Leaving aside for a moment the whole Brexit fiasco – doubtless to everyone’s great relief – it is worth noting that there is something rather interesting happening here as what in another time would have been referred to as the ‘minor parties’ at Westminster challenge, not only the government, but also the official opposition.
From a Scottish perspective, much of what has been happening in politics over the past three decades can be viewed as an increasingly desperate effort on the part of the British establishment to get back to ‘business as usual’. The British media, even more than British politicians, has evinced an almost frantic desire to return to the simplicities and certainties of the old British two-party politics that prevailed until the upstart SNP came along and made things complicated.
And now Westminster has been infected. The efforts to stifle, suppress and sideline the SNP contingent in the British Parliament have been to no avail. They’ve tried everything from EVEL to drowning out SNP MP’s contributions in the chamber with a cacophony of babble and barnyard noises. They’ve denied the SNP group at Westminster the opportunity to debate issues that have profound implications for Scotland. They’ve all but entirely excluded the SNP administration in Edinburgh from Brexit (sorry!) negotiations. They’ve worked assiduously to keep SNP politicians off our TV screens.
Despite all this, those pestilential ‘Nats’ persist in conducting themselves as if a clear and incontrovertible mandate from the electorate entitled them to a significant participatory role in the British political system. What the hell is wrong with these people!? They act as if being the third largest group at Westminster could possibly compensate for their appalling Scottishness.
Why can’t they just accept that their party, like their piffling little country and its pretendy wee parliament, is entirely peripheral to the ‘real’ politics of the British state? Why can’t they settle for the privilege of being allowed to sit on the glorious green benches in the divinely ordained ‘Mother of Parliaments’? Why do they insist on interfering in important matters best left to the British political elite?
The fact that the ‘smaller parties’ are uniting to confront the two ‘main parties’ is a highly significant development. It may not yet be an all-out revolt against the old order, but it sows the seeds. If the British establishment’s customary tactics of divide-and-rule can be overcome once, then this opens the way for further challenges to established power.
British politics is not evolved to cope with a third force. It has historically survived by eliminating potential threats early in the game; either by crushing them or by assimilating them. While being large enough and effective enough to have an impact at its heart, the SNP is sufficiently alien to the British political system to be quite indigestible. It cannot simply be absorbed. And it has proved remarkably resistant to being crushed. It is thus placed to be the core around which other elements of the political and geographical periphery might coalesce to form a third force capable of challenging, not only the old Tory/Labour duopoly, but the very structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state.
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