This means that the Scottish National Party (SNP), which is set to win dozens of seats, mostly from Labour, is likely to play a key role. The SNP has said it would be ready to support a minority Labour government, while Labour has ruled out any formal coalition. The Conservatives and SNP reject any sort of mutual cooperation.
The SNP spearheaded the unsuccessful “Yes” campaign in last September’s Scottish independence referendum, but gained momentum that has made it the most popular party in Scotland. The party promises to use its anticipated strength in the House of Commons to advance Scotland’s interests.
“Destruction” of the UK
So now, Labour and the Conservatives are trying to scare the electorate that a vote for their main rival would only empower the SNP, whose ultimate goal is an independent Scotland.
This morning, senior Conservative and former UK foreign minister William Hague appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Today program from the Scottish capital, Edinburgh.
“We have to sound the warning, we have to point out the dangers … that unless there is a Conservative majority … the people who want to break up the United Kingdom will be running the United Kingdom,” Hague said.
In a high-profile speech today, former Conservative Prime Minister John Major has called the SNP a “real and present danger” to the UK.
Alistair Darling, a senior Labour politician who led the referendum “No” campaign, was even more strident.
“The idea that we would enter into any agreement with a nationalist party that has as its sole aim the destruction of the United Kingdom – they’ve no interest in supporting a stable British government – is for the birds,” he told Today. “It just won’t happen.”
Driving the point home, Darling concluded: “We cannot be held to ransom by a party whose sole aim is not just the destruction of our party, but actually, more seriously, the destruction of the United Kingdom.”
Darling’s repeated talk of political change as “destruction” is an eerie echo of a familiar Israeli theme.
It is often claimed that granting full rights to Palestinians and transforming the dispensation in historic Palestine from a Jewish colonial ethnocracy into an inclusive democracy amounts to the “destruction” of Israel.
In 2003, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said that the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees “is a recipe for the destruction of Israel.”
The Israeli rightwing academic Efraim Karsh has similarly alleged that “in their internal political discourse … Arabs have made no secret of their perception of the ‘right of return’ as a euphemism for the destruction of Israel through demographic subversion.”
I have personally been accused of such an agenda for supporting democratic transformation, decolonization and equal rights for everyone in historic Palestine. In a 2012 debate on Democracy Now, for instance, Commentary magazine’s Jonathan Tobin said that I was advancing “the Palestinian fantasy that some day Israel is going to be destroyed … they are talking about the destruction of Israel.”
And unfortunately, this language has been used to undermine the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement by longtime Israel critic Norman Finkelstein.
In an angry 2012 interview, Finkelstein claimed that the fulfillment of the demands in the BDS call – for an end to occupation, an end to discrimination against Palestinians in Israel and respect for the right of return – would “destroy” and “eliminate” Israel.
Protecting the status quo
The effect of such language, intentional or not, is to present the current state of affairs in which one group is advantaged as the natural order and any effort to change it, even by entirely political and democratic means, as nihilistic, illegitimate or even terroristic.
The word “destruction” conjures up not consensual democratic processes and orderly transitions but nightmare scenarios of burning cities and violent dislocation – indeed, precisely what Israel has been doing to Palestinians for decades.
This is precisely why, as I noted in my book The Battle for Justice in Palestine, white supporters of apartheid in South Africa frequently warned that transformation to a one person, one vote system would lead to the “destruction” of the country.
It is also why in 1990, James Molyneaux, leader of the then dominant Ulster Unionist Party, described the Republic of Ireland’s constitutional claim to the British-ruled north as “a demand for the destruction of Northern Ireland” that was “equivalent to Hitler’s claim over Czechoslovakia.”
The use of such language by politicians who oppose Scottish independence exposes their panicked professions of love for Scotland in the days before the September referendum as empty. And it shows that their praise for the spirited but orderly referendum debate was just as cynical.
Morover, by delegitimizing the right of the people of Scotland to determine their own future, Labour and the Conservatives will likely only harm the unity of the kingdom that they claim so desperately to want to preserve.
If they continue to borrow Israeli-style rhetoric, perhaps the next trick will be to demand that the people of Scotland recognize that the United Kingdom has a “right to exist.”