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Tactical voting in Scotland is poor strategy

In 2015 I campaigned for the Lib Dems in Gordon. I signed up to the tactical voting campaign that some Pro UK people support. There was a graphic showing which party we should vote for in each constituency to keep the SNP out. The whole thing was chaotic. Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative supporters disagreed about who had the best chance. Even on the day of the election there were people pleading to change the wheel of fortune. It didn’t matter. The tactical voting campaign in 2015 brought no benefit to the Pro UK cause. The SNP won nearly all the seats.

I genuinely did think that the Lib Dems had done a good job in coalition with the Conservatives, but I have never in my life been a Lib Dem. I dislike the thin gruel mush of the centre. I’ve never much liked the EU and even by 2015 I had decided that the key to defeating Scottish independence long term was to get out of the EU. But there I was campaigning for arch Remainer Lib Dems. I was a hypocrite. I was dishonest and it hadn’t worked anyway. I promised never to campaign in that way again. I would campaign for what I believed, nothing else.

One of the biggest problems in politics is the lack of sincerity. Politicians don’t believe anything. They just want power. Tactical voters don’t believe in anything positive either. They just want to keep someone else out. Paradoxically I believe this sort of negative campaign helps those who do believe in something positive. We may disagree with the SNP, but they believe in the benefits of Scottish independence. They have a clear, positive and united message. All we have is negativity. We started with the negativity of the Better Together campaign, which pretended that Scotland couldn’t become independent. We continued with the negative anti SNP tactical voting campaign. Sorry folks, but all this negativity just helps the SNP.

For a very long time now, Scottish politics has been about nothing other than independence. The SNP have been in Government for many years, but voters are completely uninterested in what they have done or failed to do. The key to defeating the SNP is to change what the debate is about. If we were arguing about spending priorities, healthcare and education we would be campaigning on issues where the SNP was weak.

Likewise, I believe the SNP has a completely incoherent position on the EU. They have a Leave argument in relation to the UK, but a Remain argument in relation to the EU. The EU is in the process of uniting just like Germany did in the 19th century. So, the SNP argument is rather like North Bavaria splitting from South Bavaria in 1860 only to subsume itself in Germany in 1871. To engage in secession nationalism while supporting unification nationalism is politically incoherent. The SNP are weak and split on Brexit. Half their supporters would prefer independence both from the UK and the EU. Here is the weak spot, where we can throw the spear into Siegfried Sturgeon’s back.  Instead unimaginative, failed and frankly rather dull thinking means many Pro UK people want to repeat the losing campaigns of 2015 and 2017.

We have been waiting for an election that isn’t about Scottish independence for years. The next election whenever it comes will be about Brexit.  Labour are weak and divided about Brexit. Labour MPs are overwhelmingly Remainers, but huge numbers of Brexiteer Labour supporters live in the Midlands and North of England. The one issue that can persuade Labour supporters to vote for someone else is Brexit. For this reason, Labour would be delighted if the election could be turned into a debate about the NHS, poverty and how Labour will solve all problems by increasing public spending. The same goes for the SNP. They are strong and undivided about independence. They are weak and divided about Brexit.

The best Pro UK strategy therefore is to have an election that is not focused on Scottish independence, but rather is focussed on Leaving or Remaining in the EU. SNP Leave supporters of which there are many, may just be tempted to vote for a Leave Party rather than the Remainer SNP. If you want Scotland to be independent outside the EU, your first task is to get the UK as a whole outside the EU.

More importantly when an election is dominated by discussion of Scottish independence, SNP supporters are naturally keen to do their bit to achieve their goal. SNP turnout increases, whereas when an election is not about independence, like the EU referendum, SNP turnout decreases.  It is for this reason that the anti SNP anti-independence strategy keeps failing. Pro UK people need to make UK issues dominate discussion, not Scotland only issues. This should be so obvious that it doesn’t need saying.

There are two things that could make another Scottish independence referendum less likely in the next 5-10 years. The first is that Boris Johnson’s Conservatives win the next election. Johnson has made it clear that he will not allow the SNP to have another independence referendum. “You have not had your generation yet” can be repeated for the next fifteen years without difficulty. The second thing that makes indyref2 much less likely is Brexit.

While Brexit will anger many Remainer Scots, it will provide a very difficult dilemma for independence supporters. If Scotland were in the EU while England was not, Scotland would be put into the same position as the Republic of Ireland. The border between England and Scotland would be an EU/non-EU border and Scotland would be in a different trading bloc to its greatest trade partner. This is a nightmare scenario for Scotland. Why else do you think Sturgeon has been desperately trying to keep the whole of the UK in the EU?

Alternatively let’s imagine that in the next election the Lib Dems, Labour and the SNP together gain more seats than the Conservatives. This Remainer alliance will block Brexit. Remainer Scots will be happy, but the SNP will still want independence. Strategically we will be no better off, but we will have spiked our own guns by losing the one argument, Brexit, that can defeat the SNP forever.

Let’s imagine in the next election as a Pro UK Scot you campaign for tactical voting for Lib Dem or Labour candidates. Let’s say that this campaign was so successful that 5 Lib Dem and 5 Labour MPs were elected in Scotland. Well what if the difference between a Conservative Government and a Remainer Government made up of Labour Lib Dem and SNP was precisely these 10 MPs. What would be the price that the SNP would ask for propping up this Remainer Government? It would obviously be indyref2. Would Labour and the Lib Dems really say no? If there was a choice between stopping Brexit and stopping a second independence referendum would either Labour or the Lib Dems really prefer Boris Johnson to succeed in getting us completely out of the EU? If Indyref2 stopped a no deal Brexit, the Remainers would make that bargain in a second. Anyway, they wouldn’t have a choice. The SNP could bring down a Lab Lib Dem coalition if it failed to do what Sturgeon wanted.

This then is the fatal flaw. Pro UK people need to understand that the key to defeating the SNP long term is to get the UK outside the EU. The only way to do that is to do everything in our power to get a Brexit supporting Conservative Government, which has the added benefit of being the only Government that would refuse to allow Indyref2 for the foreseeable future.

There is only one Pro UK party in Scotland. The Conservative Party. If you vote for the Lib Dems, or Labour you might as well be voting for the SNP.

This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog: https://www.effiedeans.com/2019/09/tactical-voting-in-scotland-is-poor.html

About Effie Deans

Profile photo of Effie Deans
Effie Deans is a pro UK blogger who works at the University of Aberdeen. She spent many years living in Russia and the Soviet Union, but came home to Scotland so as to enjoy living in a multi-party democracy! When not occupied with Scottish politics she writes fiction and thinks about theology, philosophy and Russian literature.

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