What a moment


What a moment

You know when a generational shift has taken place. It’s the small things. I just took a call from the wonderful Jim Naughtie of BBC Radio 4. He often calls to chew the fat on Scottish politics. This time it was different, “Listen Andrew, I’d love to talk but I’m in a hurry. Do you have a number for Stephen Gethins?”

Now, Stephen is a completely wonderful human being who was my researcher through the first term of the Scottish Parliament. That seems a lifetime ago and is one baton change of which I am deeply proud. You will see a lot of him in the months and years to come. North East Fife is his patch and he will make his mark. Serious person. Anyway, I gave out the number. I’ll be his PA until he’s settled at Westminster.

Until last night, the best result of my adult life was my first proper election in 1992 when the SNP took 21.5% of the vote with three MPs. The story from Labour then was that a vote for the SNP was a vote for the Tories. Scotland voted Labour and got the Tories. Labour’s story didn’t change much for this election. Had Scotland returned 59 Labour MPs, the Tories would still have a majority. That is one dead canard now surely?

It is beyond comprehension for most lifelong SNP members just how comprehensive that victory was last night. It is sweet of course because most SNP supporters feel traduced, demonised and vilified by both the London headquarted parties through the network media and by a remarkably mean spirited Scottish Labour Party campaign.

But the focus shifts immediately to what they do with the faith placed in them. Nicola Sturgeon is acutely aware of her responsibility to lead the party in a way that includes the half of Scotland that did not vote SNP but has barely three MPs to call their own.

She also knows that as the third party at Westminster, her group there - led by the likeable, experienced and capable Angus Robertson MP - will be on every committee, take part in every parliamentary debate and question time and occupy what are known in the House of Commons as the ‘usual channels’, where business is organised and undertaken.

If they do the ‘right thing’, they will become a part of how the UK is governed constructively. But in doing so — ironically — their own narrative on the relationship with Westminster will need to develop.

And if there is one thing we can learn from today it is that all of the parties now need to wipe the slate clean when it comes to their attitude to one another. As I wrote recently in the Guardian, if you live outside Scotland virtually everything you have been asked to believe about the SNP is wrong.

Labour’s decades old position on the SNP just went up in flames. The Tories and Liberals in Scotland are in a similar boat. In London, if David Cameron is to live his claim to be a one nation Prime Minister, then the name calling and invective will need to be replaced by adult discussion and proper relationship building between the new institutions that govern us and the people that hold them to account.

A good run out for co-operation will come in the European referendum. The strongest and most effective voice for staying in should be that of Nicola Sturgeon. Deployed effectively, this remarkable leader could transform the prospects for the whole UK economy and demonstrate to the rest of the UK what the Scottish National Party is really about.

So much is up for grabs. One thing I can say for sure is that the quality of that SNP group is very strong indeed. There is great experience, married to raw new talent, which should make a great combination. And one major advantage the SNP has over its rivals is a clarity of purpose and complete unity behind the most modern leader in European politics.

All things are possible. But behaviour will have to change and respect must be earned. Bridges will have to replace the deep trenches dug in an often primitive campaign.

Andrew Wilson
Founding Partner