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Saturday, 14 March 2015

The “democratic principle”– and Unionist attempts to deny it when YES voters exercise it.

I wrote this in response to a Herald letter from a regular correspondent to Letters who echoed with uncanny accuracy the line being pursued by the UK unionist parties on YES Scotland’s (I refer to those who voted YES) temerity in not giving up after the referendum, but forging ahead with the SNP in exercising their legal and democratic rights to participate in the Parliamentary union the September 18th 2014 ballot result had compelled them to remain a part of. A great silence has followed my letter – so far …

Herald Letters March 11th 2015 

"SNP is a regional party ..." Peter A. Russell

Dear Sir,

I hardly know where to start with Peter A. Russell's letter on the SNP role in the 2015 general election. It reflects the deeply confused constitutional - not to say democratically questionable - assumptions that lie at the root of so many unionist arguments.

1. The "democratic principle" is that a government, once elected, is accountable to all the voters, not to the "majority of the voters" who may or may not have voted for the party or parties that form the government. In the 18 general elections since 1945, no single party forming a government has ever had 50% or more of the vote. The present combined Tory/LibDem Coalition had 58.08%. (As an aside, I have delivered leaflets and campaigned, at some level of involvement, in every one of them from the age of 10.)

2. The SNP has not "chosen to be" a de facto regional party in the UK". It stands candidates for the UK Parliament in Scottish constituencies determined legally and constitutionally under UK-wide law. No political party has a duty to stand candidates across the UK. It is committed to an over-arching objective of Scotland's independence, but it currently operates with a UK framework of law, offering itself to an electorate that contains voters in favour of and opposed to independence.  Once elected, SNP MPs represents all shades of political opinion within their constituency, in exactly the same manner as any MP anywhere in UK. It is clear beyond doubt that Scottish voters opposed to independence voted - and will vote - for the SNP.

3. The SNP forms the devolved government of Scotland. It can never be the main party in government of the UK, nor does it seek to be. While Scotland remains a part of UK, its objective is to represent Scotland's interests within the democratic structure and arithmetic of Westminster voting. It cannot pursue independence at Westminster, only further devolution within a UK framework. It has no intention of "dictating to 90% of the UK electorate" but will pursue an agenda for the electorate and the people of Scotland - all of them.

4. Independence can only be secured democratically by a referendum - the UK Parliament will never vote for the independence of any of its four component countries. The Scottish people rejected independence in the last referendum. If the SNP wins a large block of seats on May 7th, and subsequently wins a decisive third term majority in the 2016 Holyrood election, it will undoubtedly be a powerful democratic indicator that a majority of the Scottish people want a second referendum.

5. The UK electorate may vote for a party label, but they in fact vote for individual constituency MPs who, without exception, represent a "regional' constituency" under a first-past-the-post system. Most MPs run under a party label and accept a party whip, but in Westminster they vote as individuals MPs, whipped  or independently. That is UK democracy, however distorted on occasion by the party system.

yours faithfully,

Peter Curran


  1. Peter, this has been bugging me - when did the SNP say it wanted to join into a coalition at Westminster with Labour?

    All the talk from the chattering classes is about just how bad such an arrangement would be for the UK - yet as I recall, the SNP stated specifically that they would exercise their parliamentary power on any matters which impacted upon Scotland.

    No mention at any stage of joining into any coalition, apart from a stipulation that there would be no joining up with the Tories.

    This of course defaults in the fevrile minds of 'Westminster watchers' to mean a pact with Labour must thereby be on the cards.

    So, maybe it's time for the SNP to declare 'honest injun' - no possibility of any link with either party - the one goal being Scotland's best interests, first and foremost - and let the speculators eat their own words - which hopefully will just about choke them.

    It could also happen - ever so remotely that this may be, that the ever pragmatic side of the Tories will see the need to keep Scotland's power-base sweet.

    In such cases, can we not envisage SNP MPs wandering into the lobby - previously thought to be untouchable?

    There's many ways to skin the proverbial cat - and that's what has the jitters going - Scotland is reaching for its voice.

  2. I'd have to trawl through numberless clips and newspaper articels, speeches and comments, but it has been abundantly clear that the SNP have contemplated everything along the spectrum from coalition through confidence and supply to issue-by-issue pragmatic voting.

    They have been sufficiently serious about coalition on some occasions for people like me to voice their opposition to coalition. However it is essential, in the event of a hung Parliament, for the SNP, in conjunction with Plaid and Greens, to explore the possibility of a rainbow alliance with Labour, becase quite simply without one, no matter how many MPs they get, they'll be as powerless to pursue the interests of Scotland in Westminster as Scottish Labour are at the moment.

    The arithmetic of Westminster is stark - 650 MPs - 6 Sinn Fein and Speaker leaving 643 voting MPs. A minimum command of 322/323 of these votes is required for a Government to pass legislation - and legislation is what it's all about.

    Far from ruling out a deal, a deal (but not coalition )with Labour is vital. If Labour gets most seats, but short of an overall majority, and no unholy Tory/LibDem/UKIP/Ulster unionist grouping can outvote them, then they must either form a minority government or enter a coalition. Either way, SNP/Plaid/Green votes are vital to them.