Battle of Britain–For the Scottish Left

Since we began the day with “The Red Flag,” it’s as good a time as any to take another look at the British general election, which will conclude next Thursday. At a time when a lot of American political analysis is about the struggles of the Democratic Party to maintain its winning presidential coalition amid significant pressures to “turn left,” without sacrificing too many votes in “the center,” the UK Labour Party is struggling to survive a Scottish National Party (SNP) challenge that has turned bluntly ideological. Here’s how the Guardian’s Severin Carrell and Rowena Mason explain it:

Ed Miliband is to call on Scottish voters to remember the titans of the Labour movement, from Gordon Brown to Keir Hardie, after firmly ruling out any deal with the Scottish National party in the last of the TV election events before polling day.

In a final effort to prevent a Scottish National party landslide, the Labour leader will urge the party’s traditional voters to remember their heritage and family loyalty….

In effect challenging Scottish voters to risk another Tory government, Miliband said: “I just want to repeat this point to you: I am not going to have a Labour government if it means deals or coalitions with the SNP. I want to say this to voters in Scotland.”

Miliband will be hoping that his bold pitch for a Labour-only government will bring some Scottish voters back to the fold out of fear for another Conservative government.

However, his outright refusal to work with the SNP could risk alienating others in his base who are attracted by [SNP Leader] Nicola Sturgeon’s claim to be more leftwing than Labour.

Polls are now showing Labour running behind the Tories in the popular vote in no small part because the SNP is trouncing Labour in Scotland, where many people seem to believe a vote for SNP is really a vote for a Labour/SNP coalition government with Sturgeon forcing Miliband to eschew the mushy moderation he’s suspected of given his long association with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. But now you have Miliband and Sturgeon each accusing the other of risking a renewal of the Tory/LibDem government and the austerity policies both say they oppose. A complicating factor, of course, is the independence aspirations of SNP, though Sturgeon vows last year’s referendum (which rejected independence) was the last word on that subject for the time being.

This intra-left saga should be interesting to American progressives who see Hillary Clinton much as self-conscious British socialists see Miliband. The option of coalition governments in Britain, of course, along with the existence of viable “other” parties with a regional base, create a very different dynamic. In effect, Miliband is having to use both leverage and rhetoric to try to produce the return-to-the-two-major-parties pressure that tends to happen naturally in the U.S. as elections approach, particularly on the left where memories of 2000 remain fresh and raw.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.