segunda-feira, 2 de maio de 2016
Scottish nationalists defy the laws of gravity
Scottish nationalists defy the laws of gravity
The SNP has won two Scottish elections and is sure to win a third. What’s the secret of its success?
By PETER GEOGHEGAN 5/3/16, 5:36 AM CET
GLASGOW — There’s an election in Scotland on Thursday, but little chance of an electoral “contest.” The Scottish National Party is all-but certain to win an unprecedented third successive term in government in Edinburgh.
The nationalists’ dominance of the Scottish parliament has been reflected in a lukewarm election campaign, heavy on photo ops, light on policy proposals. Only secondary issues remain to be decided: how large will First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s majority be (her party is polling at 50 percent), which of Labour and the Conservatives will finish a distant second, how will smaller pro-independence parties fare.
From a distance, the SNP appears to defy the laws of electoral gravity. After eight years in government the party is ascendant — despite a flatlining economy and widespread discontent about public services.
Indeed, SNP support is growing. The nationalists won 56 of the 59 Scottish seats in last year’s election to the U.K. parliament. In April, some 1,400 people queued around the block in the Edinburgh sunshine for the party’s manifesto launch.
Last week, the SNP gleefully announced that membership had hit 116,000. (The Conservatives have less than 150,000 in the whole of the U.K.)
The Scottish nationalists’ latest recruit will turn 16 on Thursday, and will be eligible to cast a vote thanks to the Edinburgh parliament’s voting laws (you have to be 18 to vote in a British national election).
The SNP was not always the electoral juggernaut it is today. When the Scottish parliament was founded in 1999, nationalists were heavily outnumbered by Labour. The SNP had to wait until 2007 for a chance to govern, and even then as a minority administration. In 2011, the nationalists won an unprecedented majority in Edinburgh, paving the way for a referendum on independence.
Although 55 percent of Scots voted to remain in the U.K., the two-year-long campaign re-calibrated Scottish politics. In the wake of the 2014 referendum, the SNP became the party of choice for many erstwhile Labour voters who, unlike their party, backed independence.
“The independence referendum was a critical juncture with many previously Labour voters supporting independence and facilitating what happened at the 2015 election. The shift from Labour to SNP was made easier by the stepping stone of voting Yes in the referendum,” said James Mitchell, professor of politics at Edinburgh University and co-author of “Takeover: Explaining the extraordinary rise of the SNP.”
This time around the SNP also has a unique asset: Scotland’s one truly international caliber politician, Sturgeon. A former Glasgow lawyer who joined the SNP in her teens in reaction to the politics of Margaret Thatcher, Sturgeon has captured the Scottish political stage since taking over as party leader from Alex Salmond in November 2014.
“There are certainly many who feel the SNP need to be pushed and given a bit of steel, a bit of edge” — Patrick Harvie, Scottish Greens.
Sturgeon’s smiling visage appears on the front cover of the SNP manifesto and on billboards across Scotland. Activists sport “I’m with Nicola” badges. Sturgeon is “easily the best and most appealing politician in the U.K.,” said David Torrance, author of “Nicola Sturgeon: A political life.”
“In a presidential campaign like this she has won hands down.”
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In the absence of a genuine contest on Thursday, Scottish media attention has largely focused on the battle for second place — and the position of official opposition.
Labour has hewn to a left-wing message. Unlike the SNP, Labour’s latest leader, Kezia Dugdale, has promised to use the Edinburgh parliament’s new powers to raise taxes to fund public services. The Conservatives have focused their campaign on telegenic leader Ruth Davidson, pledging to provide strong support for staying in the U.K. and opposition to the SNP.
“People in Scotland who don’t support the SNP recognize that Nicola Sturgeon is a strong and powerful politician and they want a strong and powerful politician to stand up to her,” said Tory candidate Adam Tomkins.
‘Labour are going after people who switched from Labour to the SNP. In doing that they are going to the Left and in doing that they are losing the middle ground.”
A Conservative second place on Thursday remains unlikely, however. David Cameron’s party holds just a single Westminster seat in Scotland and is still roundly blamed for the de-industrialization of the 1970s and 1980s that continues to scar much of central Scotland.
The Conservatives “are slightly less toxic, but they are still pretty toxic,” said Torrance. “They are unlikely to finish second but they should maybe get five seats more, which would be a good result in the context of decades of decline. If they do come second it’ll primarily be because Labour has done badly.”
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In the days leading up to September 18, 2014, much of Glasgow was awash in blue-and-white Saltire flags and ‘Yes’ banners. The city that had elected a Labour council uninterrupted since 1980 was one of only four of Scotland’s 32 local authorities to vote for the break-up of Britain.
Almost two years on, independence remains a dream for many here. ‘Yes’ stickers still appear in the windows of student flats in Glasgow’s West End, home to the city’s largest university. The local SNP branch now has around 1,400 members.
“People joined the SNP because they want independence and they would like another referendum but when the time is right. They are pretty sensible people in Glasgow Kelvin,” said Sandra White, the area’s sitting SNP member of the Scottish parliament.
Under the Scottish parliament’s electoral system, all voters have two votes: one for the 73 members of the Scottish parliament elected in first-past-the-post contests, and another for the 56 seats elected proportionately from a “top-up” regional list. While the pro-U.K. vote is split between a number of parties — primarily Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat — the SNP has been seen as the main vehicle for independence supporters.
However, smaller pro-independence parties such as the Scottish Greens and the left-wing coalition Rise are hoping to increase their support.
“There are certainly many who feel the SNP need to be pushed and given a bit of steel, a bit of edge. That doesn’t mean people have turned against them but they need to be under pressure,” said Patrick Harvie of the Scottish Greens, which is hoping to build on its two seats.
The question of independence has dominated the latter stages of the campaign. The SNP manifesto, for the first time, does not include an explicit commitment to hold a referendum on leaving the U.K., instead averring that the Scottish parliament should have “the right” to hold another vote if there is “clear and sustained evidence” of a majority in favor of independence.
“Scots aren’t stupid, so they’ll vote SNP and keep carrying on” — Iain Macwhirter, political commentator.
During a live TV debate Sunday, Sturgeon said she “will continue to try to persuade people” of independence, but “whether I succeed or not will be down to the strength of the arguments I put forward and ultimately down to the wishes of the Scottish people.”
Another independence referendum is highly unlikely in the course of the next Scottish parliament, said commentator Iain Macwhirter.
“There is zero chance of another referendum in next five years. They would almost certainly lose and it would kill independence stone dead.”
“Scotland is a tiny nation bolted on to a much larger one which controls currency, debt and most government agencies. If the rest of the U.K. is determined to wreck an independent Scottish economy then it can do so. Scots aren’t stupid, so they’ll vote SNP and keep carrying on.”