winner, they blame the SNP for its own success and pour scorn on the idea that it is they that have failed. But the truth is, they are running scared.

“This is, for some, a sequel – no matter how the SNP leadership would like to paint it – to the referendum and this time they will make it matter”

Majority, minority, coalition, confidence and supply, the whole ‘who gets into bed with who’ debate is just a variation on the theme anyone but the SNP. Miliband and Cameron are in a race to spit out the words ‘no deal’ to Sturgeon faster and more furiously than the others.

It’s all starting to smack, not just of political desperation, but of disrespect for democracy and it’s simply not working.

Politicians of all sides have been manically frothing at the mouth at the prospect of SNP MPs holding the balance of power at Westminster after the election. In the run-up to the independence referendum, those same naysayers were telling Scots we were all ‘better together’. Now, it seems, that while MPs are all equal, some are more equal than others and that excludes the SNP. 

Former Tory Prime Minister, Sir John Major, he who campaigned hard against devolution and says he has warned about the threat to the Union for more than 20 years, describes the prospect of a large contingent of SNP MPs marching their way south as a “real and present danger”. 

Former Tory chairman, Lord Norman Tebbit, has said it would be “logical” for Tories to vote Labour in most areas of Scotland where the threat comes from the SNP as the best way to support the continuation of the UK.

And ex-marine, former Liberal leader, legendary swearer and election campaign director, Lord Paddy Ashdown, says simply that the SNP would be on their way to “burn Westminster down”.

The scaremongering all feels a little familiar. And this time it’s unlikely to wash. This is, for some, a sequel – no matter how the SNP leadership would like to paint it – to the referendum and this time they will make it matter.

And so despite the apparently well-meaning warnings from Cameron and Co over the danger of the SNP pushing a minority Miliband government around, that has not stopped the Conservatives from talking up the threat – in the hope of making their own short-terms gains – at every opportunity.

Some would question whether it is this sort of cynicism which has provided the space for the SNP to grow in the first place.

None of which will matter much to Nicola Sturgeon. 

Sturgeon has now gone from being the darling of the debates to an enemy of the state

The SNP membership has increased four-fold since September. It is the third largest party in the UK and Sturgeon is the only party leader in the UK with positive approval rates. Despite the referendum, despite the campaign of fear, despite the Vow, and despite a change of leader at Scottish Labour, the SNP is riding high.

And with some polls predicting the party could take as many as 50 of the 59 Scottish seats at Westminster, Sturgeon has now gone from being the darling of the debates to an enemy of the state.

So while all politicians lament electoral apathy in the abstract, when they actually see it, energised by a party that is not their own and has independence at its core, they describe it in unflattering terms and make tactical suggestions about party alignments. 

The political landscape of Scotland is about to shift and it is forcing change on the rest of the UK. That is unsettling.

As a result, commentary has become increasingly feverish; Scots being described as mad, demented and in the grip of a cult. And to some observers watching the rock-star spectacle of a party leader delivering a cost-bare, detail absent manifesto to hundreds of adoring fans to such huge critical [and largely uncritical] acclaim, it must seem that way.

But the SNP didn’t plan this. There were no backroom strategists who saw this coming but now it’s here they have taken full advantage. Why wouldn’t they?

Hope is a seductive thing. And that is what the SNP have captured, bottled and sold so well. It’s not a con because they do believe in better. And while there are enormous risks to the SNP’s plans – the IFS has spelled that out – risk is something that almost half of Scots had already embraced.

And the reality is that the risks inherent within full fiscal autonomy or responsibility or anything you want to call it that takes the party faithful closer to independence, is that it’s too anoraky to sell on the doorsteps.

To simply say that Scotland will be more in hock than the rest of the UK doesn’t really work either with an electorate that knows the country as a whole is broke.

The problem, particularly for Labour in Scotland against this SNP tsunami, is this: it failed.

It failed, for many reasons, some real and some perceived, to stand up for Scotland and the SNP slotted into its place. And for the former Labour Secretary of State who publically berated me for observing that the problem for Scottish MPs was that they weren’t in Scotland enough to appreciate how things had changed, he might well be about to find out just how much they have if a 20-year-old woman with an occasional foul mouth takes his seat.

And that, I am afraid, is democracy

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