Post “yes”: a 2014-2018 hypothesis
In yesterday’s Guardian (16 April 2014: Scottish referendum: the UK is on shifting sands – we can’t assume survival) Martin Kettle argued that post a “yes” vote, there could be very difficult times for both Scotland and the rest of us with tough and divisive negotiations dragging on well beyond the Scots Nats’ planned “independence day”.
I could not agree more with this article:
(1) There is a genuine chance of a yes vote, made more likely with every mouthful of Tory propaganda.
Alex Salmond is fighting this campaign against Margaret Thatcher. When David Cameron says he loves Scotland or George Osborne warns about the currency, or Philip Hammond, just this week, says serious things about defence, the yes campaign’s response is to monster the Tory. The polls show the response works. The no campaign needs to balance worse-apart with a lot more better-together.
(2) Labour is frit of playing hard ball because they have a hope of a post “yes” legacy in Scotland
If a yes victory is declared, how will the British Labour party, meeting for its party conference on the following day in Manchester, react? By promptly agreeing to expedite Scotland’s departure? Dream on. …
Whether Salmond was negotiating with Cameron or Ed Miliband (and it is worth remembering that if Labour wins in the UK in 2015 and then wins in Scotland in 2016, Labour could in fact be negotiating with itself), the process would be likely to be prolonged.
(3) The 2015 (and last) UK general election could be very “interesting”
A yes vote would explode into the UK party conference season. All the main parties would be destabilised in major ways.
Salmond talks as though the negotiations following a yes vote would be straightforward, respectful and informed by mutual trust. Why should that be so? They would more likely be devious, antagonistic and riddled with mutual suspicion, as well as largely meaningless until after the 2015 general election. …
The UK government would have every possible incentive to drive a hard bargain with Scotland, as Hammond made clear in the defence context this week, and it would be backed by public opinion.
Meanwhile, what about the public mood? Views will not remain frozen unchangingly once the result is in. Nor will they inevitably remain benign and peaceful. Nationalist opinion could become more militant if the talks become bogged down. …
The psychological impact in England, Wales and Northern Ireland of Scotland’s rejection of the union, meanwhile, could be very unpredictable, and possibly nastily so.
An “interesting” general election because the campaign has to address how the new “UK” government will negotiate with “the rebellious Scots” – it may be a bigger issue than the economy or migration (how will we deal with “millions” of Scottish immigrants crossing a land border?) or Europe.
The Conservatives, pumped by UKIP, will be free for the first time to campaign (hard) as the worst of “English” (nothing to gain in Scotland, little to gain in Wales, not campaigning in NI). Xenophobic, insular, wounded, bated as the “Unionist” party that lost Scotland. Might they even have toppled Cameron before the election?
Labour will be scared of campaigning for a mandate to negotiate “hard” – because they want to gain seats in Scotland in order to gain a short-term majority in the Westminster Parliament. They also, as noted, don’t want to damage their chances of being part of Scotland’s first post-independence parliament.
Scottish Nationalists will have to campaign to negotiate to fully achieve everything in their white paper “Scotland’s Future” and will probably respond aggressively to the Conservative campaign.
Should the Scottish Nationalists (and other separatists) take part in the next UK General Election? What do they risk if they refuse to put up candidates for election to a “UK Parliament” – letting Labour in the back door? More likely that they will contest and then possibly refuse to take their seats (partly following SF’s logic). All English parties will be determined not to have to rely on Scottish Nationalist votes to form a Westminster majority – to take Scots Nats into the UK Government that is due to negotiate with a Scots Nats Government at Holyrood will be seen as a massive betrayal. Can Scots (of any party) about to be divorced from the UK even be part of the next UK Government? As citizens of the UK (even if only for the time being) the answer has to be yes – but there is a huge conflict of interest.
Plaid will campaign hard against the Conservatives anyway, but with the added ability to point towards the “opportunities” that the Scots have gained.
The Northern Ireland parties will be pumped up and fearful or delighted by the realisation that “the Union” is fragile and not forever.
(I don’t think UKIP will rename themselves EIP – they will like to preserve the concept of the British Union – if not the European Union. I do expect them however to demand a referendum on any currency union – whether with Europe or with an “independent” Scotland that wants to depend on “our currency”.)
A very interesting General Election ahead. But also bitter, bruising, bad-tempered and possibly corrupt (a lot is at stake). I don’t think such elections contribute to a healthy politics. Too much consensus and “me to, (I agree with Nick!)” politics is not necessarily good, but it should be possible to have a significant difference of opinion without being bad-tempered and abusive. (There is a problem arising from our voting and party systems – which squeeze out diversity of views and drive parties at election time into entrenched positions.)
The campaign, however, will probably convince even more Scots that they should be divorced from the rotten English political classes.