Nicola Sturgeon has, as we might expect, gone to the very nub of the issue for voters in the coming election. When she refers to the “social contract with the people of Scotland” she is talking about the things which make Scotland different from the rest of the UK. She is talking about the distinctive political culture which has developed in Scotland since our parliament was reconvened in 1999. A process of divergence that was markedly accelerated with the arrival of the first real Scottish Government in 2007. A process that gained unstoppable momentum with the SNP landslide of the last Holyrood election.
There is, in Scotland, a social contract between the governed and their government which has no parallel in the relationship between the people of Scotland and the Westminster elite. The British political establishment has rejected any such social contract in favour of a mechanistic relationship in which people, and the services on which they depend, are no more than beads on some giant abacus. A relationship – underpinned by and a product of the principle of parliamentary sovereignty – in which society exists solely as a scaffold to prop up the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state.
The significant political divide in Scotland is no longer based on the ideologies of left and right; both of which have, in any case, been subsumed within the imperatives of neo-liberal orthodoxy that inform, to a greater or lesser degree, the dogma of pretty much the entire British political class. Far less is there any place in Scotland’s diverging political culture for the theatrical faux rivalries of the Tories and their British Labour dancing partners.
The defining divide in Scottish politics is between those whose first and overriding allegiance is to the British state, and those whose purpose is to serve the people of Scotland. It is between those who are signed up to the social contract with the people of Scotland, and those whose priority is to tear up that social contract and force Scotland into the mould of the British state.
In electoral terms, the choice facing voters in Scotland on Thursday 5 May is between Scottish parties, and British parties.
Let us be perfectly clear that, in this context, the terms Scottish and British do not refer to different lands or different peoples. (The very idea is nonsensical and it is a sad reflection on the dubious obsessions of British nationalist ideology that it is even necessary to spell this out.) What we are talking about here is two different concepts of society that have taken hold in two neighbouring nations which, while having a great deal in common, nonetheless have sufficient differences in their political make-up, electoral systems, democratic institutions and national infrastructure to facilitate this divergence of political cultures.
Nicola Sturgeon is right. We have come a long way since 1999. What she does not mention, for rather obvious reasons, is the fact that the ruling elites of the British state are extremely unhappy about the direction in which Scotland is travelling. Scotland stands as an increasingly embarrassing contradiction to the austerity fetishists who insist that there is ‘no other way’.
Make no mistake! The parties which represent the British establishment in Scotland want power so that they can change that direction of travel. They want power in order to undermine and eventually break the social contract.
And that means all of them. It really doesn’t matter which of the British parties occupies the seats reserved for the official opposition at Holyrood. The British parties are an increasingly ill-fitting anomaly in a political culture that, even if only marginally, better reflects the will of the people than the ruling elites of the British state can possibly be comfortable with.