The loser now, will be later to win. (Photo: Getty)
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Why the SNP tide won't go out any time soon: love of nation is more important than numbers

A mere change at the top of the Scottish Labour party, or a fall in oil prices, won't change hearts or minds. 

The Scottish independence movement has, in recent weeks, suffered what many Unionists might have expected to be body blows. The latest revenue figures show that an independent Scotland would have a significantly larger deficit were it to leave the United Kingdom, while the fall in the price of oil has further weakened the country's finances. Iain Martin, editor of CapX, described the non-impact of the fall in oil prices as "incredible".

That description seemed so wrong to me. It is not incredible that people have not given up on the independence of their country due to the price change of a commodity, no matter how vitally important this commodity is to the economy of Scotland. Identity and patriotism were subdued as far as possible by the besuited politicos in Yes Scotland and the SNP during the referendum. However patriotism is the march music which quietly plays in the background of the independence movement. It is the foundation stone to which the various other aspects of the case are built around, whether the ‘Yes Left’ is comfortable with that or not.

To many down south, and in Scotland also, this disregard for economics is hard to comprehend. How can they simply shrug their shoulders when the oil price is mentioned?

To try and convey this I ask those with a British identity, be they Scottish or English, to ponder a situation in which the United Kingdom did not exist.

You feel British yet you did not have a state that truly represents that. When you someone says the word ‘parliament’ your first thought is Westminster yet this parliament is not the highest legislature in the land. You look at the Prime Minister of this hypothetical state and you do not see your sense of self reflected. If given the chance to create Britain, a new Jerusalem in this pleasant land, you would take it with both hands. For better or for worse you would choose a state you feel at home in. No one could blame you for that.

For pro-independence Scots to not abandon their cause due to the economics not being in their favour is not incredible, it is the norm of national movements. It is a tale retold in the distant past and in the living memory of the 1990s.

When men and women poured into Dublin’s General Post Office with rifles in hand on Easter Monday, 1916 they did not care if being cut from one of the  world’s largest economies and the changing from pounds to punts would diminish their bank balance. Nor so did it matter in the January of 1991 in Lithuania when ordinary men and women stared down Soviet paratroopers.

Scotland unlike these nations is not under colonial rule, Scotland is an equal member of the United Kingdom. Yet, that stirring, quiet march of patriotism is repeated in Scotland as it has been many times over around the world.

You may have little in common politically with the 1.6 million people who voted to end the United Kingdom last  September. In many ways however you share their patriotism, just to a different nation. When you find their musings incredible or incomprehensibly remember the words of the great British patriot Sir Cecil Spring Rice:

I vow to thee, my country,

all earthly things above,Entire and whole and perfect,

the service of my love;

The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test”

They simply vow to a country too, just not one with a Union Flag.

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Why the Liberal Democrats by-election surge is not all it seems

The Lib Dems chalked up impressive results in Stoke and Copeland. But just how much of a fight back is it?

By the now conventional post-Brexit logic, Stoke and Copeland ought to have been uniquely inhospitable for the Lib Dems. 

The party lost its deposit in both seats in 2015, and has no representation on either council. So too were the referendum odds stacked against it: in Stoke, the so-called Brexit capital of Britain, 70 per cent of voters backed Leave last June, as did 62 per cent in Copeland. And, as Stephen has written before, the Lib Dems’ mini-revival has so far been most pronounced in affluent, Conservative-leaning areas which swung for remain. 

So what explains the modest – but impressive – surges in their vote share in yesterday’s contests? In Stoke, where they finished fifth in 2015, the party won 9.8 per cent of the vote, up 5.7 percentage points. They also more than doubled their vote share in Copeland, where they beat Ukip for third with 7.3 per cent share of the vote.

The Brexit explanation is a tempting and not entirely invalid one. Each seat’s not insignificant pro-EU minority was more or less ignored by most of the national media, for whom the existence of remainers in what we’re now obliged to call “left-behind Britain” is often a nuance too far. With the Prime Minister Theresa May pushing for a hard Brexit and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn waving it through, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has made the pro-EU narrative his own. As was the case for Charles Kennedy in the Iraq War years, this confers upon the Lib Dems a status and platform they were denied as the junior partners in coalition. 

While their stance on Europe is slowly but surely helping the Lib Dems rebuild their pre-2015 demographic core - students, graduates and middle-class professionals employed in the public sector – last night’s results, particularly in Stoke, also give them reason for mild disappointment. 

In Stoke, campaign staffers privately predicted they might manage to beat Ukip for second or third place. The party ran a full campaign for the first time in several years, and canvassing returns suggested significant numbers of Labour voters, mainly public sector workers disenchanted with Corbyn’s stance on Europe, were set to vote Lib Dem. Nor were they intimidated by the Brexit factor: recent council by-elections in Sunderland and Rotheram, which both voted decisively to leave, saw the Lib Dems win seats for the first time on massive swings. 

So it could well be argued that their candidate, local cardiologist Zulfiqar Ali, ought to have done better. Staffordshire University’s campus, which Tim Farron visited as part of a voter registration drive, falls within the seat’s boundaries. Ali, unlike his Labour competitor Gareth Snell and Ukip leader Paul Nuttall, didn’t have his campaign derailed or disrupted by negative media attention. Unlike the Tory candidate Jack Brereton, he had the benefit of being older than 25. And, like 15 per cent of the electorate, he is of Kashmiri origin.  

In public and in private, Lib Dems say the fact that Stoke was a two-horse race between Labour and Ukip ultimately worked to their disadvantage. The prospect of Nuttall as their MP may well have been enough to convince a good number of the Labour waverers mentioned earlier to back Snell. 

With his party hovering at around 10 per cent in national polls, last night’s results give Farron cause for optimism – especially after their near-wipeout in 2015. But it’s easy to forget the bigger picture in all of this. The party have chalked up a string of impressive parliamentary by-election results – second in Witney, a spectacular win in Richmond Park, third in Sleaford and Copeland, and a strong fourth in Stoke. 

However, most of these results represent a reversion to, or indeed an underperformance compared to, the party’s pre-2015 norm. With the notable exception of Richmond’s Sarah Olney, who only joined the Lib Dems after the last general election, these candidates haven’t - or the Lib Dem vote - come from nowhere. Zulfiqar Ali previously sat on the council in Stoke and had fought the seat before, and Witney’s Liz Leffman and Sleaford’s Ross Pepper are both popular local councillors. And for all the excited commentary about Richmond, it was, of course, held by the Lib Dems for 13 years before Zac Goldsmith won it for the Tories in 2010. 

The EU referendum may have given the Lib Dems a new lease of life, but, as their #LibDemFightback trope suggests, they’re best understood as a revanchist, and not insurgent, force. Much has been said about Brexit realigning our politics, but, for now at least, the party’s new normal is looking quite a lot like the old one.