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Tuesday, April 21, 2015 

Politics fails psychology 101.

Without wanting to come over all who are the Beatles, I hadn't until a couple of weeks ago heard of the band All Time Low.  Giving your band such a name does rather seem to be asking for it, just as the groups Fuck Buttons, Holy Fuck and Fucked Up don't really expect to get much in the way of radio play.

Then again, the basics of psychology seem to allude many.  For instance, you might have thought people would have realised by now that the one thing obviously self-hating, self-publicising individuals feed off is attention.  When you've been on one reality television show after another, it's not that great a leap to deciding what the world really needs is semi-outrageous political commentary.  To such shit-stirrers any publicity is good publicity; to get Grauniad columnists comparing your output to that of the hate transmitted by Rwandan radio prior to the genocide is to have won big.  To have over 250,000 people sign a petition demanding your sacking is to have gone above and beyond what the Sun could have imagined when it signed you up.  That the former petition will almost certainly end up with more signatures than the one demanding something be done about the situation written about speaks volumes of the way things work now.

The same could be said of the Conservatives ramping up even further their Nicola Sturgeon is the devil made flesh rhetoric.  The thinking behind it seems two-fold: first, that it will encourage more people in Scotland to vote SNP because so many north of the border react in a Pavlovian manner to Tories saying no you can't; and second, that English voters will be terrified at how a Labour minority government will be pushed even further to the left as a result of the Tartan loons holding Red Ed to ransom.  Wheeling out John Major to make this exact argument is a classic old campaign trope: an ex-PM couldn't possibly be as partisan or stupid as the current leaders of the party, therefore he should be listened to.  Labour already tried this tactic with Tony Blair, to indifferent if not negative results.

It nevertheless remains striking just how much nonsense journalists will regurgitate when ordered to by their bosses.  Older readers might recall the Sun's attitude to John Major after Black Wednesday, with Kelvin MacKenzie informing the PM he had a "bucket of shit" he intended to pour over his head and into the newspaper.  Now, according to the Sun's current political editor Tom Newton Dunn, Major is a "party legend, a successful former Prime Minister and a modern day political saint".  Such hyperbole is the order of the day on SunNation, the paper's deliberately and hysterically biased free site designed to help, or more likely hinder the Tories' return to power.

Whether this is the second dead cat on the table of the campaign or not, designed as much to distract from Labour trying to make this week about the NHS as it is to be taken at face value, it again seems based on extremely dubious reasoning.  Banging on and on about the SNP being in a position to prop up Labour is almost certain to lead people to look and see firstly whether they can, and second if it really would mean the immediate end to Britain as we know it.

After all, the SNP surge has almost nothing whatsoever to do with policy.  It's a combination of the zoomers carrying on zooming from the independence campaign, the switch from a Salmond personality cult to a Sturgeon personality cult and the apparent winning over of many people to the SNP faith, where facts come second to sheer belief.  On the BBC News last night Robert Peston pointed out that while spending on health and education had risen under the wicked Tories in England, in Scotland under the SNP (who are in power at Holyrood, though you'd never realise it) spending on the NHS hadn't kept the same pace while on education it had actually fallen.  And yet the leader of SNP is the one demanding an immediate end to austerity and promising to pull Labour to the left.

Indeed, as the Graun points out in its analysis of the SNP manifesto, the party's apparent determination to hug Labour close has in fact seen this great progressive force be pulled leftwards itself.  Gone are the former promises to cut corporation tax and not reinstate the 50p top rate of tax, both overturned at the recent SNP conference, both of which just so happen to have long been Labour policies.  Subtly altered too is the party's attitude to "full fiscal autonomy", which rather than being a key demand is now merely an aspiration.  This is despite Nicola Sturgeon condemning as smears Labour pointing out the Institute for Fiscal Studies had calculated this would lead to a near £8bn hole in the Scottish finances.

Such things matters little when the SNP has so successfully managed to conflate itself with Scotland as a whole.  During the independence campaign Alex Salmond characterised Yes as "Team Scotland" while Better Together were "Team Westminster"; now Nicola Sturgeon doesn't so much as mention the SNP as she does Scotland when apparently the two are one and the same thing.  It's no surprise then when a poll finds 51% would take criticism of the SNP as criticism of them personally, a percentage far beyond even that of the 35 and 36% of UKIP and Greens who said the same thing.

As argued before, what this adds up to is the SNP not having much in the way of bargaining power come May the 8th.  A coalition is both not on offer and not wanted, and as Sturgeon has made so much of keeping the Tories out come what may she can hardly renege on supporting Labour, even if on a vote-by-vote basis rather than confidence and supply.  Ed Miliband could offer the SNP nothing and still come out as prime minister.  As it is, the pledge of a slightly higher minimum wage in the SNP manifesto seems calculated to be that one policy the party could point towards as pulling Labour leftwards.  The SNP would obviously prefer the Tories to win for their own purposes, to claim once again the wishes of Scotland have been thwarted, but a minority Labour government wouldn't be the worst of all worlds.

The Tory and media fearmongering relies on the assumption that as May the 7th edges nearer minds will be concentrated and the lack of trust in Labour on the economy will become crucial.  The SNP factor is meant to intensify the effect.  The problem for them is the polls seem deadlocked.  They could of course be wrong; there could, of course, be that last minute switch of undecided voters to the Tories, or a large scale return of those lost to UKIP; David Cameron could, of course, finally decide he wants to win a second term rather than coast to defeat.  Time, however, is surely running out.

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