Surely nothing is important to a professional politician than winning elections? Can an individual even be considered a professional politician if they haven’t won an election? Absent an election win they are mere candidates. Or prospective candidates. Or somewhere even further down the cue waiting for a stab at elected office with all that this implies and entails. It’s all about winning elections. In between elections, it’s all about the polls which stand in for elections when there isn’t one actually happening. If the professional politician – or wannabe – isn’t contesting an election then they are fighting to gain points in the polls – which is pretty much the same thing.
Winning elections confers status within the party and this can often be used to secure seniority. The aim being to become the most senior person in the party and thus able to command a safe seat so as not to have to worry about winning elections any more. Seniority may also make the professional politician a potential head of government as well as leader of their party. Even being the big hat in the main opposition party – which requires a lot of election wins confers status of a kind. And power of a sort. Although not like the status and power that comes with being head of government. It’s all about power. So it’s all about winning elections.
(Being the British Prime Minister gives one the power to bypass the inconvenience of an election, of course. If the oiks fail to vote in sufficient numbers for one of your chaps you can simply elevate them to the House of Lords and Bob’s your Baronet. But that’s a topic for another day, perhaps.)
Winning elections is also important for political parties, of course. Not everybody can get the top job. Some people have to settle for the vicarious power that comes from being close to real power. Monarchs have their courtiers. Top politicians have their own retinue of lesser professional politicians who in turn have their own entourage of aides and advisers and the like. All of them are seeking power. As are we all. Our social lives are governed by our personal politicking as we seek relative advantage over others. Whatever power filters down to those at the arse-end of the entourage or retinue ultimately depends on somebody winning an election. So winning elections is the most important thing for political parties as well as individual professional politicians.
Both individual professional politicians and their parties will insist that they want power in order to bring about change. More precisely, they will claim that they want to change things for the better. Which can present electors with a bit of a dilemma when two politicians or parties are promising diametrically opposite forms of change with each claiming their proposed change is change for the better. But these things are just the price we pay for such democracy as we may enjoy. Fortunately, the voters have the media to explain things to them so that they can make informed choices come election time. Or when being grilled by pollsters. Where would we be without the media to clarify things for us, eh?
The claims to want power for entirely beneficent purposes are a load of pish, of course. But it is pish of variable viscosity. In the early years of the individual’s career as a professional politician it may be pish so diluted by honest good intentions as to be barely pish at all. The tendency, however, is for the pish to become more concentrated and pungent as those good intentions evaporate in the heat of adversarial politics. By the time any professional politician has climbed to the pinnacle of power it is generally possible to state with a high degree of confidence that their claims of altruistic intent are pure pish thick enough to stand in piles.
But it all depends on winning elections. For professional politicians and political parties nothing is more important than winning elections. So you can imagine my surprise when on delving into my copy of The National today I discover a professional politician as senior as the Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition speaking of something that he holds to be even more important than winning elections. But such is the inevitable and necessary implication of what Sir Keir Starmer is reported to have said.
First, there’s this,
There’s no route back [to power in the UK] that doesn’t run through Scotland and nor should there be for the Labour Party.
We know we have to win more seats and votes in Scotland and we want to, because I want to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and I want us to have stronger representation in Scotland.
But having said this Starmer also stated firmly and repeatedly that the restoration of Scotland’s independence is off the table. It is not even up for discussion. It is not to be considered or debated.
… the only thing we are not going to countenance is the break up of the Union …
That’s emphatic. No grey areas. At which point Starmer feels he must pay some lip service to that horrible democracy thing that keeps getting in the way.
Obviously it is for the people of Scotland to decide their future but the question at the moment is what is the priority and the priority is the recovery. Despite all the noises off I think there is quite a strong consensus on that.
It is for the people of Scotland to decide except if they decide something I’ve already decided is not an option. Thus are all the minimal requirements of British demockracy served. He’s said the words “it is for the people of Scotland to decide”, so his self-evidently anti-democratic ruling out of independence can’t leave him open to accusations of being anti-democratic. Saying the words “it is for the people of Scotland to decide” is a bit like crossing your fingers behind your back when making a promise. It’s an exemption phrase. And something that can be quoted back at anyone who suggests that his stance on independence is inconsistent with his claim to democratic credential.
Let’s now take an overview of these comments. Starmer says his party needs to win elections in Scotland. But his stance on the constitutional issue means British Labour in Scotland can’t win elections. What he snootily dismisses as “noises off” is somewhere in the region of half the electorate and almost certainly considerably more than half the Scottish people old enough to have formed an opinion on the matter. To simultaneously acknowledge the necessity of winning elections in Scotland while taking a position which makes this impossible is one of those mind-bending contradictions which together with the hypocrisy about the power to decide, makes British politics so ‘interesting’.
We should bear in mind also that there is yet a further element of farce about all of this in that Starmer has absolutely to power to enforce any part of his ‘thinking’ on the matter of Scotland’s constitutional arrangements. He isn’t even the British Prime Minister and so able to make the spurious claims to monarchical rule over Scotland that we’ve become accustomed to from Boris Johnson. Starmer is leader pro tem of the British Labour Party and Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition in the British parliament. He has no power. He has vanishingly little prospect of power, if the polls are any guide.
And the man Starmer has appointed Pontificator in Chief on the matter of Scotland’s governance, Gordon Brown, has even less power. He is nobody. He was a nobody even when he was in a position which should have made him somebody. Brown’s Commission on the Future of the UK is like the man whose name it takes, a sad joke. It is a totally meaningless exercise.
Ironically. the thing Starmer said with least sincerity is the only thing he said which is true. It is for the people of Scotland to decide!
The most notable thing, however, is that we can only infer from Starmer’s remarks that winning election is not the most important thing for him or the party he leads. Crucial as winning elections must be for this professional politician and his party it is superseded by the imperative to preserve the Union – at any cost! And Starmer is not alone in this. The imperative to preserve the Union is common to all British politicians and all British political parties. Not the least by a long way of the reasons why preserving the Union is more important to Starmer and other British Nationalists than winning elections, is the fact that it is the Union which confers the power to tell the people of Scotland their democracy is limited. That we can vote for whatever we want so long as it isn’t something the British political elite don’t want.
The conclusion to be drawn from this is that while we obviously can’t restore our independence without dissolving the Union, we can’t vote for independence until the Union is dissolved. That is the constitutional conundrum which must be resolved. Which we must resolve.
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