Gina Davidson: Monkeys have had their day

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THE day has arrived. The months of campaigning since the referendum draw to a close. And we, the people with the power to choose our political masters, will mark our ballot papers with a cross.

How will you vote today? If the opinion polls are correct then it would seem that you’ll likely mark your X against whomever is the SNP candidate. Never has a party so completely dominated the Scottish political scene – well not since Labour anyway.

Trying to recall Labour’s glory years is becoming a hazy, indistinct endeavour so complete has been the Nationalists’ campaign to displace the party in a country where it was once said a monkey wearing a red rosette could win a landslide. Like a cuckoo in a nest of robin redbreasts, the SNP has slowly but surely grown fatter and louder and now seems to be on the brink of a historic victory.

Labour, of course, would suggest that a more appropriate feathered simile for the SNP would be the lyrebird, as there is very little to choose between the parties’ manifesto pledges and yet it’s the Nationalists who are regarded by much of the ­public as far more left-wing than the party of socialism.

Yes, it’s hard to believe that back in 1997 it was Labour which swept nearly all before it, sending 56 MPs to Westminster, the SNP just six. Eighteen years on and fortunes have reversed. Indeed, some polls suggest that the SNP will win every single Scottish seat.

Imagine that. A one-party country in reality, and not just in the minds of Scottish Labour. Is it healthy for democracy? I would suggest not, but that is the potential outcome thanks to the current voting system we have in place. The Holyrood election results next year will probably prove more intricate and subtle.

It is of course Alex Salmond whom the SNP has to thank for getting the party to this stage. While Nicola Sturgeon has been named the star of this campaign – and rightly, as her friendly, unflappable, calm demeanour combined with an anti-austerity message has proved seductive to ­voters across the UK not just in Scotland – it was her predecessor who did the groundwork.

The SNP has proved it can work with other parties in its first Holyrood minority administration. It has proved it can run the government by itself in its second term. It has proved it can convince 45 per cent of the population that independence is Scotland’s future. The caveat being that all of this was achieved within the safety net of the UK, but it’s made the SNP feel like a much less risky vote.

What has Labour done? It has failed. Jim Murphy has admitted as much. It has taken Scottish voters for granted – perhaps putting too many monkeys into “safe” seats in the past. It has failed to appreciate the level of support for devolution.

Ironically, Labour has even failed to understand the dangerous attraction of the SNP’s messages which mix Keynesian economics with small “c” conservative measures (let’s end austerity; let’s cut corporation tax).

Labour also got bizarrely sidetracked on issues with little resonance for the general population, such as allowing football fans to drink alcohol at games.

So today you may well believe that only SNP MPs can put Scottish interests first at Westminster, though of course given the number of Scots who’ve been in positions of great influence over the decades that is sleight-of-hand rhetoric.

If a “No to independence” city like Edinburgh turns completely yellow, the rest of the country will do too. This after all used to be a Conservative city. It’s been Labour since the mid-80s. Now even solid, hard-working MPs like Labour’s Mark Lazarowicz and Ian Murray and Lib Dem Mike Crockart could go as the SNP marches on.

Jim Murphy will have his “it’s been a terrible night for us” soundbites at the ready. It has been impossible for him and Kezia Dugdale to stop the Nationalist tsunami, in much the same way as it was for the Conservatives to halt Blair.

Labour could be lucky and the result may not be as poor as polls predict. Tactical voting might work and the Lib Dems and Tories could return with one MP each. But without a doubt the SNP will, from today, be the party of Scotland as Labour used to be.

Tomorrow is going to be extremely interesting.