Rev. Stuart Campbell is a professional journalist and blogger who writes about politics and other trivial matters for culture journal Wings Over Sealand.

As a Scot who’s made their life in England for the last 20 years, and also as someone on the liberal half of the political spectrum with friends and acquaintances of a predominantly similar persuasion, there’s a sentence I hear more than any other with regard to politics: “I wish we could vote for the SNP too”.

But it’s not just the material things – the free tuition, the free prescriptions, the free care for the elderly (and the abundance of natural resources) – that my dear English chums envy.

Most of them DO envy those things, of course, not out of greed or a sense of entitlement but rather because they appreciate a government that prioritises the things its people want. Conduct a UK-wide survey asking voters whether, for example, they’d rather their taxes were spent on healthcare or on buying useless weapons of global destruction and sending our young men and women to get killed in their hundreds in foreign wars of dubious legality and purpose, and I suspect you’d get a pretty unequivocal answer. But incredibly, there is no electable party south of the border offering those values.

(The Liberal Democrats pretended to stand for some of them, but abandoned their principles with startling and dismaying speed at the first sign of a ministerial car. Not for nothing was the most-tweeted post-election political joke “Why did Nick Clegg cross the road? Because he said he wouldn’t.”)

There is also considerable – and entirely legitimate – anger about the West Lothian Question. Only this weekend I had to explain the WLQ to an English woman (not an avid follower of politics) who didn’t know that Scottish MPs were allowed to vote on UK Parliament matters solely concerning England and Wales, and who was quite justifiably outraged to discover that the tuition fees imposed on English students alone were only made possible by the votes of Scottish Labour MPs whose constituents were exempt.

This double democratic deficit has a simple solution, of course – the end of the Union. Scotland and England could dissolve their increasingly strained and unhappy marriage – in which the partners are held together more by force law than any common interests or goals – and either become fully separate or participants in a federal UK with largely token bonds of unity.


(In respect of the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland already has a very separate way of doing things, with its own distinct political parties and structures, and the Welsh can to all intents and purposes be considered a region of England, comprising mostly 80-minute/roadsign patriots with very little appetite for even fairly trivial levels of devolution when it comes to the crunch at the ballot box.)

The English would be freed of the (real) West Lothian injustice and their (perceived) subsidy of the ungrateful Scots – leaving them, they would believe, the extra billions to make their own universities and prescriptions free and so on – whereas the Scots could elect governments more suited to their different political and social culture without having their wishes invariably trampled by the numerically-superior south.

The problem is that there is no way for English voters to express support for these ideas. All three mainstream parties are fanatically pro-Union (though mostly, if pressed on the issue, for largely nebulous reasons), and the likes of the English Democrats are either nutter-fringe outfits, racists or both. Opinion polls consistently show that roughly as many (and sometimes more) English people support an end to the Union as Scots, yet there is nowhere they can put a cross in a box to say so. Which is why the SNP should put up candidates for English elections.

It’s perhaps important to note at this point that I’m serious. I genuinely believe it’s something the Nationalists should do, rather than an abstract debating point. But obviously there would have to be some qualifications. Firstly, the SNP clearly can’t afford to contest every English seat in a General Election, and nor would there be any point in them doing so. But running in a handful of carefully-chosen by-elections offers huge potential benefits, and not just for the party itself.

Picture the scenario. A formerly strong Liberal Democrat seat, somewhere in the south of England, with low support for Labour. A Lib Dem vote that is very likely hugely disaffected and angry, and looking for somewhere to go. The chances are that they voted Lib Dem in the first place to keep the Tories out (so they’re not likely to defect in that direction), and that they did so either because Labour had little to no chance of success, or because of an equal antipathy to them.

Straight away there’s plenty to play for, then. And while it might seem counter-intuitive for the SNP to stand in the south of England rather than the more left-wing north, that’s precisely why it would be a good idea. It took Scotland a generation to free itself of the reflexive instinct to turn Labour in times of austerity – even when Labour had abandoned most of the principles that bred that instinct – and northern England would be starting from cold.

According to Scottish Vote Compass, the policies of the 2010 Lib Dem manifesto are already far closer to the SNP’s than those of the Tories or Labour. The party is also already familiar and comfortable with the idea of a federal structure – that being the way in which the Liberal Democrat Party itself is organised in terms of the UK- so switching to the SNP would in many senses be the easiest ideological leap for former LD voters to make.

But the SNP would also have another, slightly less palatable, advantage in a by-election in the south. They might well also attract the votes of disgruntled Daily Mail and Express and Telegraph readers who since 2007 have been fed a constant diet of mendacious anti-Scottish propaganda. The messageboards of those publications overflow with angry readers bitterly bemoaning the “subsidy junkie” Scots and urging them to just get on with it and leave. Given the opportunity of a two-for-one protest against both the whingeing Jocks and the mainstream parties at a time when disillusionment with Westminster politics has never been higher, is it such a stretch to imagine them, too, lending the SNP their vote?

Disaffected Lib Dems allied awkwardly to the Little Englander brigade would be a formidable electoral presence. But even if we assume that actually winning the election would be a pipe-dream – and indeed even if the SNP candidate lost their deposit – the mere act of standing would bring the SNP media coverage that money couldn’t buy. The subject of the Unionwould be the hot topic of debate not merely in the wee provinces of the north, but across the national media.

It’s hard to imagine a political operator as savvy as Alex Salmond failing to grasp such a glorious opportunity, and his job would be made easier by the fact that the greater the scrutiny of the relationship between Scotland and England – whether political or economic – the better the outcome tends to be for the SNP. Scotland has the truth on its side when it comes to whether it pays its way in the UK or not, and the Nationalists also command the moral high ground when it comes to the West Lothian Question, with their MPs abstaining on England-only matters in the House Of Commons.

But it’s not only Scotland that would stand to benefit. Salmond’s much-acclaimed appearance on the BBC’s Question Time earlier this year showed that the SNP’s position on subjects like the NHS and PFI carries a lot of traction south of the border too. A more social-democratic agenda being raised and discussed at length could only be good news for those of us down here who currently have no voice in Westminster, if only to remind British people that such voices still exist and such principles are still viable. Systemically-unequal neoliberal free-market capitalism isn’t the only game in town (as nations like those ofScandinavia ably demonstrate).

English voters are currently starved of meaningful democratic choices, being plagued by three parties that are in most important and practical senses indistinguishable from each other. (All support nuclear weapons and power, all want to persecute welfare recipients, all voted for tuition fees, all are a threat to civil liberties, etc.) The SNP has plenty of cash in its war-chest to fight a by-election or two. It’s hard to see what either could have to lose.

Originally posted on Rev S Campbell’s own blog.

ADDENDUM – by Malc

Within this piece there was a reference to Wales as “to all intents and purposes a region of England” which led to a discussion about Welsh and Gaelic languages, which may have offended some readers.

My own clear view is that the suggestion that minority languages are not welcome in the UK is not just wrong, it is ignorant and has a basis in colonialist attitudes.

Better Nation was intended as a vehicle to discuss and debate views which would improve Scotland in the future. I deeply regret that we featured an author whose views are so at odds with the protection of historical and cultural values held by those who hold dear their own language.

Future guest posts will certainly get a closer examination before they go up.