The Next Five Years

This is a guest post by Declan Blench. You can find him on twitter as @YesWithDex.

Amidst all the talk of supermajorities, system gaming, both-votes-ing, mandate clinching and vote splitting, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that this election is precisely that: not a pseudo-referendum, but an election. We’re going to the polls to decide what kinds of policies we want to see enacted over the next five years. 

This isn’t to say that the debate around independence won’t be affected by the outcome, and I don’t downplay its importance. Five years, though, is a very long time; come the subsequent Holyrood election, people born in 2010 will be voting, and if that doesn’t have you stocking up on anti-ageing creams, you are much more comfortable with your mortality than I am. Just look at everything that has happened since we voted in 2016 – the murder of Jo Cox, the Brexit referendum, two Westminster elections, a local government election, actual Brexit, Harry and Megan’s entire saga from engagement to Oprah. It’s a long time, and what happens in that time matters. 

Alba, All For Unity and – to a lesser but still significant extent – the Tories are one-trick ponies at this election. While they may publish manifestos or make some headline announcements, there is unlikely to be much detail in their proposals. For all intents and purposes, single-issue parties, save for a dash of bread-and-butter small state underpinning for the Conservatives. Secure in the knowledge they won’t be in a position to implement policy, this is a luxury they can afford.

The other four parties of a size worth mentioning – the SNP, Labour, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats – offer vision and policy platforms that go beyond the constitution, despite three of them knowing they won’t be major parties in the government we have come mid-May. The reasons for this vary: the Greens will aim to pull the government farther left, Labour is seeking to gain enough support to leapfrog the Tories into second place, and the Lib Dems from a sincere belief in the importance of democracy and an ethos of cross-party working, buoyed from their contributions to the most recent budget. 

What’s more, these platforms are all to some extent progressive, with something appealing to those of us to the left of centre in each of their proposals. At the time of writing, no manifesto has been published, but we have some idea of the headline policies each party plans to offer. The SNP plan to found a National Care Service, build a substantial number of new homes for social rent and decarbonise domestic heating, creating a significant number of jobs along the way; the Greens offer a Green New Deal package and rent controls; so far, Labour’s campaign has focused on rebuilding and expanding the NHS; and the Lib Dems have a focus on mental health provision and a reform of primary education. All of these parties have some form of a youth job guarantee, which offers an excellent opportunity for the kind of cross-party collaboration we heard so much about during the first leaders’ debate.

People may argue about the progressive or otherwise nature of many of these policies (I’m personally quite sceptical about rent controls), and each party has its own baggage and drawbacks. These arguments, though, are precisely the point – democracy thrives on debate over policy and detail, vision and ideology. 

Independence ought not to be an end in itself. It must be for a purpose, the purpose of a better Scotland, and what ‘better’ means must be clear to the electorate. Recreating the UK – or creating an even worse country – on a smaller scale is not the independence I want, and it’s not an independence worth gaining. Similarly, a devolved parliament unable to improve lives to any extent because of a constitutional logjam is not an inspiring sell and will certainly not persuade the unpersuaded that Scotland should be an independent country. 

Holyrood already has one hand tied behind its back, so let’s not make its job any more difficult by electing a wrecking minority of single-issue ne’er-do-wells. Our parliament and government are not single-issue, short-term institutions, and they should be treated with the seriousness they deserve. Whichever side of the constitutional divide you fall on, whether you’re a Both Votes My Party person or plan to split your ticket, make sure your vote is thoughtful, considered and informed.