Labour’s railing against David Cameron for supposedly “playing to English nationalism” is rather silly. It highlights their complete failure to recognise the new political reality in the UK. After all, what else was Cameron to do? While he would surely deny it with all the contrived vehemence he might muster, Cameron was implicitly accepting the fact that the political cultures in Scotland and England have now diverged to the extent that it is all but impossible for a political party to meaningfully address the electorates in both with a consistent, coherent message. Cameron merely opted to tailor his message to the voters who would actually decide the election. I repeat, what else was he supposed to do?
British Labour in Scotland also recognised the need for a message tailored to Scotland’s distinctive culture. This was clear from Jim Murphy’s desperate and often comical efforts to portray himself as the real leader of a real party able to make real policy independent of the bosses in London. He convinced precisely nobody who wasn’t inclined by dumb tribalism to be persuaded.
While Cameron simply wrote Scotland off in order to deliver a consistent and coherent message to voters in England (or those parts of England which matter for electoral purposes), Murphy went a bit crazy. Then a bit crazier. His attempts to pretend that he was making policy while not straying too far from the British Labour Party line resulted in a message that was the very opposite of consistent and coherent. At times, it descended into gibberish. At other times he took the pretence of autonomy too far and was promptly slapped down by his bosses. And he made the whole thing worse by turning himself into a circus act performing his buffoonery for the inexplicably entranced media.
The essential point in all of this is the increasing distinctiveness of Scotland’s political culture. The “One Nation” factions in the British parties will still try to deny this even in the face of the decisive redrawing of the political geography of the UK in the recent election. But the direction of travel is entirely towards increasing divergence. And it is an accelerating process. Because England (if progressives there will forgive the generalisation) is moving in one direction at least as rapidly as Scotland is moving in the other. The sum of the speeds has reached escape velocity. The two political cultures have separated past the point of no return.
Everything that happens from here on simply adds momentum to a process which leads ultimately to a formal ending of the now defunct political union and the opening of an opportunity to forge a new relationship between Scotland and England. Cameron’s pursuit of English votes for English laws (EVEL); trade unions having different affiliations north and south of the border; increasingly different policy agendas being followed by the two governments; further constitutional tinkering creating more anomalies to irk Englanders while failing to satisfy Scotland’s aspirations; the demise of British Labour in Scotland in favour of a genuine Scottish Labour Party; all of these things and more will be seen by future historians as both cause and effect of Scotland moving towards independence.
The nature of the Tories’ election campaign was very largely dictated by this process of political divergence between Scotland and England. British Labour’s campaign in Scotland dealt rather more ineptly with the same irresistible historical forces. One suspects that at least a few of the more perspicacious minds in the unionist camp must have sensed which way the wind is blowing. Will they continue a Cnutian resistance? Or will they recognise the need to start managing the process of unravelling an archaic and dysfunctional political union?