01 December 2007

Time is the greatest healer

In the midst of the party funding row, the SNP has decided that local Councillors are free to form formal Coalitions with any party or individuals they wish to. While the word 'Conservative' is not mentioned, that is the implication: hitherto, pacts with the Tories have been banned by the SNP, at every level. This raises the possibility that joint SNP/Tory administrations will, in the future, emerge in some Council chambers. As far as I am aware, it will apply only to Council chambers.

The reaction from Labour and the LibDems will be predictable: "Tartan Tories!" they will scream. They forget that both parties have been more than happy to team up with the Tories if it nobbles another party. They forget that Blair required Tory support for his last set of education proposals in England, and also for Trident. They forget that Labour won in 1997, 2001 and 2005 by looking Tory, sounding Tory and acting Tory. But that won't stop them.

And the SNP have little in the way of alternatives: there is the deal with the Greens, but that amounts to two MSPs, so the support of another party is still needed. And the only places where there are Green Councillors are Glasgow (where Labour has a majority anyway), and Edinburgh (where the only mathematically viable pacts are either LibDem-SNP, with the Lord Provost's casting vote - which is what has happened - or LibDem-Labour). Meanwhile, the SNP and Labour have developed an attitude bordering on mutual contempt so pacts between them at any level are unlikely and very, very rare, and at Holyrood, the LibDems still think they are in Coalition wih Labour, though Councils are, of course, a different story.

So on that basis, the SNP were always going to have to consider lifting that ban on working with the Tories, as it was cutting off one of the few potential avenues. As you can probably tell, I'm a supporter of this being made possible (though I reserve the right to go 'Unnhh?' if and when it happens somewhere), mainly as this was brought in during the Thatcher years, 20 years have passed since then, and the world is a different place.

I am not a fan of Thatcher: I remember - just - her time in power: I was born a few months before her second win in 1983 and remember vividly her loss of power. I remember very little of the actual Government, but I do recall what life was like. I remember us switching between my father having a job, but us still struggling to make ends meet, and him not having one, in which case my mother would walk an hour to a call centre for an eight hour shift (when the others would only need to work for four), then walk an hour back and have to buy enough food to sustain three of us on a meagre budget while my father walked the fifteen minutes to the pub, where he would proceed to drink his giro money. Thatcher talked about how everyone should own their own home; we lost ours in 1986. So readers will excuse me for not being well-disposed to Margaret Thatcher.

But here's the thing: the grounds for the ban was that Thatcher and the Tories were 'anti-Scottish'. I have always found that short-sighted, and it conjures up images of Thatcher kicking off her Cabinet meetings with the question: "Right, boys, how can we stick it to the Scots this week?" But I was in Northern England at the time, and I wonder if those that brand Thatcher anti-Scottish forget that England, Wales and Northern Ireland were all hit too. I don't think she set out to "stick it" to anyone, and I don't think she was 'anti' anyone. The problem wasn't hatred or vindictiveness, it was ignorance and indifference, she governed for her people and her places. Scots were not her people, and Scotland was not one of her places, but many others weren't either. Now, the inability to govern for everyone in the countries she governed is awful, but I just don't buy anti-Scottishness. Scotland was hurt. Everyone was hurt. Industries died everywhere. Jobs were lost everywhere.

Poll Tax riots were not simply a Scottish phenomenon, either, and the fact that she still pressed ahead with the introduction of the Poll Tax in England and Wales after its disastrous reception in Scotland is the most damning indictment of her Premiership: the inability to realise that a mistake has been made and it's time to hit the brakes. Either she was that out of touch by that point that she just didn't understand why the Poll Tax wasn't working, or she just didn't care. Whichever is true, it should tarnish her reputation forever.

So, given that, why am I pro the possibility of SNP-Tory pacts in local Councils? Because time has moved on. 20 years ago, the Tories look unassailable, in Government forever, no matter how much Scots wanted them out, and willing to inflict their own disastrous policies on a nation that simply didn't want them. In 2007, the possibility that the Tories may once again form a Westminster government is only just beginning to re-emerge after ten years (well, since Black Wednesday and Maastricht, really, but they had already formed and were in a Government, so we'll start from when that ended). Twenty years ago, there wasn't a Scottish Parliament, so whoever had power in Westminster had power over Scotland. Now, the most the Tories can hope for at Holyrood is a chance to tip the balance one way or another from time to time - as they do now, and it'll probably be another twenty years at least, if that, before we can consider the possibility of a Tory First Minister.

And in local government now, only two Councils have Tory Leadership: Dumfries & Galloway - a Tory/LibDem Coalition - and South Ayrshire - a minority administration. Though Tories do form part of administrations in other places: they support the LibDems in Aberdeenshire, they're part of the "Angus Alliance" (everyone but the SNP), they support Labour in East Dunbartonshire, Falkirk (with Independent support) and South Lanarkshire. They support Independents in Moray and the Borders (with LibDem backing). And they vote to prop up the minority Labour/LibDem administration in Dundee.

In any case, the fact this has been raised shows that SNP Councillors feel they can make common cause with their Tory counterparts. There is no way that would have been possible twenty years ago.

I will never have time for Thatcher or her cronies, but they are not the Tories we have to deal with now. Thatcher, for instance, is a shadow of her former self, rumoured to be on the bottle, rumoured to be half-mad, with failing health. The rest of her people have simply sunk without trace, save the odd appearance on Question Time. Why hark back to them, when they are not there to deal with anymore?

It's time to move on.


North Ayr Nat said...

I wish I could be so positive about this decision taken at the SNP National Council, but to be frank it fills me with dread.

Will said...

I can see why it would: for so long the Tories have been the 'enemy', the ones who would destroy Scotland altogether. It's still curious to see them as the most constructive of the opposition groups, with whom the SNP finds itself working with (not always by choice, I suspect, but still) most often.

The bonus, I suppose is that this applies only to local Councils: the SNP have not decided to offer Tory MSPs ministerial cars, or to prop up David Cameron. Now, things could still go badly wrong at Council level, but any combination can, and we're missing out on a pairing that could, theoretically, go well if circumstances are right. It's worth a shot, at least.