The Holyrood Election
It’s clear that Ruth Davidson wants second place. Her platform is standard centre right fare. We all know the Scottish Conservatives are also trying to create a Unionist bloc, how they do it is the issue. So far, they are being unapologetic about their unionism. But they are grounded enough so that they won’t totally alienate yes voters. They don’t want a second referendum, but are willing to use it as a dog whistle. With Better Together gone, they have more freedom to act with a frisky, patriotic persona to own the countercultural zeitgeist. They won’t be overtly hostile to the SNP like Labour was, but will harden their vote with equivocation. What’s more, sowing seeds of distrust in the SNP and Labour will help them poach voters in the future. Ruth Davidson is easily the most ambitious and competent Scottish Conservative leader the party has ever had. She’s rebuilt its operation after its crushing 2011 loss, brought new blood to show modernity, and has reasserted a modern unionism that is both proud and measured. The question of a Conservative second place is what they do with it. How constructive will they be? Will they want the unionist/nationalist mold? What will they do to win in 2021? How do they attract the “soft” 15% of yes voters who are still persuadable to be unionist?
Scottish Labour is in a deep mess. Despite having a modest recovery after 2011 and tying with the SNP, the referendum strained their machine and destroyed any good will with their constituency. Now seen as “red tories” by the Scottish working class, they have to try and preserve what’s left of their core vote. What’s more, they are being forced into the Yes/No mold which undermines middle ground solutions to constitutional problems. Their leader, Kezia Dugdale, is a soft left MSP whose earnestness and integrity are not in doubt. She has an ability to connect to voters who are willing to listen. Her FMQs performances have always been top notch. I’m particularly fond of their Land-Value Tax to replace the Council Tax and a pupil premium. Despite these policies, their brand is so tarnished and hated from both sides that its impossible to see them grow as a party. What’s more nobody in the party has seems to have the answer to long standing problems outlined by many people like Gerry Hasan.
The Scottish National Party has undergone a transformation. Being trusted by 53% of the country, they are now using St Andrew’s House’ best minds to radically change and perfect the White Paper. They are aided by Political Unionism’s crisis of fear and complacency. The people who have the most power and ability to stop the SNP can’t seem to comprehend why 53% of Scottish voters want to vote SNP. Nicola Sturgeon is trusted like a guardian, and that amplifies all of her actions and words. Like Bernie Sanders, its impossible to criticize her without sounding personal. The SNP have made in roads. The liberal publications (London Review of Books/Economist/Guardian/FT) are much more respectful of her and what she stands for. Most pro UK liberals no longer think the Union in its current form is an inherently good and want to see it rewritten rather than refurbished. To what extent they are willing to take action is in contention. The most amazing feat the SNP have performed is keeping and expanding its coalition while pleasing interest groups. Despite signing questionable deals with SinoFortone and similar firms, they are still able to project themselves as a radical force. Part of this could be their companionship with the Scottish Greens and RISE, part of it could be the legacy of the Yes campaign. But what will the SNP do in their 3rd term?
The Scottish Liberal Democrats want to be a constructive opposition to the SNP, they also want to regain the liberal minded yes voters who have deserted them over the years. Like Scottish Labour, the party is mostly unionist and trying to keep what ever they have left. Most of their constituency seats are on a knife edge, and they are working for a victory in Edinburgh Western to show voters they aren’t a dead parrot. Arguably, the Lib Dems have moved beyond the referendum better than most. However, the Coalition stench has not waned and their new image has yet to be fully created. It’s hard to rebrand yourself when your party was apart of an austerity agenda and the many semi-botched devolution policies that followed the indyref result. If the Liberal Democrats are don’t grow their caucus, it confirms that a lot of hard work was undermined by the referendum. Can their activists and rank in file stomach another tough 5 years?
What comes next?