I’ve been thinking a lot today about the SNP’s next steps, and I think Paul McCartney has the answer.
I don’t imagine Nicola Sturgeon has considered consulting the former Beatle’s songbook for political guidance, but if she did, she’d find his song, Hope of Deliverance, pretty much sums it up. Not the catchy backing refrain (“HOPE – be- do- be – dooby”) but the chorus, which goes
“We live in hope of deliverance from the darkness that surrounds us”.
Since September, the SNP has been trading in hope. The Yes campaign may have taken a while to get going, but when it did, it juddered out of the control of any one political party as people across the country allowed themselves to be hopeful, to let passionate politics become a part of their life and to believe that it might be possible to make a better nation, right where we stood. Since the referendum, the SNP have become the repository for that hope, and they’ve embraced the role, promising to be a stronger voice for Scotland at Westminster.
But a voice is just a noise, unless somebody’s listening.
Without a Labour government requiring a stern Scottish backbone, or a minority Conservative administration dependent on SNP votes, the 56 new MPs might quickly find themselves unable to influence anything very much. There will be no Cabinet roles, there is no need for a pre-Queen’s Speech deal, and it is highly unlikely that their Westminster colleagues would countenance an SNP Committee chair – except, presumably, the Scottish Affairs Committee.
So what is this strong Scottish voice actually going to achieve? The SNP need a plan, and fast, otherwise those who placed their faith in them will quickly become disillusioned – as indeed might their new Westminster cohort, finding themselves part of a rudderless gang surrounded by hostile colleagues.
There are three options. The SNP could devote themselves to re-opening the Smith agreement, pushing for greater economic powers and abilities to protect Scotland from further Tory cuts. This could work, but it’s hard to build passion around details of devolution, and it’s unlikely to satisfy their new legions of voters.
They could focus on building the anti-Tory coalition they’ve so often talked of, in the hope that Cameron’s government will have the same trouble John Major’s did with defections and by-elections, and could be destabilised and sometimes defeated. This would be a longer-term strategy and is undermined by the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, which means that even if Conservative policy intentions could be thwarted, the Government would probably remain.
Or they could embrace their impotence, and use it to build support for the infamous second referendum. It’s not hard to imagine an argument along the lines of “The Westminster elite isn’t listening to Scotland’s voice: it’s time to leave it behind”. A cynical strategy, but it might well be the best one available to them – if they can’t inspire enthusiasm through achieving change, they may need to maintain support by stoking resentment.
I quite like the idea that I’m wrong – that there is some fourth option that the pointy-headed SNP strategists, infinitely cleverer than I, are even now working on in the bunker of Jackson’s Entry (the street on which SNP HQ is based, not a rude reference to Jackson Carlaw). But it’s hard to see how else this rowdy busload of Scots who are now on the their way to London can deliver their supporters from the darkness.