Gone Fishing

Glen Newey

I'm in Scotland for my daughter’s 18th birthday and to kill fish with my son. We bagged nine codling from a charter boat off the Northumbrian coast on Saturday before a thunderstorm ended our fun.

In Dundee, Fife and the Borders, the election campaign seems to be some way short of generating steam heat. A trawler berthed in Eyemouth harbour had a peeling yellow SNP poster stuck on one of the windows in the bridge. There are a few to be seen in Fife, parts of which are not merely post-industrial, but post-agricultural. After coming in from the downpour we took refuge in The Contented Sole. The pub was full of understandably pissed Celtic supporters, watching the English FA Cup final (the Bhoys had already won the Scottish one). These punters, if they vote at all, will probably vote SNP. Labour, which could claim a lien on their parents’ and grandparents’ vote, is nowhere. The spores of Labour’s Scottish disaster were sown long before Corbyn or Miliband, under Blair and Brown, when the party took Scotland for granted and let the SNP establish its cred at Holyrood.

Around Fife there are more Scottish Conservative and Unionist posters than I remember from when I lived here, in rebrand sky-blue to differentiate them from the royal blue of the saltire or the Sassenach Unionists. The Tories’ northern strategy seems to be to do whatever they can to disown their southern brethren, much as the Scottish editions of the Sun and Daily Mail sweat to distance themselves from their London-based namesakes. The Scots Cons are going with ‘No IndyRef 2’ as their campaign slugline. Appealing to voter fatigue seems like an odd electoral strategy, especially when the Tories got us into this. I saw a lone Lib Dem poster in Fife’s East Neuk, which in pre-coalition days was part of a solid Liberal seat.

My Airbnb, in posher-than-Dundee Broughty Ferry, was in a labyrinthine Legoland suburban estate. My host, Derek, was welcoming but seemed to regard me as the Maitre d’ at the Dorchester might view the arrival for dinner of a bonobo. My sea boots, caked with North Sea salt, were not comme il faut. In the morning there was a Scottish Mail on Sunday on the coffee table. Perhaps voting so as not to vote is a message that will gain traction here. At breakfast we got talking about the election. Derek’s suavity lapsed at the mention of the slew of recent and upcoming local, national, and European polls. I threw in the possibility of another independence referendum. ‘Shove it up your arse,’ he said. At the SNP’s manifesto launch yesterday, Nicola Sturgeon downplayed the urgency of another independence referendum by allowing that it might not be as soon as 2019.

Derek has a national debt counter app on his phone that updates itself in real time. He was less hostile than I expected to Corbyn, who has indeed performed very well in the campaign so far. He’s avoided missteps, though he was unable to give costings for Labour’s free childcare plans in a Woman’s Hour interview. And he's remained composed under fire from interviewers such as Andrew Neil and Jeremy Paxman, who’ve been reduced to dredging up ancient history about the IRA or the Falklands in an effort to embarrass him. Doubtless the character assassination from Central Office and their stool-pigeons in the press will be turned up further in the last phase of the campaign. Theresa May, stealing an old line of Nye Bevan’s, said that Corbyn would be going ‘naked’ into Brexit negotiations were he prime minister.

Corbyn stuck it to the SNP the other day in Glasgow. But the electoral demography tells against Labour, who in the old days could rely on a bloc of fifty or more Scottish MPs; that was cut to one in the last parliament. IndyRef2 or not, Scotland is going the way of Northern Ireland – nominally of the UK, but with a more or less self-contained party system.


  • 31 May 2017 at 10:50am
    Simon Wood says:
    Aren't you supposed to throw the codling back?

    I am reminded of the phrases "shooting fish in a barrel" and "killing rats". For instance, in post-Labour Scotland, looking for suspicion about politics south of the border must be as easy as "shooting fish in a barrel", whereas voting Labour must be as popular as "killing rats".

    As exam day approaches - tick one box only - it is refreshing to think of "throwing the fish back", not just politicians but voters, too, tae think agen, to try, try and try again.

  • 31 May 2017 at 3:19pm
    Stu Bry says:
    Genuine politics in Scotland are on hold until Indyref2. The vast majority of SNP voters in this election will be former voters who have given up on Westminster and the English electorate. There is massive sympathy for Corbyn here and the manifesto is popular.

    • 31 May 2017 at 3:34pm
      Stu Bry says: @ Stu Bry
      That should read former Labour voters.

  • 31 May 2017 at 3:48pm
    IPFreely says:
    Do I detect a note of despair? Or is it simply refined cynicism at work? Did you realise that even if every single reader of the LRB voted Labour it would n't make slightest difference to the result?

    • 31 May 2017 at 9:57pm
      streetsj says: @ IPFreely
      And I can assure you they won't.

  • 31 May 2017 at 4:46pm
    denismollison says:
    "by allowing that it might not be as soon as 2019."

    The papers have been reading a lot into theSNP's slightly changed wording on when they want IndyRef2. I don't see that's it really changed, the idea being to hold it after Brexit negotiations are complete but before the UK actually leaves. This is the obviously sensible timing given the justification given for holding it. I heard another reason recently for not waiting till later: there are apparently 160,000 EU citizens living in Scotland who would be able to vote in Indy Ref2 only if it's held while the UK is still an EU member.

  • 31 May 2017 at 6:06pm
    Claire Minton says:
    Glad to see that Northumbria has now been ceded back to Scotland.

  • 31 May 2017 at 8:50pm
    whisperit says:
    After that opening, I actually found it difficult to read the rest of the piece. I think I may have become a snowflake.

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