Today is a special day. Ed Balls day. The BBC puts it best.
“It all started on 28 April 2011 when Ed Balls was shadow chancellor. He was urged by his aide to look on Twitter for articles mentioning his name, but instead of doing a simple search he tweeted his own name in error.
Since then on 28 April every year Twitter rejoices in the madness of the internet gaffe and marks Ed Balls Day.”
But we will come back to that later.
This article comes from the perspective of a writer who believes the Conservatives are currently the most logical recipient of the pro UK vote in Scotland, however with respect to a limited number of areas where they are still in play and the more likely recipient of Unionist votes, the Liberal Democrats might also take instruction from the following.
The Twittersphere, that tiny unrepresentative bubble of the politically engaged and the cranky (often as not, the same), or at least the Scottish Unionist corner of it, erupted with glee over the weekend when a selection of polls suggested the Scottish Conservatives could win between 8 and 12 seats at the upcoming general election.
This news came on the heels of a widely read and quoted blog by popular pro UK blogger, Effie Deans, whose columns are featured every Monday on the Daily Globe, in which she noted both the utility of tactical voting in the upcoming Local Elections, and warned against the same as counterproductive in the subsequent General Elections. Due to the proportional nature of the local elections, the importance of ranking preferences for Pro UK candidates only, was emphasized as, unsurprisingly, the best way of maximising the number of pro UK candidates elected in May (as the estimable blogger suggests, don’t give any preferences to nationalists or independents), and was contrasted to the counter productive nature of tactical voting in a first past the post system, born out of experience in 2015.
The crucial point in this admirable piece, being the importance of sending a message as much to the outside world, as well as to the Scottish nationalist establishment, and the eviscerated husk of Scotlands media, that the SNP are not synonymous with Scotland, and that despite Nicola Sturgeons `Queen of Scots’ global jolly of recent months, they have passed the apogee of their power.
But what do we actually mean by `sending a message’?
Surely, it isn’t much of a message if the SNP still come out of the elections with more councillors and the most MPs? Such an attitude, particularly in regard to the coming general election in which unionist parties are confronted with some 56 incumbent nationalists, seriously fails to understand the unique circumstances that gave Scotland these incumbents in the first place.
For the SNP, the 2015 general election was a spectacularly fortunate convergence of events-to have the parliamentary schedule, imposed by a Fixed Term Parliament Act arguably not long for this world, coincide with a Scottish political atmosphere in such post referendum flux and what then appeared to be its main unionist opposition, Labour, appeared (correctly), to be utterly incapable of stepping up to the challenge of offering functional opposition, was a piece of political fortune unlikely to ever be repeated.
At the time, the Scottish Conservatives, despite Ruth Davidson being universally acclaimed as having had a `great referendum’, was a force whose time had not yet come. Indeed a great referendum was not enough, as Jim Murphy of Irn Bru crate fame, can attest.
Fast forward 12 months to May 2016, and the Kaleidoscope of Scottish politics had settled sufficiently to reveal a very different landscape. For the SNP, the chickens of a mismanaged NHS and an embarrassing failure to reform Scottish education had come home to roost, whilst for the Liberal Democrats, after the routing of the Charles Kennedy heartlands, an element of voters remorse had stemmed the implosion. And for Ruth Davidsons Scottish Conservatives, the sheer value of her name and public ratings had become so apparent as the party was all but rebranded Ruth Davidsons Conservatives for the Holyrood campaign.
Labour? They had Corbyn. What more need be said about that.
It is Holyrood 2016 where the changing narratives of Scottish politics become notable-it was received wisdom that Nicola Sturgeon would lead her party to another majority whilst the other opposition parties could fight for the scraps. Not for the SNP such concerns about who would be opposition. Labour, Tory, one or the other might lead by a few seats, but the little fishes wouldn’t come close to threatening the mighty Sturgeon.
Except it didn’t quite work out that way. The SNP won the election, and the unionists had a scrap over the opposition, but the end result was an SNP deprived of its majority, and a Scottish Conservative party which more than doubled its numbers and became by some way the largest opposition party.
None of this can be underplayed in a country where it was an article of faith amongst the dominant parties and the complacent media that Scotland and Tory were as fitted to mix as oil and water.
Already, narratives were shifting. The SNP had peaked, the only way was down.
Then came Brexit. On the face of it, all of the above had been rendered moot. Britain had voted out and Scotland had voted in. The Union had come to the end of the line. In the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, an EU federalist who could make even the most committed Europhiles consider a leave vote, mockingly referred to the UK as the `Dual Kingdom of England and Wales’. And indeed the polls showed an immediate spike in favour of independence.
For a week.
By late summer, all was as it had been since 2014, and the polls have barely shifted in either direction since. All of this despite another diplomatic barrage by the First Minister, and in spite of a constitutionally vacillating Labour party desperate to regain votes lost to the SNP.
Which gave rise to a new narrative, that of respect.
The Respect narrative was seized by two Conservative women. Ruth Davidson and the new Prime Minister, Theresa May.
Davidson presented an admirable calm in the post Brexit period and before long had settled into a firm narrative that the Scottish Remain vote did not negate a Scottish No vote, and that the Scottish people, supported by innumerable polls, had barely changed position on independence because they recognised how much more important was the British Union to Scotland than the European one. Allied to this, again supported by innumerable polls, was evidence that the Scottish people were suffering constitutional fatigue and viewed the prospect of a new independence referendum with all the anticipation of a hike with a hangover.
Theresa May on the other hand, backed respect with steel. Making her first trip as PM to Edinburgh, and pointedly refusing to say no, but rather `not yet’, when Nicola Sturgeon inevitably called her referendum, she won plaudits for doing what David Cameron had never done. She stared down the SNP and simply declined to play their game.
And so Scotland saw what it had not seen for a long time-a Tory PM of Britain both on the side of Scottish public opinion, and saying no to an arrogant Scottish Nationalist establishment that had grown accustomed to a British establishment acquiescing to their every demand .
Thus have the shifting narratives converged-a narrative of an SNP past its prime, having put its own constitutional obsessions ahead of what the public want, of an SNP having fundamentally misread the Brexit vote, a narrative of the Scottish and UK conservatives being the best opposition to an out of touch SNP, and crucially, a Scottish and UK conservative leader representing the wishes of Scots against a Scottish government increasingly trapped in a constitutional corner of its own making.
So what of 2017. How do we add to the narrative? We add to it by being smart with our political ammunition, and by being realistic.
Firstly, we cannot realistically expect to topple the majority of SNP MPs. In many areas, the only viable opposition to the SNP is Labour, and it will take them years and a new UK leader to get within any distance of toppling the SNP in their former heartlands, if ever.
But in those areas where the Conservatives have always polled strongly, where the Conservatives have their former Scottish heartlands, where even in the wilderness years since 1997, the Conservatives have invariably come second, and where the Leave vote was a strong minority, then there should Tory efforts be concentrated. Indeed, the Liberal Democrats, in their former highland heartlands, should likewise take this pragmatic approach.
Which brings us to the final point-to vote tactically or not. Effie Deans talks convincingly of the possibility that tactical voting backfired in 2015.
“I think campaigns to vote tactically against the SNP perversely help the SNP. The reason for this is that such campagins are inherently negative and they get SNP supporters backs up. This encourages a “we will show them” mentality.”
I would largely agree, but I would also caution about applying this rejection of tactical voting to Scotland as a whole, for the reason of narrative. What will help the narrative of SNP decline more-picking off the minnows who are little known or cared about by the media or population at large. Or a high profile decapitation?
As the polls over the weekend suggest, some of the most established and high profile SNP MPs, including the Commons group leader and Moray MP Angus Robertson, stand at risk. Whilst no one, either in the wider unionist movement, nor in Scottish Conservative HQ, would object to gaining multiple MPs even at the expense of minnows, I would suggest nothing would be more impactful, nothing would better demonstrate to the Scottish people, the Scottish and wider British media, and to Europe, that the SNP do not speak for Scotland, than to give Scotland its Ed Balls moment.
To that end, whilst I believe we should apply the `Deans Rule’ to Scotland at large, we should as a like-minded group and community, make an exception, and do our utmost to give Angus Robertson the Ed Balls treatment and vote him out of the House of Commons.
In Moray, we are fortunate to have a candidate with an established presence. Douglas Ross is a local Councillor and an MSP who gained his Holyrood seat last year an 18% swing, and therefore comes with the attendant campaigning network that this implies. Our job, if we live in the area or know those who do, is to get out volunteering for him. Our job if we do not, is to spread the word on social media and local newspapers and other media. The job of us all, is to donate to his campaign, ideally via online crowd funding which, if he hasn’t already set it up, he should be encouraged to do so. The more leaflets and posters we fund, and the more volunteers we fund, the better the chances come polling day.
The SNP is declining. The story of decline is growing. On this, April 28th 2017, Ed Balls Day, we need to write the next chapter.
Angus Robertson, we are coming for you.