September 18th 2014 | Scotland

Hungry hungry hippos

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 5 September 2014
Hippos

Hippos, famously, kill more people every year in Africa than crocodiles do. Though that’s not as many people as people do.

A hippo can bite through a boat. They regularly kill crocodiles.

Hippos are not particularly social animals. In fact their fights are vicious, with many decorated by the scars from previous fall outs over territory.

In the past the Labour party took its territorial dominance in Scotland for granted. For much of its recent history many of its members were largely unscarred from political competition, unable to remember a time when the party did not have to scrap for votes.

But with the rise in support for the SNP things changed – though critics would argue it took too long for the party to react.

Now, like a couple of hippos, the two big beasts of Scottish politics have been at each other’s throats.

Labour has always been suspicious of the SNP’s move to the left. Relations then deteriorated further with the SNP deliberately targeting Labour voters as a key demographic in the referendum.

And, with Yes targeting Labour voters, Labour has now started publicising its attempts to win support from SNP voters.

A YouGov poll shows that 180,583 SNP voters (from 2011) plan to vote No, versus 176,529 Labour voters who will vote Yes.

In fact the independence campaign seems to have turned into the political equivalent of Hungry Hungry Hippos, with each side trying to frantically hoover up as many votes as possible while staring – eyes filled with a kind of frenetic panic – across the board as their competitors do the same.

Today Johann Lamont even trespassed into Nicola Sturgeon’s constituency to campaign.

She said: “We know that Alex Salmond’s win in 2011 was achieved despite their policy of independence and the voters who gave the SNP their support for the first time in that election are key to this referendum.”

 “In Nicola Sturgeon’s constituency in Glasgow Southside, we are speaking to Labour and SNP supporters and are finding two No voters for every Yes voter.”

With Yes targeting Labour voters and Better Together targeting the SNP’s, it would be easy to think politics had flipped.

Actually many of those ‘SNP voters’ from 2011 were previously staunch Labour. In reality both sides are targeting largely the same group of people.

Lamont’s quote reveals as much. In saying that the 2011 SNP majority came ‘despite their policy of independence’, Lamont concedes it came from something else.

Many would say it came because of confusion over what the Labour party stood for.

So the division between Labour and the SNP may not be the best way to understand the campaign.

In fact the difference between the two is at times hard to define. Many young Labour members will not have known the sort of fight for territory they have experienced over the last few years.

The mouth of a real hippopotamus is apparently so big you could fit both Ant and Dec inside – though this has sadly never been put into practice.

If Scotland votes for independence it will be interesting to see if there is space for both Labour and the SNP in Scottish politics.

The hope for Labour will be that whichever way the referendum result goes, the campaign will have brought the party’s fight back.

Liam Kirkaldy