Don’t Blink! Scottish politics is fast and furious these days.
A most amazing thing has been happening in Scotland in the year since the Scottish people rejected independence. The Scottish National Party has emerged from its Independence Referendum defeat to dominate the Scottish political world and it is on a trend toward a practical exclusivity that has some Scots a wee bit concerned. SNP membership is up by 75,000 since the Independence Referendum having just recently broken into 100,000 territory. Just as important as the remarkable membership growth are the numbers of SNP public officials those members are electing.
Last May, just a few months after rejecting independence, the Scottish people seriously culled their political landscape by abandoning the SNP’s two major political rivals - the Scottish branches of the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrat party. In the United Kingdom 2015 General Parliamentary Election, Scotland chose 56 of it’s 59 Ministers of Parliament from the ranks of the SNP. That was a cool 50 more SNP Ministers than had been sent to London for the 2010 UK Parliament. Not only did Labour and the LibDems lose significant numbers in Parliament, almost all of the party icons – the high leadership of the Scottish branches of the Labour and LibDem organizations – were electorally ousted in one fell swoop. They were replaced with SNP warriors.
As SNP membership numbers continue to grow, political forecasters are generally united in predictions of a continued SNP majority at the Scottish Parliament when Scotland goes to the polls in May 2016 to choose the next Scottish Parliament. The latest Scottish poll on the matter shows 62% support for the SNP for next year’s Parliamentary contests. The only question it seems, is how dominant will the SNP majority be? One Scottish political commentator has suggested that “… right now, nobody would write off the SNP’s chances of taking all 73 Scottish parliamentary constituencies in next May’s Holyrood election.” (The Scotsman, August 23, 2015).
Indeed, that same journalist has noted that the SNP is so very dominant that the real political battles are occurring now, months prior to the election, within the SNP party structure to determine who will stand in 2016 as an SNP candidate. The Scottish version of party primaries will determine whether incumbent SNP MSPs will keep their right to even stand for reelection. What are the other political parties in Scotland are doing in response to this SNP open field romp? The traditional Labour powerhouse in Scotland continues to lick its wounds while it remains tangled up in a bloody struggle to find a new UK Labour leader. The last Labour party leader - Ed Miliband - stepped down with his head hung low immediately following last May’s electoral debacle. The battle to name a new leader has been so nasty and divisive that some Scots believe that the Labour party may not survive it.
At the very least, many believe it not likely that Labour will be able to get it together to mount a serious challenge to SNP dominance next May. The LibDems seem less of a threat than Labour and for decades the Conservative (Tory) party has failed to grab much oxygen in Scotland. Given the unpopularity of the Conservative government at Westminster in center and leftward leaning Scottish households, there is little reason for optimism on the Tory front in Scotland.
So there sits the SNP, in government with a majority that is almost certain to grow significantly in the next election cycle burdened with a day to day governmental mandate that is occasionally at odds with the party’s founding mission – independence – and almost always stealing time, attention and focus away from pursuit of that enduring Scottish goal. The SNP has campaigned itself into a potentially unmanageable position where it must now run a devolved Scottish Parliament when it’s core mission is to deliver an independent Scotland – two fundamentally distinct – and possibly contrary jobs. More than a few believe that the cause of Independence is getting lost in the shuffle.
The realization of this still developing political imbalance in Scottish politics has triggered a few interesting responses from the legendary Scottish left. In 2003 Scottish Parliament included six MSPs representing the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) and seven from the Greens. It has been suggested that since those halcyon days the Scottish radical left has collapsed now having little influence left at Holyrood (Scottish Parliament).
The radical left may have collapsed at Holyrood but a new political alliance will “rise” from the ashes this Saturday as a new Scottish political element is born. The name is “RISE” and it stands for Respect, Independence, Socialism, Environmentalism. Pretty concise and says pretty much everything about the new group. RISE has been billed as a grassroots anti-austerity movement, built upon the foundation of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) and the Scottish Left Project (SLP). RISE plans to stand candidates for election in May’s Holyrood elections and is billing itself as a replacement for Labour in Scotland and the continuing heartbeat of Scottish Independence.
Whether RISE will even survive to see the 2016 elections is not certain. One thing is certain though. If you want to keep informed on the big picture of Scottish politics and the independence question, be sure not to blink. Scottish politics is still on the move. If you want to dig a bit deeper into RISE, a political “alliance” not a party that is based upon the Spanish Podemos movement, check out these two articles from two very different perspectives: