9 Apr 2015

Election 2015: Political exuberance in Scotland, indecision and indifference elsewhere

One thing is clear in this otherwise somewhat indistinct General Election – a very different and considerably more vibrant contest is being fought in Scotland than anywhere else in the UK.

Those of us who were in Scotland during the independence referendum campaign experienced an intoxicating exuberance and a depth of commitment and understanding on both sides that none of us had seen in more than a generation anywhere else in Britain.

My own conclusion was that the driving force for this lay in the scale of widespread alienation from Westminster which was felt right across Scotland.

Among those disaffected, some argued that it could be resolved by the granting of maximum devolution, others by independence itself from the rest of the UK. One thing’s for certain – everyone there appreciated being given the choice.

That alienation from politics and from Westminster is widely detectable across England now. But there is no focus for it. The state of the conduct of politics at Westminster, as yet, is not a declared issue. Indeed there are many in all parties who, however reluctantly, candidly admit that coalition government has been a success in a technical sense.

The problem is that even in the new era of coalition, many are still questioning how inflexible and fit for purpose Westminster has proved to be.

Our political make-up has changed, but our Parliamentary system has not.

So many of the big political stories of the past five years – the rise of Ukip, the surge in membership among the Greens, and of course the #indyref – have happened outside of the bubble.

Multi party politics fought out in a Commons and Lords designed for two party politics have arguably failed to engage the public in the same way. Increasingly, the antediluvian activities glimpsed online and on television inside Parliament appear further and further removed from our present day lives.

Digital activity – consultation, voting, and the rest appear all but absent. Where else in the world does a legislative body take fully twenty minutes to conduct a simple vote? How many person hours are spent doing this dozens of times a month?

Then there is the human make up of Parliament, which still has not changed to reflect the society in which most of us mix.

The staggering statistic that only 370 women have ever sat in the Commons since 1918, says it all. There are few ethnic minorities represented either.

And then there is the House of Lords.

It’s heading for 900 members, a significant number of whom happen to have donated money to the parties. There are ninety who got their by dint of who their father was.

And then there are those who were persuaded to relinquish their seats in the Commons in return for a seat in the Lords.

Finally there is the virtual automaticity of elevation for virtually anyone who has served as a Minister – whether they were good or bad in office. It hardly chimes with times we live in.

I suspect in the end that voters do not have memories as short as many politician might hope.

They remember that the two largest parties voted for war; both allowed light touch regulation in the city; both outsourced vital public services to private conglomerates who have frequently fallen down on the job.

How significant are the daily back-and-forth rows over tax and spending by comparison?

Is it any wonder that the polls display indecision, confusion, and little clear water between either of the big parties?

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47 reader comments

  1. Andrew Dundas says:

    Voters don’t have short memories.

    We all remember that the hated Poll Tax was invented in Scotland and forced on the rest of us by provisions of the Act of Union.

    What will be forced on us next?

    1. Dean Williams says:

      If by invented in Scotland, you mean proposed by Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 Conservative Manifesto for the General Election. Rolled out in Scotland first as a testing ground , and then implemented in England and Wales from the start of the 1990/91 financial year, despite obvious and vocal anger which led to the Scottish Anti-Poll Tax Union (or APTUs) calling for mass non-payment, a call which quickly spread to England and Wales resulting eventually in the poll tax riots, the end of thatchers premiership and the scrapping of the poll tax, you are correct and you are welcome

    2. Billy says:

      Your memory might not be short but it is flawed. The Poll Tax wasn’t invented in Scotland and foisted on the rest of the UK….It was foisted on Scotland by Westminster in direct contravention of the Treaty of Union as a trial to see how it worked before England and Wales got to have a go at it.

    3. Alastair says:

      Andrew, you are either a satirist, a rewriter of history or dreadfully ill-informed. The Poll Tax was invented in Downing Street by Margaret Thatcher (against, it should be said, the advice of several of her advisers) and it was then imposed first in Scotland, in order (it’s presumed) to test public reaction. Only later was it introduced in the rest of the UK, but it was again imposed by Thatcher, not by anyone in Scotland.

    4. Neil Robinson says:

      Invented in Scotland? You may want to check your history on that.

    5. Tom Wilson says:

      The Poll Tax was not invented in Scotland . It was invented by Thatcher’s henchmen and imposed in Scotland, a country that at no time voted for her. Scotland was used as their guinea pig before its implementation in England

    6. Racel Johnson says:

      The hated Poll Tax was not invented in Scotland it was invented by Margaret Thatcher who imposed it on Scotland a year earlier than the rest of the UK which was contrary to the Act of Union. Scotland was a testing ground. Scotland has however invented television, penicillin, tarmac, the telephone and many other things that are crucial to our modern society. The next thing forced on you will be the removal of nuclear submarines stationed close to Scotland’s largest city.

    7. poort says:

      The London elite think we do pal surprise surprise

    8. Lee says:

      It wasn’t “invented” in Scotland it was “introduced” in Scotland first! We were the guinea pigs! Moron

      1. Andrew Dundas says:

        Michael Forsyth – then MP for Stirling – and Malcolm Rifkind – an Edinburgh MP, were the political advocates of the Poll Tax. Both cities remain in Scotland to this day! Both those MPs have fled.

        But those two were not solely to blame. Mostly the blame falls on Scottish newspapers that falsely claimed that Scottish Local Rates were much higher than in England. They conflated the water rates in Scotland with Local Government Rates and compared that total with purely Local Government Rates in England to stir up political controversy as a circulation booster. It worked! Circulations of the Evening Times and then the Evening News and others rose as more and more folks were duped into believing that rates were actually higher in Scotland – which they clearly were not.

        Don’t believe all you read in our newspapers.

    9. Brian Renfrew says:

      The dreaded poll tax was not invented in Scotland. Scotland was used as a test for the poll tax by the Westminster government of the time. A year of protests in Scotland was largely ignored by the rest of the UK. Only when the tax was introduced UK wide did most of the electorate sit up and take notice to what Scotland has been protesting to for the previous year. As usual Scotland lead the way for change. It’s happening again.

      1. Andrew Dundas says:

        Hello Brian,
        See my reply above of the 15th.
        I too was shocked that Tory MPs in Scotland. Yes, in Scotland. Could those MPs do such a dreadful thing as to cause crowded family homes with low incomes to pay far more local taxes than themselves! But it’s true! That’s what our Scottish Tories did!
        Moreover, it’s also true that the eruption began with a ‘Rates Strike’ promoted by the Evening Times and rooted in the outright lie that Scottish Rates were vastly higher than their equivalent down there. [Readers were urged to appeal against their assessments. Such appeals were a legal ruse to enable appellants to withhold their Rates pending a judgement: the Courts were blocked with thousands of appeals.]
        I know. I campaigned against that heinous tax in Glasgow and later in Keighley. I even defied the Bailiffs to hold a Warrant Sale to collect that evil tax, and in my front yard. Do you expect me to forget that?

    10. Lynn says:

      The poll tax was not created in Scotland Margaret Thatcher introduced it in Scotland three years before it was introduced anywhere else in the UK. So the people of Scotland paid it 3yrs longer than anyone else they were the guinea pigs.

    11. James Metcalfe says:

      What a preposterous statement Andrew, time to read up on the truth methinks.

      The poll tax was first implemented in Scotland as a test case just to see what would happen by an uncaring Thatcher – but it wasn’t invented in Scotland.

      All laws and any documents signed pertaining to the creation of the tax were made in Westminster (that’s in London, England – in case you’ve forgotten) and not Scotland.

      Scotland didn’t even have a Parliament when it was conceived. Xenophobia isn’t generally considered an attractive quality Andrew and you’d do well to check yourself on the matter.

      1. Andrew Dundas says:

        Hello James,
        How I wish it was true.
        But it was Scottish Tories – our own fellow citizens – who dreamt up the Poll Tax.
        See my replies above and below.

    12. Daniel Clements says:

      Andrew you are mistaken, I think you’ll find it had nothing to do with the Scots. They didn’t even have a Parliament when the poll tax was introduced. No, it was Westminster under the control of the Conservatives and Thatcher that created the dreaded tax. The Scots were just the ones that had the misfortune of having it imposed on them before anyone else in the country.

      1. Andrew Dundas says:

        Hello Daniel
        Scotland’s Parliament was merged into the Westminster Parliament as part of the Union of 1707.

        Within our joint Parliament, the Scottish Grand Committee enacted the laws of Scotland. Sometimes those laws were little different from the Westminster ones, sometimes they weren’t.

        The Poll Tax was made into Scottish Law by that Grand Committee and where the majority of MPs were Tories then – some were MPs of English constituencies because there weren’t enough Scottish Tories to form a majority on that committee. Rifkind and Forsyth were the advocates of the ‘Community Charge’ that their Party had invented to bring an end to the widespread Rates Strike that had brought our local governments to a stand-still. I presume all the MPs knew that their Poll Tax would also have to be introduced in England & Wales.

        If only the 1980s Rating revision had gone ahead in England as the law requires (Heseltine cancelled it), our Scottish media might not have organised the ‘Rates Strike’, and history could have been so different. But they media saw an opportunity for an outrageous campaign and thousands fell for their lie. Still, it did sell a lot of dead trees!

    13. Dinnatouch says:

      The poll tax was invented by Thatcher’s government, trialled in Scotland a year early (against the provisions of the Act of Union), and only then introduced in England and Wales: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_Charge

    14. Anna says:

      Andrew Dundas, I suspect that are you a politician or a journalist, because your lack of historical knowledge is evident! ‘Twas the tories that did the evil deed of the poll tax and foisted it upon Scotland, a full three years before England and Wales got it. Then it was scrapped. Wonder why? Misinformation is all around us, isn’t it?

      1. Andrew Dundas says:

        Please see my replies above.
        I’m no scribbler or any politician. Nor is there anything wrong with those trades, either.

    15. scottc says:

      The Poll Tax was NOT invented in Scotland, Andrew. That came straight from Margaret Thatcher’s playbook and was imposed on Scotland as an experiment one full year before it was imposed on the rest of the UK.

    16. The fly fifer says:

      Are you mad, or just being sardonic?

  2. Tom MacGregor says:

    I think the biggest problem is the mainstream politicians just outright lie to the voters. But now due to the internet and the voters now being able to find things out and they are being caught out. But still they lie to us, they are so out of touch with the people they serve and I’m afraid the gap is getting bigger.

  3. David Young says:

    Sorry Andrew,but the Poll Tax wasn’t ‘invented’ in Scotland,it was foisted upon us first,a full year before it was implemented on the rest of the UK by Margaret Thatcher’s government.

  4. Michael Burke says:

    Informed analysis as ever from Jon & Channel 4 news. Thank you.
    The mainsteam media complicity in preserving this democratic sham requires challenged at every turn. Immigration, for example, highlighted out of proportion as project fear remains the norm. Journalists failing to challenge the self evident hypocrisy and lies from the Westminster elite.
    The democratic awakening in Scotland gives us hope. SNP seen as a positive force for renewal. It gives the disillusionment a home. After the demonisation of Salmond it’s now Nicola’s turn to be vilified by the establishment that owns the press and controls the BBC.
    The National newspaper in Scotland was born out of the scandalous negation of balance during the Referendum and provides a much needed retort to the propaganda. Also social media like Common Weal and Bella Caledoania are an open democratic forum financed by the people themselves.
    This time round, in Scotland at least, –
    We don’t get fooled again!

  5. Mark Rowantree says:

    A very perspicaseaous article Jon: it certainly appears that the alia nation of the public from the political process and politicians doesn’t seem to extend North of the border.
    Might it be due to the almost universal exclusion in public discourse at any rate of the communal in favour of the private in the dominant Anglo-Saxon view of society. This reductionist view, seems to advance the notion that in the face of Multi–national corporations and vested interests the community can have little effect and in consequence little interest in promoting or defending their interests.
    In such an environment it is the ultimate faux-pas for political parties to have significant political differences. A democratic society can only really thrive in an atmosphere of frank exchange of political values and ideas. Instead on both sides of the Atlantic there exists a clear closing of the wagons on a neo-liberal ideological framework which offers little in the way of reward either in pecuniary or intellectual terms for a significant section of the population. Unless, this is addressed I can see no improvement in the political engagement in most of the rUK’s population.

  6. James R says:

    This sums up my feelings so well as a politically indifferent Hampshire resident. These rich old white men arguing like schoolboys for what seems like 12 weeks a year, the other 40 on their yachts do not represent me or my interests in any way shape or form.

    There are no meaningful alternatives to Labour and Conservative who are just as bad as each other. I voted LibDem once, I was a student and fresh faced Nick Clegg made us a promise which he promptly broke so, never again. UKIP are racists living in their own little universe and the Greens should think through their other policies beyond “Save the planet” which I agree with totally but won’t save our NHS.

    So yes I’m sticking with the cliche “my vote doesn’t matter” because they’re all mad and the system is broken. I will casting a protest vote myself but I can COMPLETELY understand why some people don’t vote at all though.

  7. D. Rozel says:

    Sturgeon = pocket Merkel.

  8. Jon Darby says:

    A credit to your profession Mr Snow.
    You tread carefully, knowledgeably and with respect for the reader.
    There are many others in your profession could do worse than follow your lead.
    I suggest, that when politicians show some respect for the electorate, are honest, passionate and listen, they will find an engaged informed and loyal following.
    There are some such politicians in Scotland.
    The Westminster duopoly have practised such callous disregard for the electorate for such a long time and still fallen into power, they have long forgotten their real obligations to the people.
    The voter, in turn, has lost interest in the depth and detail of the issues, and instead pants on the margins, waiting to be thrown a sound bite or two.

  9. Kyle Smith says:

    The “Poll Tax” system of taxation was introduced in replacement of domestic rates in Scotland, prior to its introduction in England and Wales. Rather than being invented in Scotland you will find it was subjected to it for a year longer as a trial.

  10. John Mitchell says:

    well done to ch4 and Mr Snow, proving once more they know more than nothing. Hopefully the intensity of debate will translate to the rest of the UK. Rather than these tired managerial arguments about who is best placed to manage our decline, politics could genuinely be about who do we want to be?

  11. Irene Gray says:

    please get your facts correct – how could the poll tax possibly have been ‘invented’ in Scotland – Margaret Thatcher forced it on Scotland first as Guinea pigs and although it was met with anger, it wasn’t until it was introduced into the rUK that there was rioting in the streets of England. As always there seems to be such a lot of ignorance around all things Scottish.

  12. poort says:

    If you think we have short memories be prepared to be surprised scotland has woken not just the young but the older generations who remember what labour used to be and its been a long time since labour were labour

  13. Hugh Moodie says:

    Short memory. Not in Scotland.

    The Poll Tax – invented in London by Thatcher and the Tories. Tried and tested in Scotland a year before the rUK (against Scotland’s will) then introduced to rUK by thatcher and the tories.

    It was the ‘rest of you’ by way of act of union, that voted in thatcher, gave her a mandate to do her evil deed, and now you all want to repeat it with Cameron?

  14. Liz says:

    Thanks for this Jon, it is a pretty fair assessment. I don’t think Scotland will ever be the same. I wonder if England will wake up!

  15. Alan says:

    Maybe the media term ‘new era of coalition’ is as close this article can come to providing insight. Who voted for a coalition? What other forms of government installs a leadership in the absence of public confidence? Maybe we sense that the claim of constitutional monarchy is no longer applicable, if indeed it was ever fully exercised as envisioned?

  16. Ewan Kennedy says:

    How right you are, John, a perfect summary of how I as a Scot view things. I feel desperately sorry for the English, who don’t have a proper choice.

  17. Tony Brady says:

    As a Labour voter of 40 years It will be a pleasure to see the smiles wiped off the so called working class parties faces come May 7th. WE DID and WILL remember their part in the Scots Indy debate along with the Tories. The lies that were told. The SNP will wipe them out the length and breadth of Scotland. The Tories got it after the Poll Tax and be very sure of this. If the SNP don’t deliver with the chance they are given by us, they will get wiped out as well. In my opinion, there will be a NEW left minded political party in Scotland in the next 10-15 years. It’s crying out for it. Love your interviews Jon.

  18. Stuart Haddon says:

    Another excellent and succinct piece of journalism, Jon. As you correctly surmise, the issue for Scots like me has to do with what we see as the damage being inflicted on most of the UK by an incompetent and corrupt Westminster elite. It’s worse than that, though. This elite is merely the tail of the actual comet of destruction, which consists of a corporate, legal and media establishment intent on a strict policy of “no change, thank you, we are doing very nicely and screw the rest of you.” The independence movement in Scotland is nourished by this and by the fact that there is a real possibility that we might be able, by democratic means, to escape from the clutches of this monster.

  19. RM says:

    The problem is that from a Westminster stand point, voters don’t need to be engaged. They don’t even need to turn out to vote in great numbers. The further removed from politics the people are, the more our elected MPs and other shady characters get away with. The lack of choice is a by-product of voter apathy, as is the lack of keeping election promises, exposing corruption and of course, the house of lords.
    Voters NEED to stand up for what they believe in, they need a system to remove bad eggs from parliament (without changing thier political idealogy) and MPs, business leaders and bankers need to be held accountable for thier actions. That’s where we need the media – that should be a high priority especially around election time. It’s unfortunate though that whilst mocking easy targets ultimately most media simply refuses to support any change in our system.
    Voters need to remember that these people answer to YOU and if you want change, you have to demand it. Write, email, twitter message them. Sign petitions and work together to fix the system designed for us, but inexplicably excluding us.

  20. EUBritsVote says:

    An estimated 2.5m citizens of other EU countries reside in various parts of the UK.

    They are subject to U.K taxes and laws, like all other members of British society.

    However, unlike everyone else, they are prohibited from voting in UK general elections because of current electoral rules, irrespecive of hoe long they have lived in the U.K.

    At this general election EU Brits therefore find themselves excluded form the country’s democratic process.

    They are without a vote, unrepresented at the U.K parliament that decides their laws and unable to hold their government to account.

    Is this just? Is this democratic? We invite you to join EUBritsVote in debating this issue.

    EUBrits is a new online and social media campaign that advocates for E.U citizens right to vote in U.K general elections. Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.


  21. Reg Joseph says:

    Congratulations Jon. You deserve this latest accolade…the Bafta Fellowship award.
    I am a card carrying fan of Channel Four news. And I love your ties.
    Keep up the good work.. all of you..on the programme.

  22. Soren says:

    jon snow should give a strong indication in his blogs how he has voted in el;ections over the years;

    has it been consistently for the same party of has there been any MAJOR factors that swayed his decision

    wonder if his access to political insights and interviews with major candidates have even swayed his opinion and which cross and box he chose;

    has he ever had problems at the polling station when he couldn’t register a vote?.

    Hope newsnights Evan takes up the same ideas and hints at his patterns.

  23. derek says:

    A recent YouGov report found that disaffection is ever-rising. Only 10% believe that politicians are doing the best for the UK and 48% think they are in it for themselves.
    I can’t see them changing as they haven’t changed for decades so disaffection will continue to rise.

  24. Jon Darby says:

    Andrew, you appear to have caused a bit of a stir.
    To suggest that the poll tax was a Scottish invention is just a tad controversial.
    It may be a fact that Rifkind and Forsyth had something to do with it, but they were in no way representatives of the country or the people….they were handmaidens of the Tory Witch in WM.
    this product most definitely had “made in Westminster” stamped on it.

    1. Andrew Dundas says:

      Hello Jon,
      Public Policy ought to be discussed. Discussion often becomes controversial.

      I was shocked,in 1984-5, that some work colleagues in Glasgow were participating in a legal blockade to obstruct the payment of Council Rates to my local council. They assured me that their actions were justified because the regular re-valuation of Scottish properties meant they paid a lot more tax than equivalent homes in the North of England. I observed that the Scottish Rates included water and sewage charges that were not included in English Rate Bills. Water & sewage were billed separately, and their purely Council Rates were actually similar to ours.
      But the Rates strike had already caused a crisis in the Tory Party because it was mostly their voters who had made both angry, and participants in the Rates blockade. A conference was quickly convened and ideas sought for a replacement property tax. Eventually, the idea was circulated that Council costs were ‘a service’ like any other and that all adults should ‘pay the same’.
      [I recall stunning supporters by inviting them to pay the same income tax as I – which made my opposition argument rather well].
      I recall that several Scottish Tories lobbied Thatcher to adopt this quick solution to the Rates problem and that Rifkind and Forsyth were part of that group.
      I travelled to Edinburgh for the anti-poll tax parades, and shared the same constituency & enthusiasm as Tommy Sheridan. But I refused to advise low income families not to pay as they would suffer in the Courts; families can’t afford that sort of ordeal. It was all an awful Scottish experience that burnt into my memory. I offered the forecast that once the English had to pay that heinous tax, it would be quickly abolished. Which it was.
      The villains of this piece include the Glasgow Evening Times that had spread the false & misleading information, and which others took up without checking their sources. But the main blame lies with ourselves that we were so easily duped into believing that our 5-year revaluation somehow doubled the monies we had to pay. Which was truly implausible.
      I’ve read the account by Lavalette & Mooney who wrote that their ‘Poll Tax’ account starting in 1989 is incomplete. I’ll say!

      It’s worth consoling ourselves by observing that Londoners pay a lot more Council tax than everyone else: only one in 20 homes in London is rated as Band A and nearly one in four Scottish Homes are in that lowest category and very many more in the highest bands. But they don’t know that yet, Shhhhh !

  25. Jon Darby says:

    Hi Andrew.
    I hear what you are saying.
    My own feeling is that what happened over poll tax was probably more to do with camels and straw.
    I agree that there is something wrong if there is no passion and disagreement during a debate :-)

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