A letter from a Tom Gill appeared in Monday’s Herald, critical of Alex Salmond’s comments about the Tory Party’s moral mandate to govern Scotland. I sent the undernoted reply, but it wasn’t published. As a great admirer of the Herald’s Letters page, let me say that I am sure my response was simply crowded out by a number of fine letters on other highly important topics, and that this was simply a question of space and priorities.
Nonetheless, I would like my argument to be on record, and here it is -
LETTER TO THE HERALD (unpublished)
Tom Gill (Letters 17th May) criticises Alex Salmond’s statement that a Tory government has no moral mandate to govern in Scotland. Under the UK’s deeply flawed electoral system the new Tory/LibDem coalition - with the Tories as the dominant partners – has a legal and constitutional right to govern Scotland, but morally, they have no mandate. That is what the First Minister said.
85% of Scottish voters did not vote for a Tory government – they voted for a centre left government, with the majority voting for a Labour government. Every commentator and media pundit has recognised that Scotland and England voted, to quote one such view, “as if they were on different planets …”, and that the implications of this for the Union and for democracy are deeply disturbing.
Tom Gill also advances the familiar, but deeply flawed argument that this is equivalent to an area of Scotland opting out of a general election result. Others have used the same argument for an English county opting out. Both analogies are utterly false and misleading.
No one, least of all the First Minister, is suggesting that we should opt out of the result – we are bound by the electoral outcome. But Scotland is not an area of the UK – it is not a county, nor is it just a region - it is a nation of over 5m people, with its own legal system, its own church, its own Parliament and its own proud history and unique culture.
Scotland, a sovereign nation, entered into the treaty of union voluntarily, but reluctantly, with profound misgivings and with many dissenting voices. For the last century at least, that union has not served the Scottish people well. At the very least, a substantial minority of Scottish voters now believe that we should end that treaty and withdraw from the union, and no one constitutionally denies our right to do so if a majority vote for it in a referendum. The deeply undemocratic outcome of the general election has now caused many more Scots - and a great many English people - to question the continuing relevance of the UK as a political entity.
My belief is that a great political watershed has been reached, and that radically new thinking about political alignments in Scotland between the Labour Party, the SNP and the trades unions is urgently required. The outcome of the Labour leadership election will be a catalyst in this process, especially if it results in David Miliband as the new Labour leader reviving the deadly power cliques and disastrous policies of New Labour.