Together we will stand
Marco was elected as the new SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central on Thursday night.
When Caroline Lucas argued that instead of big tent politics she would prefer lots of little tents sharing the same campsite, she perhaps had Tony Blair’s Labour in mind. Understandably her tone was less than flattering, and looking back at his term, with good reason.
The Scottish National Party is undeniably a big tent. The 902,915 people who re-elected us last week did so for many different reasons. But whereas Blair’s Labour existed only to perpetuate its own term in office, the SNP has been united by a genuine sense of ambition for Scotland.
Blair’s Labour could count on a vast core vote who were believed to simply have nowhere else to go. The SNP has never had streets full of lifelong, habitual voters. SNP victories are based on winning over the supporters of other parties, or those of none at all. From my own experience on the doorsteps it is the latter group who I think turned so decisively away from the Lib Dems. We may have a majority, but we know that none of our support can be taken for granted and will govern with respect. Reaching out and finding common ground is what we have learned to do. There’s a reason our campaign song was Let’s Work Together.
On the campaign trail I twice jousted at hustings with Bright Greeners – Adam Ramsay and Peter McColl – but, from my perspective at least, I thought we agreed on more than we disagreed. That’s hardly surprising, given that in a former life I was briefly a member of the Green Party of England and Wales. There is however a huge difference between disagreeing on the best way to implement a shared principle like progressive taxation, and arguing over the need for progressive taxation at all. The Greens’ local tax plan has some very severe unintended consequences, but it is an attempt to move in the right direction.
In the past the SNP had been accused of coming across as if we simply couldn’t understand why people didn’t see that we were right. Indeed, if there was anything wrong with the Green campaign in Scotland it was that they had developed a tone with scolding echoes of this approach. Gone were the quixotic ambitions, the unrepentant idealism and the borderline utopianism that often characterises Green politics and motivates their voters.
Fellow progressives need to learn from the SNP experience. And never doubt that we are progressive. Our nationalism is based on the rights of peoples, individuals and communities to govern themselves. It is rooted in liberalism – the good kind that doesn’t have a capital l.
The lesson is that there is nothing to stop a big tent party being bold, if it can also inspire. Whatever powers Holyrood has or gains, the next term will be remarkable. The SNP government will finally put to the people of Scotland the constitutional question that has divided the centre-left in Scottish politics. When Adam recently wrote that independence wasn’t the point he was half right – it’s the vehicle. Twelve years ago we wouldn’t have been able to stop the NHS reforms at the border. Now we can. But in pensions, benefits, broadcasting, the economy and in foreign policy we are still pulled along by the diktats of a remote government in Westminster that has embarrassingly little legitimacy in Scotland. Bringing decision-making to Holyrood is how we can truly deliver an egalitarian, effective government that works on a human scale and makes this country a better, fairer place.