Mark Argent
Creativity design composition spirituality work with organisations

Politics:: articles from 2015 General Election Campaign
We shouldn’t demonise the Scots or the SNP

2 May 2015, first published in Liberal Democrat Voice

I’m increasingly concerned at the way in which the prospect of SNP MPs at Westminster is being treated in the English media.

My fear is that the SNP is being demonised in a way that undermines the future of the United Kingdom by bracketing the SNP and the Scots together and demonising both.

I’ve heard many stories from people in Scotland of the bitter taste left by the Thatcher years, when the Tories foisted the poll tax first on the Scots, smashed industry and caused mass unemployment. All this led to a Tory wipeout in 1997 and they still have only 1 MP in Scotland, although they do have a sizeable contingent at Holyrood due to PR.

Both the SNP and Plaid Cymru pushed an anti-austerity agenda in the television debates. This chimes in with resentment at austerity across the UK but doesn’t make economic sense: cutting too much chokes (as the Tories propose) off growth, but letting the deficit grow undermines financial stability in a way that is just as dangerous. They both have a purchase on Labour because they chime in with Labour’s left wing.

The sociology seems complex, both within and between the countries of the UK, but short circuiting with cheap shots such as adverts showing Ed Milliband in Alex Salmond’s pocket, can only fuel resentment.

In other contexts I have been thinking about core Liberal Democrat values and their place in the election campaign — and struggling as they don’t always reduce to the soundbites the media seem to favour — but we seem to be holding two things that the debate and the whole UK need:

1) We’re a federal party with a commitment to making decision as close as possible to the people they affect and an instinctive sense of the value of devolution within a united whole (whether that is the UK or the EU). That is the polar opposite of irresponsible antagonism: can we let it show?

2) Democracy within the party can confuse outsiders, but means we are well used to being with difference. That seems a very rich starting point from which to hear and engage with the grievances which are fuelling support for the nationalist parties. Listening seems a good way to turn antagonism into the dialogue from which something rich can emerge.

It feels as if we’re at a crossroads where Liberal Democrat values offer a real alternative to the antagonism that seems to be dominant.