Pending……A Political Displacement Event in Scottish Politics?

Profound political events afford us an intriguing insight into more fundamental political processes at the psychological level.   One such event appears to be underway currently in Scottish Politics with the SNP predicted to completely dislodge Labour from its dominant position in Scottish politics at the May 2015 UK General Election.  The polling evidence suggests that the election (conducted under First-Past-The-Post) will see the SNP convert a vote share of 46% to 46 seats up from 6 in 2010 with Scottish Labour falling from 41 seats in 2010 to dozen or so in May 2015.

An event on this scale would be a political earthquake measuring 9.1 on the political Richter scale.  The 2015 General Election would be followed by the 2016 Scottish Parliamentary elections, where the polls also suggest a major win for the SNP.  It would be hard to deny that the conjunction of these two events would amount to anything other than a displacement event.

Displacement events have a recent track record in British politics when following the Good Friday Agreement which ended the civil conflict in Northern Ireland, the two political parties which led the peace process have been completely eclipsed by fundamentalist parties who did not initially wish to by party to the process.  The catholic/Nationalist SDLP initiated the peace progress and were joined by the Ulster Unionists on the Unionist/protestant side of the divide.  Now some 16 years later the Ulster Unionists (who brought peace to Ireland) struggle to exist having been eclipsed the more fundamentally Unionist and hard-line– Democratic Unionists.  With the SDLP fighting for survival in the nationalist community against a dominant Sinn Fein (who brought war to Ireland).  Two allied but contemporary displacement events which evince absolutely no prospect of reversal any time soon.

The trigger for these two displacements was trauma of the peace progress and the abandonment on behalf of SDLP and Sinn Fein of the immediate objective of Irish Unity and decision of the Unionist side to break with “democratic” principle and share power with a minority, some of whom had clearly been in arms against democratic politics.   The SDLP had four foundation basis in Haidtian terms In Group Loyalty (Ireland), Freedom (Irish Freedom), Harm reduction and fairness in its Social Democratic politics.  Sinn Fein had only the first two of those in its long history but learnt from its participation in democratic politics to inhabit the same Haidtian space as the SDLP, that combined with trauma of peace making resulted in a displacement of their SDLP competitors.  On the Unionist side the Ulster Unionists had two foundations – Authority and In Group Loyalty, but the peace-making trauma led to the selection of the Democratic Unionist whose identical two foundation morality was held more deeply, more viscerally.

Is the same thing happening in Scottish Politics?  Few would dispute that the Referendum was a process of monumental political import which shook Scottish society (not to mention the UK political elite) to its very core.  The defeat of the SNP’s Independence proposal and the loss of its defining political objective might be considered politically ruinous but in fact the SNP emerges from the defeat as the strongest force in Scottish politics and is poised to become the third biggest party in the British state playing the role of political kingmaker and preventing the Labour Party from ever forming a majority government ever again at the UK level.  The similarities between Sinn Fein’s and the Democratic Unionist ascendancy in the face of the defeat of their political programmes is striking.

The sheer scale of the SNP support suggest that they are winning in both the ways in which Sinn Fein displaced the SDLP and the Democratic Unionists displaced the Ulster Unionists.

From the birth of the SNP until the early 2000s it had a typical nationalist two foundation Haidtian profile – In Group Loyalty and Freedom (national freedom).  However, since early 2000 in response to poor electoral results there was a determined and purposeful push into Labour territory when the SNP took on a distinctly Social Democratic hue.  See how this move into Labour space changes and impacts Scottish Labour

Labour to SNP Comparison to 2003

Labour to SNP Comparison to 2003 (2)

Labour to SNP Comparison from 2003

Labour to SNP Comparison from 2003

This colonial manoeuvre  has reaped rich rewards ever since.

The surge in SNP activism and morale is the equivalent of the Democratic Unionist displacement of the Ulster Unionists.  Scots who believed in Independence or voted Yes in the Referendum or feel Scottish and not British are re-stating and deepening their In Group Loyalty and belief in Scottish Freedom because of the Referendum and shock and their dismay at their defeat.   Politics works at the level of intuition and emotion, not rationalism and we reason in support of the emotions.  The origin of the 45% lies in part (as previously argued here) that the No campaign offered a rational argument against an emotional one (rationalised of course).

The SNP surge is so pronounced because multiple Haidtian dynamics are taking place at the same time.  But as if things weren’t bad enough for Scottish Labour a core component of left wing moral psychology explodes in their face as the hard left, full of moralised anti-authoritarianism defects to the position which would most alienate in group authority – Independence for Scotland.   What is the relation of anti-authoritarianism to Fairness and Care/Harm?  Events in Scotland suggest something like this:

Moralised Anti-Athoritarianism

Three political anti-authoritarian  movements have taken place simultaneously.  Firstly, theLib Dems implosion as previously noted, the detachment of the anti-authoritarians disaffected from Labour by its recent stint in Government, to the Lib Dems and then in turn the inevitable disillusionment with the Lib Dems in Government to support for the SNP.  The SNP are in Government in Scotland but hostile to UK In Group Authority by definition.  Adding to this movement are the Greens and the newly energised Hard Left of the rampant Radical Independence movement.    The formal repudiation of UK level solidarity, community and responsibility by so many on the left is more evidence for the above diagram with Fairness and Care/Harm as values being not independent (to coin a phrase) of moralised anti-authoritarianism.  T


Trying not to cross the line from political psychology to politics proper but it is fascinating to note the contradiction between SNP’s advocacy of Independence, and the potentially catastrophic effects of a Yes vote in the Referendum and the fall in oil price in early 2015 combined with the costs of building a new State along with the loss of Union related jobs in defence and the civil service and the rise in the SNP support to stratospheric levels.  Now the central claim of the SNP that with Oil revenues greater than $100 an Independent Scotland was fiscally viable is correct – ask the BBC ,but also note that Oil revenues account for 10-20% of Scottish tax revenue.  The fall in the price of Oil to $60 denudes Scotland of £5 billion according to the Office for Budget Responsibility  but this loss has to be added to the loss in Union jobs from UK institutions and the cost of setting up a new army, social security system, welfare system and so on…estimated at £2.7 billion by the LSE.   This accumulation of costs would have amounted to an £8.7 billion bill to the Scotland which was estimated to become Independent next year.  See the graph to get sense of the catastrophe that would have been underway if there had been a Yes vote

Graph (1)

The hit would have been greater than the hospital, pensions or education budget, greater than the social services budget and defence budget combined.  Any assessment of these numbers would be incomplete if there was no factoring in of the economic panic wave caused by these numbers.  An epic of social distress would have ensued.

“SNP set to win 56 out 59 Scottish Seats” because politics is moral psychology, the alliance of moralised In Group Loyalty and moralised anti-authoritarianism sees the complete inversion of the standard political model: support for parties is a function of policy success or the intellectual vanquishing of their opponents ideas.

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