Can Scottish MPs Make a Difference In Westminster?
No disrespect to the pollsters here but there are a number of factors which will alter this result dramatically.
One is that there is a tendency to treat the LibDems as a lost cause. This may be true but the LibDems have an enviable history of building up a strong constituency organisation in those constituencies they hold and they are very likely to be able to hold on to at least half of their present number of seats.
Another is the disruptive effect of the UKIP vote. We saw that recently when Labour came within a whisker of losing a seat in the last bye-election and this effect will be considerably greater in the general election. If UKIP pursue a policy of targeting all marginal seats as well as those they feel most confident of winning, then between forty and eighty seats could change hands between Labour and Conservative which adds to the uncertainty of the outcome.
Then there is the matter of what the Conservatives will do between now and May. After George Osborne’s apocryphal autumn statement, watch out for the budget. I expect something along the lines of: “Well, we told you things were going to be tough, but it seems that maybe, due to our masterful handling of the nation’s economy (no laughing here please – they actually believe this) things aren’t going to be quite so bad after all – here are some goodies.”
As for Labour, theirs is a soft vote. They bounced up by four points after the Autumn Statement and that can come down again just as quickly. The word from Central Office is that many senior figures in the Labour Party have begun to realise that Labour’s implosion in Scotland is in serious danger of being replicated in England and they have no answer to this. They are fighting with the Conservatives for the same ever-narrowing sector of the electorate and that is a battle they are always going to lose. Voters in England have taken notes here and there is growing distrust of Labour generally.
Political discourse in England has increased – not, perhaps, to the same extent as in Scotland but the referendum has had an effect across the whole of the UK. This may well be reflected in the turnout which could rise for the first time in many elections and who knows who these new voters may choose to vote for.
It’s early days yet and these figures will almost certainly change before May but the one thing that concerns me here is that, assuming the result is about as forecast here, why is it a good thing for the SNP to hold the balance of power? This is an incredibly dangerous position to be in. If the SNP prop up a minority Labour administration, the resentment in England would be colossal, both on the grounds that two-thirds of the electorate didn’t vote for them and – worst of all – that a party of Scottish MPs was holding Westminster to ransom. And things wouldn’t go too well for the SNP in Scotland either. To get anything near what the Scottish electorate would want to see – or regard as a success for the SNP – would involve rewriting the Labour manifesto. As a junior partner in a coalition, the SNP would take a battering, after all, the LibDems tried it and it didn’t work out so well for them.
The only path that the SNP could take is the most difficult of all. They could negotiate a withdrawal of Scottish MPs from Westminster. We could call it DevoMax to make everyone comfortable, but even if it comes out as complete independence, this is not so outlandish as it may first appear. The Conservatives, for one, would identify advantages in that they would probably be able to continue their coalition in a reduced parliament while being free of the stigma of being the party which oversaw the break-up of the UK. Labour, after their meltdown in Scotland, would be desperate to avoid a repeat in England and the English electorate would at last feel that they had a legislature that was for them and not influenced by others.
The problem is selling it to Scotland. This may sound silly given that there is already a bedrock support for independence and the opposition is – or certainly appears to be – soft but there is still considerable concern about the UK fiscal position. John Warren’s excellent piece lifts the lid a little on the practical problems which both the main Westminster parties have tied themselves into – with no plan B by the way – but his subject analysis does not address the issue of how the UK presently props up the balance of payments deficit. This is done by converting wealth into assets – overwhelmingly property. These assets produce virtually no new wealth, serving merely to protect wealth already in existence and serving as an attractor for wealth from abroad. Scotland has the advantage of a balance of payments surplus (not including oil) and, as Jim Sillars pointed out in the referendum debates, this in itself attracts an inward flow of foreign funds. Indeed, no less a body than the IMF predicted that an independent Scottish currency would be more likely to face problems of over valuation rather than a fall in value.
The problem is in selling the idea that we do not have to order our fiscal affairs as a mirror image of Westminster and in the referendum debate the Yes camp manifestly failed to do this, partly because so much attention was fixed on the SNPs plans for an independent Scotland which were picked at by the opposition in purely Westminster terms. The SNP have an Achilles heel in that, as they stand at present, they are both a functioning political party and an independence movement. Sometimes you can’t be both. Part of the success of the Better Together campaign was founded on their successfully treating the Referendum like a general election with emphasis on party politics. Weaknesses in the SNP manifesto were seized upon and no reference was ever made to the fact that, in an independent Scotland, the SNP would be just one party – indeed they might even split to form more than one party. Instead, the emphasis was on what an independent Scotland would be like as a de facto one party state.
The SNP, as power brokers in Westminster, would fail miserably in the face of the opposition which would come from all sides and they would achieve little for the people of Scotland. They would have no friends in parliament apart from a handful of MPs and their party political ambitions would be torn apart. Better they stick to independence and leave the other MPs to fight their own battles.