David Cameron visited Scotland only once during the battle for its parliament’s elections. Hadrian’s Wall is becoming a forbidding obstacle for the Conservatives: a boundary with an unfamiliar, inhospitable land redeemed only by opportunities for deer stalking and trout fishing. Ed Miliband ventured north a fortnight ago, in an attempt to save Labour’s Scottish campaign — but as The Spectator went to press it seemed that this, too, had proved fruitless. The Scottish Nationalist leader, Alex Salmond, has found to his delight that his opposition has crumbled.
It is understandable that Cameron and Miliband have little interest in what passes for politics in the Scottish Parliament. It is a tortuous topic for Scots. But devolution has created an atmosphere in which Scotland is spoken of as a foreign country — one that increasingly baffles Conservatives, who have not managed to win more than one seat there for 19 years. Failure in Scotland cost Cameron the right to govern alone: he won a clear majority in England. Even in 2005, Michael Howard won more English votes than Tony Blair.
But what is now clear is the extent to which Labour, too, is losing its grip of what was once its heartland. The party ought to have taken the Scottish Parliament by storm, having started the race with a clear lead in the opinion polls. But the more Labour campaigned, the more voters realised that the party now has nothing to say apart from ‘stop the cuts’. Salmond says this far better, with the added advantage of being able to string a sentence together. The leader of the Scottish Labour party is Ed Miliband — and he has failed in his first test. He seems to struggle with elections when unions cannot swing the vote for him.
Labour appears to have relied lazily on the old rule that a constituency which is poor or reliant on state spending will vote for Labour. In office, Brown took every opportunity to send money back home to Scotland. State spending there is now beyond even Scandinavian levels. But Salmond has mounted an effective left-wing challenge and in so doing, he has exposed a vulnerability in Labour that should fascinate Tories.
The north of England is today Labour’s heartland. The Brown strategy of cultivating a client state in electorally sensitive areas has deformed the economy of the north.According to the Centre for Economics and Business Research, state spending equates to a
The economic output of the average
Yorkshireman is now half that of the average Londoner staggering 57 per cent of economic output in the north-east, and 63 per cent in the north-west. These are Soviet levels of central spending. And as the Warsaw Pact countries discovered, that path does not lead to prosperity.
Gordon Brown’s model — milk the south, subsidise the north — has led to disastrous economic and social consequences. State spending at such levels inhibits economic growth.Young people are sucked into bureaucracies, instead of joining or starting enterprises. Welfare dependency stops communities from regenerating. Welfare ghettoes are scattered across Britain. The billions spent on benefits simply entrench the very poverty the money is supposed to eradicate. Many in the north, and in Scotland, are aghast to see their part of the country so disfigured and would be willing to vote for a party which promised another solution.
the spectator | 7 May 2011 | www.spectator.co.uk
Labour’s legacy has taken the northsouth divide to new extremes. The economic output of the average Yorkshireman is now half that of the average Londoner. West Wales is now poorer than the Tianjin province of China.The north-east has almost half as many people on benefits as the south-east. Scotland is now poorer than Slovenia. Yet London, if it were somehow made independent, would vie with Qatar as the richest city state in the world.
A picture is emerging of a three-layered Britain: Scottish nationalists at the top, Labour in the middle and the Tories in the south. Labour seems as lost in the prosperous south as the Conservatives are in Scotland. The former Labour minister James Purnell is pleading for his party not to give up attempts to lure the ‘aspirational’ classes, who (as Blair once put it) defect from Labour to Tory when they move up in the world. Yet he is ignored. The Labour party is returning to its comfort zone. Recently, Ed Miliband was pictured next to a young activist wearing a T-shirt which declared his intention to dance on Lady Thatcher’s grave. To imagine Blair in such a picture is to understand just how far Labour have regressed.
For two decades, Labour have thought of Scotland as their turf. The success of Salmond and the SNP has dashed that assumption. Yet the talk among Conservatives is of dissolving the Scottish Tories entirely. This would be to accept that Britain has become a disunited kingdom. This would be giving up: true leaders transform countries, and their constituent parts. Even Thatcher was capable of winning a third of the Scottish vote. If David Cameron is serious about winning a majority in the parliament of the United Kingdom, then Labour’s implosion in Scotland presents a great opportunity.