There was a time, not all that long ago, when the idea of British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) teaming up with the British Tories would have been shocking. Any suggestion that BLiS voters would transfer their allegiance en masse to the Tories would have met with ridicule. Now, such things are commonplace. The sight of red and blue rosettes together on the same platform doesn’t even raise an eyebrow. Although it may yet cause heads to be shaken in disgust and despair.
Labour and Tories in Scotland are now two ‘parties’ with a single shared cause. The cause of British nationalism. Both are fighting over the hard-line Unionist vote. And the Tories are winning – hands down.
Which isn’t at all surprising. Unionism is, after all, home turf for Scotland’s Tories. Ruth Davidson’s most significant achievement has been to lure BLiS onto that ground. Not that it was such a great accomplishment. British Labour has shown itself strangely amenable to having the agenda set by the Conservatives. It’s a docile, biddable beast these days and easily led by the nose. Time after time, the Tories have set the terms of debate, and British Labour has accepted those terms without demur.
When, in the 2015 UK general election, the Tories decided to demonise the SNP and promote hysteria about the “threat” of a Labour/SNP alliance, British Labour dutifully went along with that narrative. Just as during the first independence referendum campaign, the two main British parties were singing from the same hymn-sheet. And it was the Tories choosing the hymns.
I’ve never had much time for the whole ‘Red Tories’ thing. To claim that there is no difference between Labour and Tories is a gross over-simplification. But in one regard they are absolutely identical. When it comes to defending the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state, they are totally united. Both embrace the same narrow, exclusive British nationalism. Both exhibit the same devotion to the ruling elites of the British state and the same visceral hatred for anyone who questions British exceptionalism.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the British parties intend to bring their jingoistic British nationalism to the 2017 council elections. The Tories reckon that what worked for them in the 2016 Holyrood elections will surely be effective again. And, as ever, BLiS will go along with it. No matter how determined the SNP are to fight the local elections on local issues, the British parties will keep the constitutional issue front and centre. Mainly by accusing the SNP of being obsessed with independence.
It goes without saying that the Unionist parties will find willing accomplices in the mainstream media. Little or nothing of the SNP’s campaigning on local issues will be reported. Even if, for the entire duration of the campaign, no SNP candidate so much as mentions independence, we will be told that this is all they ever talk about.
We might as well accept it. We just have to resign ourselves to the fact that the entire weight of the British state’s formidable propaganda machine is going to be thrown behind a British nationalist campaign. This is not as we would wish it to be. Most people, I’m sure, prefer that council elections focus of local matters. But the British parties have no regard whatever for our preferences. Their overriding imperative is to deny victory to the SNP in any way they can.
The British parties and the British media will decide the terms on which the 2017 council elections are fought. The Scottish parties and the alternative media have to be prepared to fight on those terms. These will not be ‘normal’ council elections.
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