Could the Royal Wedding spoil the SNP’s coronation?

One of my fondest memories of active politics was being privileged enough to attend – and speak at – the rally held in the Old Royal High school to re-start the Yes, Yes campaign for devolution in August 1997.  It was a day to savour.

Jointly convened by Henry McLeish and Winnie Ewing, it marked the political debuts of David Hayman and Sean Connery.  Both made very personal, aspirational speeches.  Labour and SNP foes, sat cheek by jowl, having parked traditional enmities for the duration of the campaign.  The late, great Bill Spiers, then Secretary General of the STUC, sat laughing and joking with Roseanna Cunningham.  When Dougie MacLean sang Caledonia, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

The highlight was undoubtedly the arrival of Willie McIllvanney, Archie Fisher and other sundry members of their rackety, devolution charabanc that was setting off on a tour of the country to take the argument to the people with a mix of prose, craic, song and poetry.  Wonderful.

A trip down memory lane is all very well but why I am wittering on about something that happened nearly twelve years ago?

Because it marked the turning point in the campaign, coming after a forced hiatus in activity caused by the death and funeral of Princess Diana.  Everyone agreed (at least publicly) that it was inappropriate to continue electioneering in such circumstances;  heck, the Scotland team was forced to postpone an important match so that the country could be seen to pay its respects.  But the pause was a welcome one and it enabled the Yes, Yes team (officially called Scotland FORward) to gather its thoughts and re-enter the fray with renewed purpose.  The ground was hit running that Sunday and no one looked back.

What happened was a five day campaign:  everything that had gone before was irrelevant.  The halt to active campaigning effectively wiped the slate clean.  And recalling it all, while pleasant enough on its own, has got me wondering if the impending Royal nuptials might not result in a similar situation?

A recent survey (polls for elections; surveys for everything else) suggested that 80% of Scots couldn’t care less about “the wedding”.  What, I wonder, are the other 20% thinking of?  But to set it within the context of our (okay my) narrow view of all things Royal is to fall into a trap.  This is a global event that will be watched by 2 billion people.  It and its merchandise have flooded our airwaves and supermarket shelves, and while Scots will spend an average 50p each – someone, somewhere is welcome to mine – that still amounts to a quite staggering £2.5 million on tat and memorabilia.

Nothing is too tasteless it seems.  Mugs, teatowels, T-shirts, umbrellas, plates, coins, and underpants.  All of it wrapped in Unionjackery.  Whether we like it or not, our country is going to be wrapped in the Union flag this Friday.  We will be invited to rejoice in their and our union.  The Royal Family, we will be reminded, brings us altogether in our shared values and whatnots.  Just one big, happy island nation.  One big, happy family no less.  Better together, worse apart.

Only a major Royal event is capable of re-igniting long buried, ignored or barely conscious feelings of Britishness: this was something that exercised minds in 1997 as well.

The biggest threat to the SNP’s march to an historic second term was unlikely to involve a slip up from its campaign team.  Nor its activists running out of steam, nor even the erstwhile First Minister putting his foot in it with a throwaway remark – some lessons are learned the first time round.  The other parties have proven to be barely credible opponents in the battle for Holyrood, none of them capable of hiding their foibles and flaws under the bed, in the way that the SNP has skillfully done.

No, the real danger lies in events.  And Friday provides the biggest test of them all.  Given that we’ve all known about this one for months, and the media have helped to shift it to the top of the agenda in the last week or so, it will hardly have escaped the SNP leadership’s attention.  They are a canny lot and they will have to be, if they are to prevent the Wedding spoiling their own coronation appointment with the Scottish people on 5 May.

The last thing the SNP wants is to wake up on Saturday morning to discover the campaign restarts from a new and very different place, for there is a real risk that the Royal Wedding will serve to remind many who are about to dabble with an SNP vote for the first time what it is the party truly stands for.  If Labour had the sense and the balls, it would re-run the awful “divorce is an expensive business” billboards and adverts from 1999, from Saturday onwards.

The mistake the SNP must avoid is to dismiss the importance of the Wedding and indeed, its relevance to the campaign and to the mood of the nation.  It matters not a jot to me and my likes, but it, the dress and all the details are the focus of water cooler, schoolgate and pub conversations all over the country.  Funnily enough, there are millions of people in this country who do not live and breathe politics, but for whom the flotsam and jetsam of everyday life – its human interest – is far more important.  Worse, another four day weekend will ensure that the wedding hangover and coverage continues to crowd out the election right up to the final days of the campaign.

It could blot out all that has gone before.  It could raise notions of Britishness above those of Scottishness for the first time in a long time.  It could derail the SNP’s juggernaut.

Come Saturday, we could be about to see a sensational shift in voter mood and the most thrilling finale to an election campaign in recent years.  Since September 1997 in fact.


14 thoughts on “Could the Royal Wedding spoil the SNP’s coronation?

  1. Pingback: #sp11 – it’s going down to the wire « A Burdz Eye View

  2. Hi Burd,

    Don’t think it will make a jot of a difference. While canvassing this evening for the SNP I encountered a house covered in Union Jack bunting and the Union and Lion Rampant flags. Reminded the man that there had been two parliaments under the one united crown for over 100 years before the Treaty of Union and that that was what we wanted to return to. He was not convinced.

    Informed him that Alex would be an honoured guest at the wedding (got on terribly well with the Queen as they were both horsey fans) and pointed out that neither Gordon nor Tony were invited. Also, all the evidence is that the Royals are just desperate to remain the titular heads should Scotland become Independent.

    That shut him up.

    Don’t think I won a vote, but it gave him something to think about.


  3. That’s a really interesting point and one that I imagine the SNP have been chewing over for a while. Though it’s equally possible that it could have the opposite effect and actually encourage SNP votes. There have plenty of news stories about people in Scotland being far less enthused about the royal wedding than people in other parts of the UK. By the weekend, we’ll have had days of wall-to-wall Union flags, bunting, forelock-tugging and rah-rah-rah Britishness, which might just get sufficiently up the noses of those who aren’t usually SNP voters but aren’t wild about royalty to prompt an SNP vote. The challenge for the SNP is how to gently encourage that without seeming petty: an interesting tactical dilemma.

  4. Princess Anne – I could actually see her doing it as well.

  5. Al-Megrahi dies on the eve of the election in a NATO missile strike.

    On election day it is revealed that Prince Harry/William/Andrew/Edward/Charles* was flying the plane that did it.


    *delete according to comic/horror value.

  6. You know I was having similar thoughts the other day but in my case I was wondering how it would effect Labours relaunch, with the wedding happening 5 days later. I was concerned that they might be able to generate a dialogue which would get lost in the media hysteria around the wedding. Now I just think most people although indifferent to the wedding will be pleased to have a respite from this ever so long campaign. Sunday gives us a 5 day sprint to the finish.
    Will the wedding make any difference? no not a jot in my opinion.

  7. Interesting post and if memory serves I think the poster was thought up by (my) local MP Wee Doogie. Equally interesting is the news that there is going to be an Orange parade through Paisley on Friday. (Great ideas no# 57!). However I wonder what the percentage of people is that will have voted already by Friday.

    All of which makes the BBC leaders debate a vital one for Salmond & Co

    • It was wee Duggie and wee Wendy wot thought it up. Ach well flutes and drums in a Unionist tribute – kind of seems appropriate!

      And I agree about the next 2 leaders’ debates – vital!

  8. A very good point.

    This may dent the SNP momentum.

    I still think it will only dent it though as I don’t think this wedding will have as much impact as Di’s funeral or Charles and Di’s wedding.

    Still it will remind us about the union and the Independence issue.

    I expect Labour to try to be savage.

    A good point I heard was reminding us about Salmond’s favourite models for small northern European nations being Iceland and Ireland – effectively bankrupt, their governments impotent both.

    There is always Norway but we haven’t banked the oil in a dvelopment fund the way they have and they don’t have a financial sector like we have (and Ireland and Iceland).

    We have to remember what the SNP are for – otherwise they are just a centre left party like everyone else!!

    But they do have Alex! and Labour look so drab in comparison.

    But can’t help thinking it is important that the SNP don’t run away with it next week.

    BTW – as a LibDem voter I seem to remember Jim Wallace and one or two others were v high profile rubbing shoulders in 1997 and the SNP weren’t as high profile as now!

    It was Donald Dewer’s show – and all the people and poetry and song you remember.


  9. I’m sure that if the election result goes against them, there will be howls of protest from the cybernats about the Royal Wedding skewing things agin them.

    I dont think too many people are really that bothered, and its effect will be minimal, other than taking a day off the time the parties have to campaign, and at the moment that will affect Labour.

  10. The SNP are underplaying independence so well I think most voters have forgotten about it. People are comfortable voting for an SNP government and trusting that a referendum would say no. Labour’s recent attempt to scare folk with it seems to be going nowhere, and I think that’s a problem more of message than of messenger.

    I think there is a bit of a danger that it will put Cameron in morning dress on peoples telly, reinforcing some of the anti-Tory Labour narrative but again the SNP have been good at hiding their current Tory links and ruling out future ones – although I expect them to ditch that if it becomes necessary.

  11. Andrew, so do I but like you, it is a worry.

  12. Clutching at straws, but still drowning?

    I’m probably naive but I’ve never understood why Scottish Labour and the Scottish LibDems oppose independence. In my youth I always believed that an independent Scotland would be run by a Labour government, a particularly Scottish version now that it no longer looked to London for its policies. You know, real Labour. I’ve always voted SNP anticipating that when we declared an independent Scotland there would no longer be any need for them… that cut free from their Westminster bossmen the Scottish parties would be free to focus on Scotland, that even the Conservative & Unionist party would emerge with a shortened moniker to take its place to the right…. but I live in SNP/Tory farmland, I don’t personally know anyone who votes Labour for any other reason than their Dad would turn in his grave if they didn’t. Why don’t Scottish Labour support independence?

  13. This has been on my mind since the date of the wedding was announced. I would be surprised if the event doesn’t come up in the leaders debates, still to come, in an attempt to keep it in the mind of the electorate. The pessimist in me says it will have a significant effect on the result, however I cling to the hope that many people will be put off the whole thing by the overhype in the media and the extravagance of the whole occasion at a time when the rest of us are really feeling the pinch.

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