On Saturday, Ian Jack in the Guardian asked: “Why are today’s Scottish politicians more appealing than the English ones?” The question is not just about the current popularity of the SNP, but about other parties too – he mentions Conservative and Green, but he could also have mentioned others from Labour and Liberal Democrat. I think he’s right that they are, and I’d put it down to two contributory factors. One is the openness of successive Scottish governments, which have put a particular emphasis on consultation, dialogue and access. The voting system also means that politicans have to build coalitions of interest. It’s common to find politicians at external events, developing their understanding of social issues at the same time as they strengthen their networks. The other is the process of the Scottish Parliament itself, which does much more through committees, evidence and cooperative working than it does in the debating chamber or the press. I’ve seen individual politicians start out with the expected level of partisan bluster and hostility, but gradually learning to understand their opponents’ arguments, to consider and to negotiate. Most Scottish politicians I’ve met are ready to listen as well as to talk. That comes over much better in modern-day media, hustings and broadcast interviews than the American-style sales pitches favoured by contemporary advisers.
That may also help to explain the incomprehension that’s been provoked by Ed Miliband’s ringing declaration that after the election, he won’t talk to the SNP about anything. It’s hard to see how any minority government can work without sounding out the opposition – whatever their colour. That’s what happened when Scotland had a minority government; it’s how things are usually done in Washington. It doesn’t mean that a minority has to do what it’s told, but it seems bizarre to suggest that they can hope to sit in the driving seat without having a view of the road.