“May you live in interesting times” is supposedly an old Chinese proverb.
Well politics used to be fairly predictable, the business of a very few, the hobby of some, and a periodic duty for those who were inclined to vote. And then there was a referendum – and UKIP. Suddenly it has all become very interesting; and this manifests itself in several different ways.
Firstly the UK has woken up to the fact that a protest party – because that frankly is all UKIP was for elections up to and including the European elections earlier in the year – has outstayed its welcome and is going to muddy the waters for the Westminster parties at the next general election. The Tories lost a by-election to UKIP last week and the Labour party very nearly did so too. Given the general lack of quality shown by the party leaders in England in particular, I see no reason why this situation should change any time soon.
Secondly the result of the referendum has been to engage a huge number of our fellow Scots in politics. The 85 percent turnout reflected the fact that folk rightly felt that their vote would make a difference. Those same folk know that their views matter and the enormous increase in membership of the SNP and the Green party is testament to the feeling that things need to change.
Thirdly, Westminster’s politicians are now very confused about what to do. They know they need to engage with Lord Smith’s commission which is supposed to be sorting out the “extra powers” which will be given to the Scottish parliament. They also know that it’s a very few months to the general election next May. Above all they reckon that gaining power is the number one priority; everything else can wait.
The Labour party are hoping that at least some of their loyal supporters will again “vote Labour to keep the Tories out.” Apart from the party name and logo it is, unfortunately, difficult to tell them apart on policy so many may not be convinced. The Liberal Democrats are hoping that they will be seen as the moderates but the polls suggest this is not convincing. The Tories are busy trying to establish what they do stand for given that the Labour party is now sharing most of their ground and UKIP has pitched its tent on the rest of it.
Where does this leave politics in Scotland? Constitutionally we are once again in Westminster’s hands; that’s what we collectively decided on September 18. Operationally we are still using the powers given to us within the limitations laid down; that’s why the Dutch state railways can take over from First Scotrail in Scotland but a British public body could not even tender for the contract, despite requests from the Scottish government for the rules to be changed.
But something else has changed. Scots have woken up to the opportunity for self determination. David Cameron told us that “the status quo has gone”. He is right. I can tell that from the numbers of folk now joining the SNP and coming to meetings and wanting to be involved. The Westminster parties want to be able to concentrate on their own squabbles and ignore Scotland. They would be very unwise to do so. The people of Scotland have found their collective voice and that voice is shouting for democracy to choose their better future. Aye, interesting times indeed.’