Despite what Tom Harris claims, we SNP foot-soldiers do sometimes fall out with Alex. It’s just we don’t make a fuss about it because he’s right most of the time and I defy you to show me another Scottish politician who manages that. However, the latest parting of our ways comes in his Welcome in this year’s Conference Handbook.
Well written and stirring though his words may be, he totally ignores local government. Not only the 360+ SNP councillors whose feet on the street are doing so much for the cause but the fact that they all face re-election next year. Given a victory by both cllrs and MSPs in 2007, is there hope for a landslide in 2012, comparable to last May’s?
The answer is: you betcha!
And just how, when (unlike any other party) there’s an SNP councillor in just about every mainland ward are we going to achieve that under STV? The glib answer is: by being good. The real answer is that, just as the Holyrood map turned yellow last May we will supplant Labour as the dominant party in the Central Belt and not just the rest of Scotland.
We achieve that by taking a leaf out of Labour’s book. Though it has been a mystery to many how benign but apparently incompetent Labour councillors have held seats for decades, the answer is twofold. Firstly, Labour came to dominate mostly industrial regions by genuinely being the voice of the people. Then, they held on to that power by a combination of docile voting-fodder candidates, “wu’ll get ye a hoose” patronage and a resilient perception of being “the party of the working man”.
Through their own inertia, lack of vision and overdiscipline, they’ve blown all three.
That—and the fact that the SNP has consistently stood good candidates and shown a flair for competence when they have controlled councils—has put the SNP in pole position to exploit the millions of now-drifting voters, especially in the new and council estates across the Central Belt. Whereas once a Labour councillor would be from your street and get collared in the local Miner’s Welfare to fix a drain, that accessibility has eroded, first by their greed for a paid outside directorship here and a jolly there, but mostly by their cosy expectation of always being re-elected and just not putting out.
People do notice that. Lib-Dems were once good at turning local campaigners into Lib-Dem councillors. But their lack of depth and consistency made them vulnerable and the whole ConDem coalition thing will be their death-knell. SNP candidates are more slow-burners. They’re in the community, coaching kids’ soccer or volunteering for the lifeboat and they get elected for the simple reason that people know them and come to trust them to speak out on behalf of those who aren’t so good at it.
More than that, in this age when people move around more, when jobs change and people’s time becomes precious as they try to juggle kids and jobs and relationships, it’s the SNP candidate who often comes from that area, knows it well, kent his faither and—because being a nationalist means you’ve had to hold up your end of the argument in the dark days when Unionism seemed dominant—are not afraid to speak out on those issues that they know matter.
It’s a knack, and while we’ve been learning it, Labour has forgotten it. And just in case they’ve ignored my headline and are reading this, here’s all Iain Gray’s ill-starred successor has to do to win big: find over a thousand dedicated, articulate people who live in, often work in, but certainly believe in their communities and let them bang on 2 1/2 million doors to talk to those they would convince. (Hint: your present lot are so not up to it), Best of luck—we’ll see you in May.
For obvious reasons, I hope Labour doesn’t read this; but I hope Alex does because if he’s looking for a springboard to referendum victory, next May will be it.