The Corner

The SNP’s Mulligan?

Britain votes on May 7. The position continues to look very bleak for David Cameron. The best he can hope for  (and it’s by no means impossible) is that the Tories win more seats than Labour. That might give him something to play with, although I still don’t see how he can cobble together a parliamentary majority.

The good news is that, if this new poll is anything to go by, the chances of a Conservative plurality have increased:

Sky:

The SNP [Scottish National Party] could win all 59 Scottish seats in an election landslide next week, a new poll has suggested. According to the final Ipsos MORI poll ahead of the election for STV News, support for Nicola Sturgeon’s party stands at 54%, which could mean it would clean up in Scotland.

The bad news is that the SNP are still likely to end up as king-makers, giving the formal or informal support that a Labour government will need and pushing it even further to the left.

And the worse news is that a mandate on this scale will probably act as a springboard for the SNP to go into the next Scottish election (2016) with a promise of a fresh referendum if they win. And they are likely to win both, particularly if the English start pushing back.

In a characteristically sharp piece for The Guardian, Geoffrey Wheatcroft worries that the election is turning him into an English nationalist:

…Writing from her native Isle of Wight, Polly Toynbee mentions that it now has the largest electorate of any constituency in the country. She might have added that these 110,000 voters are more than the combined electorates of three separate Scottish constituencies, Caithness, Sutherland and Ross; Orkney and Shetland; and Na h-Eileanan an Iar (that’s the Western Isles for the majority of English – and Scots – who don’t speak Gaelic). Such disproportion is a grotesque affront to one of the great radical demands in the age of parliamentary reform, “one vote one value”.

Not everybody noticed that at the last election the Tories won a parliamentary majority – in England – and they may do so again. But [SNP leader Nicola] Sturgeon says she will lock them out of office. In the 1980s it was claimed with some plausibility that it was unjust for Scotland to be ruled by a government for which most of its people hadn’t voted. How much worse will it be if that happens to England?

Here in the west of England, and despite what some have said, there has been very little Jock-bashing, certainly nothing to compare with the vicious Anglophobia that distresses some Scots in their own country. Instead there’s a mood not so much of resentment as of frustration. As long as the English taxpayer heavily subsidies Scotland, where the money is spent in a way over which Westminster has no control, while too-numerous Scottish MPs continue to legislate for England, it will be a matter not of national sentiment, but simply of representative government, and the fundamental democratic principle of the greatest good of the greatest number.

Perhaps I could put it personally. From when devolution first appeared as a serious prospect I was instinctively opposed to it, and couldn’t quite understand why. Gradually I realised the answer: I am not an English nationalist and don’t want to become one, but faced with injustice on this scale I have had little choice. After the election, I may have none at all.

Assuming that the election goes the way that I think it will, the UK has two real choices.

The first is to move to a fully federal system with each of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland having ‘home rule’, leaving (in essence) only foreign policy and defense to Westminster. Such a system should also have an explicit exit mechanism. Giving everyone a key to the door is probably the best chance that it won’t be used.

Sadly, I suspect that England’s politicians lack the imagination or the guts to go down this route (the SNP, scenting full independence, won’t be keen, but might not find the support to stop it). If that’s the case, the second option: doing nothing, or something close to nothing, will prevail. On the basis of current polling that could make 2016 look very ugly indeed.

Finis Britanniae

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