Batten down the hatches, turn off the telly, and stay the fuck away from the Murdoch press. The triumphalism we are encountering – from the Tory papers and beyond – is likely to continue for some weeks and it will be as relentless as it is infuriating.
Last week’s result is particularly hard to swallow as we start to consider what a Tory majority will mean for our health service, our relationship with Europe, and even our basic human rights. Any hope for a change in course was dashed immediately after the polls closed – nothing like a grim exit poll to piss in your beer.
Yet we’re facing a situation that is familiar to many, particularly north of the border, in that we have long endured Tory governments that don’t reflect our choices at the ballot box. This was, of course, one of the driving factors behind ‘Yes’ support in last year’s referendum. The idea that Scotland is being swept by some kind of ugly, insular nationalism is simply not true, when you consider the primacy of the anti-austerity message for many.
Putting the spirit-crushing inevitability of an extended Tory reign of terror aside for a moment, what IS unfamiliar about this election is the wave of genuine excitement sweeping Scotland thanks to the success of the SNP. This surge in support has delivered the clearest message yet to a Scottish Labour Party long dissociated with those it was formed to represent.
Having voted for Nicola Sturgeon’s party for the first time, I fundily-mundily reject the assertion that I should in some way feel responsible for the declining fortunes of another party I have never voted for and do not support. Of course, despite the limited choice on offer from the traditional mainstream parties, Labour would have been preferred to the Conservatives to form a government – though sellotaping a gang of angry wasps to my scrotum would have been preferred to another five years of Cameron and co.
We learned very early on Thursday night that disillusionment with Labour doesn’t stop in Scotland and that they simply couldn’t muster enough support across the country to pose a significant challenge to the status quo – not that a commitment to continued austerity or the still corrosive legacy of the Blair years exactly offer a fresh alternative.
Regardless of whether there was a lack of numbers down south or not, I feel no shame in having snubbed a party which has taken Scotland’s vote for granted since long before I was born. Most importantly, for someone of my age, Labour more readily brings to mind the illegal invasion of Iraq (cheers, Tony) and deregulation of the financial industry (cheers, Gordon) than it does evoke the spirit which brought us the NHS. Yet, in the weeks leading up to the election, I was repeatedly made to feel like a vote against Labour would be some kind of betrayal and would usher in the Tories (fuck off, Jim.)
The philosopher Immanuel Kant offered an approach to ethics which pretty much sums up my thinking on the voting “dilemma” many of us allegedly faced last week. Kant argued that there was a “categorical imperative” which acts as the basis for making decisions; a supreme rule which governs all others. Following his approach, you should always act in accordance with what you think is right, as opposed to perhaps taking a more dubious course of action in the hope that this leads to favourable consequences in the end. I’m with Kant in that I believe the “right” is superior to the “good” and that the action you take in any given situation should equate with what you would have applied universally. We must strive, of course, for a situation in which everyone acts on what is right, but we cannot try to bring about a desirable outcome by abandoning our own idea of what’s moral or just etc in the process.
To use a famous hypothetical quandary as an example, if offered the option to travel back in time and murder Hitler at birth – a pillow to his evil infant face would probably be the most humane method – I would politely decline on the grounds that murder is always wrong and I am responsible for my own actions as others should be responsible for theirs. Of course, I have to admit to struggling with the absolutism of the categorical imperative in reality – I suspect I could commit the wrong of telling a lie if it prevented my family’s murder, for example – but, as a concept it gives some clarity to my approach to voting.
In the context of last week’s election, I could not tactically vote for a party which I believe to be bereft of ideas (at best) or simply bankrupt of any real values (more likely). A Consequentialist approach might have compelled me to vote for them anyway, in the hope that it had the ultimate good of keeping out a worse alternative (the Tories). As it happened, I’m glad many others in Scotland rejected this kind of negative reasoning – particularly as we now know a vote for Labour in Scotland would not have mattered anyway.
To clarify my position further, I should mention that I would actually have voted Green if I had the option on my ballot paper. I would have done so despite knowing that they would not defeat Labour or the SNP in my constituency. Tactical voting and a pragmatic approach to politics will always be favoured by some, but personally, I feel that it’s best to go back to basics. Choose the party which best reflects your views, try and convince others, and ignore the impulse to second guess your fellow voter and their motivations. Had half of the SNP voters bottled it and stuck with Labour, trying to avoid a Tory government through Consequentialist reasoning, Scotland’s political landscape would today be duller than having a conversation about cardboard with Alan Shearer. Fifty-six SNP members, elected on the strength of a genuinely positive and alternative message, are better placed to oppose the Tories than any alternative composition including jaded members of the Labour party.
Of course, the impact of those SNP members of parliament remains to be seen but, with the return of the Conservatives to power, it’s nice to have something genuinely hopeful to cling to. As was the case in the referendum last year, Friday’s result speaks volumes for the levels of political engagement in Scotland – our turnout being the highest in the UK. The fact that large numbers of people rejected the kind of approach which would have had us voting against our principles for a spent Labour party makes me one cautiously optimistic Kant.