If you read the SNP’s manifesto, don’t just conclude that it looks as dull as the rest: remember how quickly British politics got weird in the run up to its publication. Context is everything, and there are three pieces of remarkable context to consider.
First, it has been a long time since the SNP had to worry this much about a UK general election manifesto. In Scotland, Labour has dominated the number of seats for decades, and the last and only time that the SNP reached double figures was in October 1974. Even after the SNP became the biggest party in the Scottish Parliament in 2007, it secured only 6 (20%) MPs in 2010. Now, suddenly, we are expecting the SNP to follow up its landslide Scottish Parliament victory in 2011 with a large majority of Scottish seats in 2015 – and the leaders of the UK parties (not just their Scottish leaders) have to respond in a meaningful way.
Second, this will happen even though the SNP lost the referendum on Scottish independence and is not pushing for a second. For the casual observer, equating the SNP with little more than a single aim, it will be difficult to work out why the SNP’s membership surged after the referendum and why it has not reinforced the SNP’s determination to try again quickly.
Third, it is possible that the SNP will form some kind of non-trivial relationship with a UK Labour party of government. For observers of Scottish politics, this is almost like a Labour-Conservative agreement in the UK. Even though Scottish devolution in 1999 came with the promise of new, less partisan, politics, the SNP-Labour relationship has generally been adversarial.
One reason why this outcome doesn’t seem quite so weird is that the SNP has proved to be a professional party which has thought about its short term message and long term strategy. Its aim is independence in the long term, but it won’t push for a referendum unless it knows it can win. Nor will it push for further devolution at all costs. Rather, it is looking for way to balance its long term aims with a way to make its policies relevant to every possible election. In 2015, this means occupying ground to the left of UK Labour while doing what most parties have done in Scottish politics for decades: opposing ‘the Tories’.