Editorial : When trust is lost
Scotland woke up last Friday to a new political landscape. Voters south of the border put the Tories back in government, unencumbered by their coalition partners, while Scotland turned overwhelmingly to the SNP to register its opposition to Conservative policies. In the words of Douglas Alexander, one of Labour’s highest profile losers to the SNP, they didn’t trust Labour to do the job.
50% of Scottish voters, many of them traditional Labour supporters, rejected old allegiances in favour of a new political narrative: that the SNP had become the depository of old Labour values. Nicola Sturgeon and Jim Murphy both spoke of ‘progressive politics’; in 56 out of 59 Scottish constituencies, people opted for the SNP version. Many of those who voted No in last year’s referendum voted for the SNP last week.
The ground had been shifting for some time. Paul Mason, economics editor of Channel 4 News, talks of a demographic tribalism created by economic crisis: the division of England into an asset-rich south and a post-industrial north, and the emergence of a positive national consciousness in Scotland linked to the rejection of neo-liberal economics. Under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown the Labour Party reached across the divides with deficit spending until, as Liam Byrne noted and David Cameron never tired of repeating during the election campaign, the money ran out. Scotland continued to spin away from the rest of the UK.
The referendum debate last year re-engaged hundreds of thousands of Scots in the political process and gave them a new voice. The image of Labour and Tory politicians standing side by side seemed shocking. Trident was up for renewal and people were invited to consider whether its billions could be better spent. The arguments about who best represents Scotland’s concerns continued into last week’s election when the SNP’s opposition to benefit cuts and prolonged austerity won the support of traditional Labour supporters.
People no longer feel bound by old creeds. A survey of Catholic adults in Scotland two years ago found that only 11% of those polled said they looked to traditional church teaching for guidance on how they live their lives and make decisions. There are now many scripts from which to choose.
Many people in Scotland will be hoping that the Scottish Labour Party can win back some of the trust they have lost in time for next year’s Holyrood elections. Like all dominant parties, the SNP will need to be held to account by a strong opposition. But as Jim Murphy acknowledged after months of frenetic campaigning as Labour leader in Scotland, Scottish Labour’s ‘years of difficulties’ cannot be turned round in a matter of months. Scots found 56 ways to leave Labour last week and in doing so raised serious questions not only about the future direction of the People’s Party but about the future of the of the UK itself.