Scotto Voce

April 25, 2019

They thought we spoke too soon in 2007. Now more than ever our voice needs to be heard

By Archie Stirling

It is rumoured that the only person Theresa May really trusts and listens to is her husband, Philip. If that is true, we must hope that whatever advice he offered during their Easter walking holiday in Wales was sounder than the pearls of wisdom he dispensed during a similar sojourn to Snowdonia in 2017.

That was, apparently, when Philip thought it a jolly good idea for his other half to call a snap General Election - which infamously led to her Government majority being wiped out.

From that point on, it was as if the body politic had been injected with a massive dose of anaesthetic, slowly but inevitably leading to total Brexit paralysis.

Two years on, it is dawning that there never was any prospect of avoiding the hypodermic filled when David Cameron decided to give the country a referendum on Europe and has now totally immobilised the House of Commons.

The patient might never recover. A Survation poll last week revealed a massive haemorrhaging of support for the Tories among grassroots activists because of the Government’s mishandling of Brexit, with one councillor lamenting: ‘The Conservative Party is dead.’

It is not only the Tory Party in demise. Westminster itself may be in the last throes. But like an elderly and increasingly infirm relative, might its passing actually be a blessed relief?

If the Brexit fiasco proves nothing else, it is that the political system to which we (or more precisely our politicians) have desperately cleaved for generations has reached the end of its useful life.

That it is no longer fit for purpose is something I concluded long before now. In 2007, I and a group of like-minded individuals, launched Scottish Voice, a new independent, non-aligned party which sought to introduce a radically fresh approach to the way in which we did politics in both the UK and Scotland. Our aim was to challenge the whip-driven, party tribalism that has for too long held a vice-like grip on our political system.

We said then that neither Westminster nor Holyrood was working as they should. And they’re not working now. The EU debacle apart, you only have to consider the abject failure of the SNP government to tackle the crisis in Scottish schools to understand that, like Brexit, education solutions transcend narrow party-political interests.

Major challenges such as these will never be fully met will until the worn-out mould of 'machine' politics is smashed and the fragments consigned to the historical dustbin.

We said in 2007 that we supported prudent, common-sense government that did not ask whether an idea was left wing or right wing - but only if it worked. We did not believe this could be achieved by using Westminster or Holyrood as political playgrounds where point-scoring, dogma and party tribalism took precedence over the best interests of the electorate.

Jealously-guarded hegemony

With some notable exceptions, Scottish Voice was favourably received by the media. We punched well above our weight in terms of the column inches and broadcast time we commanded. There was a sense of something new and fresh on the political horizon.

But the political ‘establishment’, fearing any threat to its jealously-guarded hegemony, did what we knew it would – it deployed contempt, arrogance and derision in self-serving measure.

Considering we had launched only four months before the May Scottish parliamentary elections, we polled just under 10,000 votes among a small group of candidates spanning a spectrum of political, social and cultural backgrounds.

But the truth is we failed then to make more than a small dent in the armour of the political classes. Now, 12 years after that attempt to at least begin a debate about the nature of the British political process, Brexit has me, and others, wondering whether Scottish Voice was born prematurely. If ever there was a time to set aside blind political allegiances for the greater good of the nation, then surely Brexit is it.

Of course, lip service to such aspiration is being paid by the Tories and Labour, albeit at the 11 hour and driven more, I suspect, to save their own political skins. But does anybody believe the ‘negotiations’ between Mrs May and Jeremy Corbyn on the Brexit deal will deliver?

The problem is, that while we hear politicians from all parties talking about compromise, most of them are too steeped in the convention of adversarial party politics to be capable of practising what they preach. Others are simply too fearful of the party whips, either from cowardice or in the hope of gaining a step up the career ladder. 

I don’t know precisely what type of constitutional change, if any, is required to replace the dominant two-party system we have for so long endured at Westminster. The change needed, perhaps, is less about structure and more about attitude. We had high hopes that things would be better in the Scottish Parliament, but you only have to tune in to First Minister’s Questions to realise that tribalism is alive and rampant at Holyrood too.

Major overhaul

I am not suggesting that politicians should abandon their political and moral principles at any cost. But when you have politicians who would rather martyr themselves on their party crosses than concede even an inch to an opponent - because they are an opponent - we must examine whether the political process is serving the electorate or is out-of-date and in need of major overhaul.

When the dust finally settles over Brexit – if it ever does – a re-examination of how we do politics in both the UK and Scotland is needed. Fixing the system, perhaps, might be the only way to affect change in the way our elected representatives conduct themselves. Certainly, in parliaments where a range of smaller parties have greater influence, more sensible decisions seem to be made. And by ‘smaller’ I do not mean single-issue parties such as the Greens. What we need are parties made up of independently-minded people from a cross-section of professional expertise and experience who are not hidebound by ideology.

I ran my political race in 2007. But it now seems I jumped the starter’s gun. The sentiments that led to the advent of Scottish Voice and the principles on which it was founded are even more relevant now than they were back then.

Scottish Voice, or something like it, needs urgent revival. My appeal is to those 
with the vision, imagination and courage to step forward and help make it happen. 

Our future, and the future of generations to follow, may depend on it.