If anything, quite the reverse. Photo:Getty
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SNP manifesto 2015: A document drafted in weakness

The SNP combine electoral hegemony with political weakness, and their manifesto reflects that.

Can you win a landslide, and still be powerless? The SNP might be about to find out. It now looks as if the party is nailed on to win at least 50 seats in Scotland and  it’s not unreasonable to suppose that they might win every seat on the Scottish mainland.

But what can they negotiate with, exactly? They’ve said before, and reiterated in their manifesto that they will not work with the Conservatives in any circumstances. Their leverage over Ed Miliband, my colleague George has blogged before, is vanishingly small. Stewart Hosie, the deputy leader, gave the Conservatives some good headlines with his threat to defund Trident through the budget or shutdown the British government thereafter, but neither weapon looks particularly sharp to me. Whatever the outcome of the next election there will be a large pro-Trident majority whatever the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Greens or the left flank of the parliamentary Labour party do. It is possible that the SNP could vote down Labour budgets thereafter – the Fixed Term Parliaments Act means this wouldn’t necessarily result in an election – but will the Nationalists really inflict a shutdown of government services on their own voters? It doesn’t seem likely and would be electorally lethal.

So the end result is a position of electoral strength and political weakness at Westminister, and as a result the SNP’s manifesto will leave the reader with a sense of déjà vu. A commitment to restore the 50p rate of income tax, a raid on bankers’ bonuses, the end to the married couples’ tax allowance, the abolition of non-dom status and further taxes on expensive homes: these are all Labour policies.

Far from offering a radical left alternative, it feels as if it is the SNP being pulled leftward by Ed Miliband. These are, for the most part, policies that have long been championed by the Labour leader but opposed by the Nationalists.  There are areas where the Labour leader has been outbid; a minimum wage of £8.70 an hour as opposed to £8. But on housing, the SNP fall badly short, promising half (100,000 a year) the new homes that Labour offer (200,000 a year). Tax breaks for businesses paying living wage has been Labour policy for several years now, and is in fact already being implemented by Labour-controlled local authorities in England.  

The trouble for the SNP, is, having ruled out any alliance with one party, they will have a hellish time getting concessions out of the other, particularly as Ed Miliband will be loath to be seen to concede anything to the Nationalists. (And the more seats Labour lose in Scotland this time around, the less they will have to protect over the next five years.) It may be that, far from providing a stronger voice for Scotland at Westminster , the SNP find themselves largely ineffective in the Commons.

Although that, of course, isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world as far as their big argument is concerned.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics. 

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France is changing: an army stalks the streets and Boris Johnson wanders the Tuileries

Will Self on the militarisation of France, and Boris Johnson at the Foreign Office.

At the corner of the rue D’Hauteville and the rue de Paradis in the tenth arrondissement of Paris is a retro-video-games-themed bar, Le Fantôme, which is frequented by some not-so-jeunes gens – the kind of thirtysomethings nostalgic for an era when you had to go to an actual place if you wanted to enter virtual space. They sit placidly behind the plate-glass windows zapping Pac-Men and Space Invaders, while outside another – and rather more lethal – sort of phantom stalks the sunlit streets.

I often go to Paris for work, and so have been able to register the incremental militarisation of its streets since President Hollande first declared a state of emergency after last November’s terrorist attacks. In general the French seem more comfortable about this prêt-à-porter khaki than we’d probably be; the army-nation concept is, after all, encrypted deep in their collective psyche. The army was constituted as a revolutionary instrument. France was the first modern nation to introduce universal male conscription – and it continued in one form or another right up until the mid-1990s.

Even so, it was surprising to witness the sang-froid with which Parisians regarded the camouflaged phantoms wandering among them: a patrol numbering eight ­infantrymen and women moved up the roadway, scoping out doorways, nosing into passages – but when one peered into Le Fantôme, his assault rifle levelled, none of the boozing gamers paid the least attention. I witnessed this scene the Saturday after Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel ran amok on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice – it was a little preview of the new state of emergency.

On Monday 18 July the French premier, Manuel Valls, was booed at a memorial service for the victims of the Nice attacks – while Marine Le Pen has been making all the populist running, whipping up anxieties about the enemy within. For many French, the events of the past week – including the failed Turkish coup – are steps along the way limned by Michel Houellebecq in his bestselling novel Submission; a via dolorosa that ends with La Marianne wearing the hijab and France itself annexed by a new caliphate.

Into this febrile drama comes a new player: Boris Johnson, the British Foreign Secretary. What can we expect from this freshly minted statesman when it comes to our relations with our closest neighbour? There is no doubt that Johnson is a Francophile – I’ve run into him and his family at the Tuileries, and he made much of his own francophone status during the referendum campaign. In Paris last winter to launch the French edition of his Churchill biography, Johnson wowed a publication dinner by speaking French for the entire evening. He was sufficiently fluent to bumble, waffle and generally avoid saying anything serious at all.

Last Sunday I attended the Lambeth Country Show, an oxymoronic event for which the diverse inhabitants of my home borough gather in Brockwell Park, south London, for jerked and halal chicken, funfair rides, Quidditch-watching, and “country-style” activities, such as looking at farm animals and buying their products. Wandering among ancient Rastafarians with huge shocks of dreadlocks, British Muslims wearing immaculate white kurtas blazoned with “ASK ME ABOUT ISLAM” and crusty old Brixton punks, I found it quite impossible to rid my mind of the Nice carnage – or stop wondering how they would react if armed soldiers were patrolling, instead of tit-helmeted, emphatically unarmed police.

I stepped into the Royal Horticultural Society marquee, and there they were: the entire cast of our end-of-the-pier-show politics, in vegetable-sculpture form and arrayed for judging. There was Jeremy Corbyn (or “Cornbin”) made out of corncobs – and Boris Johnson in the form of a beetroot, being stabbed in the back by a beetroot Michael Gove. And over there was Johnson again, this time rendered in cabbage. The veggie politicians were the big draw, Brixtonians standing six-deep around them, iPhones aloft.

The animal (as opposed to the vegetable) Johnson has begun his diplomatic rounds this week, his first démarches as tasteless and anodyne as cucumber. No British abandonment of friends after Brexit . . . Coordinated response to terror threat . . . Call for Erdogan to be restrained in response to failed coup . . . Blah-blah, whiff-whaff-waffle . . . Even someone as gaffe-prone as he can manage these simple lines, but I very much doubt he will be able to produce rhetorical flourishes as powerful as his hero’s. In The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History, Johnson writes of Winnie overcoming “his stammer and his depression and his ­appalling father to become the greatest living Englishman”. Well, I’ve no idea if Bojo suffers from depression now but he soon will if he cleaves to this role model. His Churchill-worship (like so many others’) hinges on his belief that, without Churchill as war leader, Britain would have been ground beneath the Nazi jackboot. It may well be that, with his contribution to the Brexit campaign, Johnson now feels he, too, has wrested our national destiny from the slavering jaws of contingency.

Of course the differences between the two politicians are far more significant: Johnson’s genius – such as it is – lies in his intuitive understanding that politics, in our intensely mediatised and entirely commoditised era, is best conceived of as a series of spectacles or stunts: nowadays you can fool most of the people, most of the time. This is not a view you can imagine associating with Churchill, who, when his Gallipoli stratagem went disastrously wrong, exiled himself, rifle in hand, to the trenches. No, the French people Johnson both resembles and has an affinity for are the ones caught up in the virtual reality of Le Fantôme – rather than those patrolling the real and increasingly mean streets without. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt