Tales of woe featuring British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) have become so commonplace that we might be forgiven for paying little attention to them. But it is crucial that independence supporters are not lulled into a sense that next year’s Council Elections are a foregone conclusion. We must be aware that BLiS’s decline does not necessarily imply SNP gains. The complexities of the voting system mean that independence campaigners are going have to be clever as well as committed.
For a start, they’re going to have to be clever enough to appreciate the importance of substantial gains for the SNP, with the party taking control of as many councils as possible. In part, this is to reinforce the party’s mandate at a time when the independence movement really needs to get behind the SNP administration. The British political establishment would like nothing better than to be able to crow about a ‘blow’ to the Nicola Sturgeon and a ‘setback’ for the ‘separatists’.
Under normal circumstances, I would be commending a clear delineation between national and local politics. But these are not normal circumstances. We can be certain that the British parties will campaign on the basis of their unionist credentials. They will bleat endlessly about the SNP being ‘obsessed’ with the constitutional question to the detriment of local issues whilst competing for the hard-line unionist vote with the banal, jingoistic, union flag-wrapped British nationalism going at full tilt. We need to be prepared for this onslaught of tawdry sentimentality and general Britshit.
But SNP gains are also important in terms of local issues. The British parties in Scotland have increasingly regarded local government as a power base from which to attack and undermine the Scottish Government. More SNP-run Councils will allow for greater cooperation between local and national government at a time when this is much needed.
We will, of course, be treated to the usual whining about a ‘one party state’. But this is no more than a transparent ploy to divert attention from the fact that the other parties have failed. They have no divine right to the support of voters. The people of Scotland are perfectly entitled to make whatever arrangements they feel serve their interests. At this juncture, there can hardly be any doubt that, both in terms of securing Scotland’s independence and ensuring effective local government, getting as many SNP councillors elected as we possibly can is the best option.
Exactly how we do that depends very much on local circumstances. Voters will be inundated with advice on a plethora of voting strategies. However prettily they may package their message, the British parties will be asking the people of Scotland to vote for the union at any cost. The SNP and others committed to the Yes movement will be asking you to vote for better local government and a better future for Scotland.