Many people in Scotland will dismiss the latest poll showing the SNP on course to win 57 of Scotland’s 59 Westminster seats on the grounds of irrelevance. Circumstances are such that looking ahead as far as next week is fraught with problems. The next UK general election is more than four years away. To say that we might all be dead by then is, given those circumstances, rather more than mere hyperbole. It could be the most accurate prediction of all.
The main reason so many will be dismissive of this poll, however, is not that humanity may have succumbed to an evolving viral pandemic by 2024, but that the UK is likely to have succumbed to its own disease by then. There is an expectation that Scotland will have ended the Union before the Westminster elections taking the SNP out of the calculations altogether.
There is also a feeling that if Scotland doesn’t restore its independence in the next year or two then the result of the Westminster election won’t matter because whatever the makeup of the next UK government Scotland will be in serious trouble. The thought of being embroiled in another British election is a massive turn-off for a lot of people in Scotland. And that matters. Because these are the most politically engaged people. These are the activists who serve as the footsoldiers in the SNP’s campaign army. And they will desert the party in droves if there is no action on the constitutional issue in the wake of this year’s Scottish Parliament elections.
How dramatically this affects speculation stemming from polls such as this is itself a matter of speculation. But it could be very dramatic indeed if as indicated the SNP is expected to be a particularly important factor in the parliamentary arithmetic. Take even a handful of those SNP seats out of the calculation and the arithmetic changes significantly.
We should not dismiss such polls to readily or too completely. There may be significance to the indications aside from the implications for the British parliament and the British government. The fact that the polls continue to show sustained and increasing support for the SNP matters more than the pollsters themselves perhaps realise. Bear in mind that those looking at these polls from within the London media bubble tend to miss or ignore the Scottish perspective. As evidenced by the comment from Focaldata’s founder Justin Ibbett that “the most likely outcome is a Labour-SNP coalition government”. Nobody who knows anything about Scottish politics would ever so blithely assume that the SNP and British Labour might form a coalition.
Mr Ibbett makes such an assumption because he is thinking in terms of the British two-and-a-bit-party system. From this perspective the SNP takes on the role traditionally filled by the Liberals. It is assumed that they will side with the ‘winners’ in return for being allowed to attend some cabinet meetings. As most folk reading this in Scotland will be very well aware, the relationship between the SNP and British Labour – more specifically British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) – is complicated. Not least by the fact that BLiS is consumed by a corrosive, intellect-crippling hatred of the SNP. And by the fact that whatever political expediencies might inform the decisions of the party leadership, nobody among the rank and file membership of the party trusts British Labour any more than they trust the Tories.
Winners win! Those who look like winners tend to end up as winners. And that is why this poll is significant. It shows the SNP as winners. The specifics don’t matter so much as the overall impression. They don’t have to actually win anything. So long as they look like winners. Voters are attracted to parties and candidates that behave like winners. This can come down to the seemingly trivial minutiae of personal appearance and the professionalism of stage-managed set-piece events, such as press conferences.
People have expectations of what a politician should look like. These expectations are largely generated by TV, of course. Successful people, including politicians, have a look. Charisma may come into it, but isn’t as important in politics as in other fields. Although Tony Blair had little else but charisma, he was something if an exception to the rule. The important word is not charisma but confidence. Costume, hair and make-up all play a part. But body language is probably more important than any of that. Successful people and powerful politicians have a way of moving – and not moving – which says success and power. You don’t stand and walk and sit and smile and generally comport yourself like that unless you are successful and/or powerful. And in the main your chances of becoming successful and/or powerful are greatly improved if you first master the theatricals.
With parties as with personalities appearance matters. Nicola Sturgeon is very aware of this. As is Peter Murrell. Party conferences have to be slick and slightly opulent affairs if the TV audience is going to be impressed. Or even just take you seriously. Nicola Sturgeon is taken seriously and impresses largely because she knows how to stand at a lectern and sit on a chair while being interviewed. If all of this seems a bit shallow to you then it’s because you don’t sufficiently appreciate the fact that even the most seemingly superficial things are part of the message. The tie talks. The clothes communicate. The shoes shout. Audiences pick up the signals whether they are aware of it or not. However much the may insist otherwise, their attitudes are influenced by those superficial things.
It is important for the SNP to continue to look like winners. It is important to the SNP because it is important to their opponents. Which is, in effect, the entire British political establishment. It is important to the entire British establishment because the more the SNP looks like a winner the more likely the SNP is to win. And the more the SNP wins the more the Union is placed in jeopardy.
The corollary to all of this is that as hard as the SNP may work to look like a winner the British establishment will work just as hard to have the SNP perceived as a loser. And the British establishment has the propaganda apparatus to do that very effectively.
The problem for the SNP is that the British media ensures they are held to a different standard. What would be considered a major win for any of the British parties becomes a ‘setback’ for the SNP. Or a ‘blow’ to Nicola Sturgeon. Or a ‘defeat for the separatists’. The SNP doesn’t just have to win. Or win big. The SNP must always win bigger than last time or the win becomes a loss. Even when the party does win, win big and win bigger than last time you can be sure the British media will find some prediction of an even bigger win with which the win can be compared to portray it as a defeat.
The problem for the SNP is the old one of how to follow a stunning performance. What happens when you’ve won as big as it’s possible to win? What happens when you’ve won everything there is to win? What’s your next trick?
It’s great that the polls are predicting an SNP landslide in the next UK general election. Even if one doesn’t envisage Scotland being involved in that election, it’s good that the SNP are looking like winners because this will help them in the coming Holyrood elections. And that is extremely important. You can bet, however, that if the SNP did take 57 out of 59 seats the Daily Express headline would be ‘STURGEON FURIOUS AS SEPARATISTS FAIL IN CLEAN SWEEP BID!‘.