There has been much wringing of hands south of the border at the prospect of the SNP looking increasingly like a kingmaker in one way or another after May 7. But why? Ross Baxter, of the Green Party, examines why a dose of the SNP may be just the medicine the patient needs.
By Ross Baxter
|Ed Miliband looking on at Nicola Sturgeon, Leanne Wood and Natalie Bennett after the opposition leaders’ debate. Could this be the future of progressive politics? (Photo: BBC)
“Vote Ukip, and you’ll let Labour in under the control of the SNP” scream the Tories. Equally loudly, in the other ear, Labour are yelling “Don’t vote for the SNP, or you’ll just let David Cameron back in!” Posters across the country show Miliband sat in the pocket of Alex Salmond. There is a common theme here, and you would be forgiven for thinking that a vote for the SNP would be damning us all to eternal hell, but this couldn’t be further from the truth, and a government in power after May that involves the SNP could give the fairest representation of the country that we have seen in a long time.
Over the last 5 years, since the Coalition came into power all the way back in 2010, we have had a government forcing austerity measures on the people of this country, and an opposition party that has supported a large number of these policies. Indeed, Labour is also committed to austerity and major cuts if they are in power after May 7. This is despite the fact that these policies are hurting the most vulnerable groups of people in society – young people, single parents, the poor and the homeless, to name just a few.
There are, however, parties with elected MPs arguing for the rights of these groups, the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens, and that is why it is so important that these parties have influence in the next term, with Nicola Sturgeon saying in the BBC’s opposition leaders’ debate that “if Labour won’t be bold enough on its own, I think people should vote for parties that will hold Labour to account and make them bolder”. Whilst all three have expressed an interest in working together in the next Parliament as a force against austerity, the SNP are likely to have the most MPs, and as their potential power is seen as the most controversial, it is them that I will focus on.
Affordable housing, growing a green economy, abolishing prescription charges and smaller class sizes – these are just some of the many policies that are supported by the SNP, and serious moves forward have been made on a number of these in Scotland. They have also shown that they are willing to challenge traditional thinking on issues such as Trident. It is this sort of ambition that we need to see in the UK government as an alternative to the spending cuts that are currently being forced upon us. Many people in England and Wales support these policies, as evidenced by the fact that the Welsh government is often more progressive and proactive, not reactive, than Westminster, even when controlled by the same party, as it was for a large period of its existence. In absence of a truly democratic election system, such as a proportional representation that would better reflect the overall views of the country, it is vital that these people are represented in Parliament, even if it is from north of the border in the form of the SNP.
|Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, the future Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister? (Source: BBC)
It has been argued (often by people who were greatly opposed to Scotland being allowed a vote on independence) that the SNP being involved in a Westminster coalition would be undemocratic, and would mean that the will of the Scots was being imposed on the rest of us. It is, however, ridiculous to suggest that Scotland MUST remain part of the union, whilst also arguing that they should not be allowed to represent themselves in the national government. As a counter example, if (heaven forbid) Ukip were to have a landslide in the south-east on the May 7 and be in a position to influence the next government, there would not be the same uproar with that area of the country having an influence over the rest, so it is illogical to make a different argument for the SNP and Scotland.
The most important argument, however, is that of democracy. For a number of years we have been ruled by governments that were voted for by a small amount of people – in 2010 the coalition had support of 38.5% of eligible voters, and Labour had support of approximately 22% of voters in 2005, and around 24% in 2001. It can be noted here that whilst it is still a low amount, not even amount to half of eligible voters, the coalition has represented the largest section of voters in the past three elections. Regardless of your opinion on the coalition we have had for the last five years, (and believe me, my opinion on that is not a good one!), they are more democratic, and by their very nature, represent more of the people, allowing a wider range of opinions to be reflected by a government. It also allows us to move closer to a form of electing our MPs by proportional representation, as people get more comfortable with the idea of a coalition, and how they can be more progressive. Whilst no electoral system is perfect, proportional representation is much fairer, as by its very nature, it allows those parties that may have widespread support, but no particular individual strongholds, to still have their voices heard. As supporters of a new voting system, the SNP are perfectly placed to help push this forward.
Regardless of your personal opinion on the SNP, it is important to recognise that a significant amount of people support them. It is also evident from the number of non-voters, and from the rise of other political parties, that people are desperate for a change from “business-as-usual” politics. This is not just true in Scotland, but in other areas of the UK as well, and it is vital that these people have their voice heard, both in the election, and in the whole of the next Parliament. Maybe then we can begin the path to a new system and society that is fairer for all.
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