You may have noticed that I have more or less stopped blogging.
Mainly that's because there isn't really very much for me to blog about. I blog about politics, mostly, and my kind of politics is now essentially irrelevant.
The only important Party now is the Tories. And I don't know much about the Tories. So there isn't very much for me to say.
One of the things that you learn eventually about democratic politics, anywhere in the world, is that the only thing that really matters is elections. In their immediate aftermath the losers inevitably talk of “holding to account” the victors. They also fall back occasionally on complaining about the “unfairness” or the “misguidedness” or even the “illegitimacy” of their defeat. But it never comes to anything in a mature democracy. After a few months it sinks in that the only way to get revenge is to win the next time. “They won, we lost, get over it”
That's what the Tories are really good at. Other than during a very brief period under IDS, throughout the whole of my lifetime they have either been in power or planning how to get back into power. And, given they have been (mainly) running the Country for the last two hundred and fifty years, they are even, if required, prepared to play the long game in that process. Thus, the achievements of the Attlee government were recognised as too popular to be reversed, so they were embraced. Thus Wilson's successful assault on Tory toffs was met with the initial counter of “Grocer” Heath (although he was never a Grocer) and then the (genuine) Grocer's daughter Thatcher. Thus Blair was endured and then found the sincerest form of flattery in his imitation from Witney.
And now Cameron has set the limit to his own mortality? The first question the Conservative Party will ask, from top to bottom, and before a nomination is made or a vote cast, will be “Can she or he win?” It would be inconceivable for even the most right-wing Tory to endorse a candidate thinking “Well, clearly he can't get elected, but he'll certainly stick it to these socialist chappies in the course of being defeated.”
And that, in a nutshell,is the first reason the only important Party is the Tory Party.
For Labour simply does not think the same. Or at least does not unanimously think the same. It's not just Jez, it's Kez as well. Kez stood for the Scottish Leadership on an open platform of not being the solution to Scottish Labour's problems and has since gone on prove it. She gives the impression of having no idea why she is there, other than to acquire a momentary, very minor, celebrity. Having embraced, in theory, the argument that no-one knows what we stand for, far from clarifying that, she has instead cast doubt on two of the few things about which it was thought we were reasonably clear: that Scotland should remain within the United Kingdom and that the United Kingdom should remain within the European Union. And that's before you even start on her bizarre attempt to save Michelle Thomson (a distraction, apparently); her failure to go after Phil Boswell (another distraction, apparently) or the general vacuousness of her every public statement. Strangely I even feel some sympathy for the “#SNPbad” school of criticism. I know what we are against but I have absolutely no idea what we are for. We are against the Council Tax freeze but will we lift it? No idea. We are opposed to the SNP failing to use the Calman powers but would we have used them? No idea. We believe Forth Bridge maintenance was underfunded but would we re-introduce tolls? No idea. We think the NHS needs more resources but do we support Prescription Charges? No idea. We oppose cutting college places and maintenance grants to fund free university education but would we introduce fees, or even bring back the Graduate Endowment? No idea.
And then finally we have the utter shambles of the list selection procedure where, to avoid offending anybody, everybody has been left to stand. I have a choice of twenty (twenty!) candidates for seven places, only five of whom have any conceivable chance of being elected. Making the process, in its execution, both ludicrously time consuming and, worse still, a huge distraction from trying to actually hold some Constituency seats.
Just about the only thing I have agreed with Kez about is in the interview she decided (why?!!!) to give to the Guardian in which she confessed her own doubts about whether she was up to the job of being a credible candidate for First Minister. Only, along with most of Scotland, “doubts” would not express my scepticism sufficiently strongly.
But we're stuck with her 'til May.
Which is the second reason that the Tories are the only important Party. For until Labour is once again credible in Scotland, with or without the Jez factor, there is no route back to power at Westminster. And while Kez is there.........
“But surely, when talking about important Parties, we at least have the SNP?” I hear you protest. “They run the Scottish Government! They've got almost all our MPs! They are massively ahead in the polls! They must be important!”
Except they are not, really.
One of the things that passed off without nearly as much comment as it ought to have attracted was Nicola telling the SNP October Conference that there would not be an unconditional commitment to a second referendum in this (I nearly wrote next!) year's Manifesto.
Why? She didn't really say. Except that we all knew it was because they would just lose (again). And that that loss (One might be unfortunate but two might look like carelessness) could prove to be as much of an electoral gamechanger in conventional politics as had proved September 2014. Only this time, for the SNP, not in a good way.
So the SNP is now, still, for Scottish Independence, only not yet. And, to be honest, you do wonder if it's slowly dawning on them, not ever. They successfully avoided the internal excoriation they received from Alex Bell by ignoring it. But out of sight is not out of mind. A re-run referendum based on a promise of an immediate cut in living standards and the prospect of then negotiating the world with a currency of indeterminate value is unlikely to persuade many of the 55. While you suspect much of the 45 would find themselves thinking “Haud oan a minute!” As the cleverer Nats know.
But in the meantime? Well we know the answer from Swinney's budget in October. Tax and spend in SNP Scotland will mirror tax and spend in Tory “England”. That's life. If you want an end to austerity, or even a particular aspect of austerity, you'd be better lobbying George than John. George might not listen but he is at least the organ grinder. And that is the third reason the Tories are now the only important Party.
But the final reason is more peculiarly domestic.
Aside from the SNP there is at least one other Party in Scotland who is not in complete disarray. Who does have a credible alternative candidate for First Minister, a candidate who does know what her Party stands for (chiefly because she has told them) and who does have a clear programme for Government. Who has had a grip on their candidate selection, who hasn't effectively written off the constituency contests, and who will be laser focused on winning as many seats as possible rather than on who gets to win these seats.
That Party won't win the election. But if the SNP are to be denied a second overall majority it is much more likely to be as a result of a recovery in their fortunes than as a result of any other scenario.
And if the SNP fail to win an overall majority? Well then, once again, in deciding what happens next, there will be only one important Party.
Happy New Year.