The End of Britain? Probably Not


Scotland and Wales go to the polls today to elect their parliaments.

Each nation remains a member of the United Kingdom but has their own devolved assembly that presides over a range of matters including justice, health, transport and education.

In Scotland, the leaders in the recent opinion polls have been the Scottish National Party (SNP) whose flagship policy is Scottish independence, that is to create an independent Scotland away from the UK or Britain as it is colloquially known.

The SNP have been in a minority government for the last four years with 47 Members (MSPs) out of 129. With most of the other 82 solidly in the Unionist camp, that is wanting to keep Scotland in the UK, they had no way of achieving a majority for a referendum on independence.

This time, the polls indicate that they may get closer. None of those polls have them reaching 65 votes, a clear majority. However, a couple of polls have indicated that the SNP, and the Scottish Green Party, between them may get close to 65. The Greens favour independence too.

You may be wondering already why the anti-independence parties would block a referendum where the people would be able to choose. This is especially true of the Liberal Democrat party, a group known for their enthusiasm for referendums of all sorts of questions.

To emphasise that point, the whole UK will vote today on a change to the Westminster voting system, a referendum the Liberals insisted on as the price of their coalition with the Conservative Party at Westminster.

That coalition has harmed the Liberals in Scotland where the Conservative Party is viscerally unpopular due to memories of Margaret Thatcher’s perceived contempt for the place and a general left-leaning consensus in Scotland.

The Conservatives should hold their roughly 12% of the vote but the Liberal vote is set to collapse and is up for grabs.

They are a left of centre Unionist (pro British) party, as are Labour and you would expect that vote to head to Labour. But so appalling has the Labour Party campaign been that nothing is certain.

At first, their concept was that Scotland should elect Labour as a springboard to Labour’s comeback at a UK level. That was a disaster as voters reminded them that they were electing a government to run Scotland not merely to assist the Labour Party’s aspirations in London.

They switched to a slogan of “Now that the Tories are back in power, you need us to protect you“. It appeared on their literature and began many speeches.

That too played into the Nationalists’ hands as they pointed out that if Scotland needs a parliament to ‘protect’ it from London, why not just leave the UK so they can’t harm it anymore? It also fed into the narrative that Labour was all about negativity and preventing anyone else from doing anything, rather than a party of vision.

With the opinion polls heading away from them, Labour had another relaunch which consisted of an attack on the SNP flagship policy on independence. A better idea, except they botched it.

While claiming in some speeches that the SNP were quietly trying to play down their policy of independence, they also simultaneously claimed the SNP were obsessed with it.

It smacked of desperation and had an appalling lack of clarity. You can campaign on more than one message but care should be taken that they aren’t the diametric opposite of each other.

The SNP countered easily with the notion that any arguments about independence could be saved for a referendum, not this election. Then they continued to talk about health, education, energy and policing.

SNP Leader Salmond is hoping for a second term

Labour’s leader Ian Gray was an even worse handicap. His most memorable moment of the campaign was hiding in a Subway sandwich store to avoid left-wing protesters in a Glasgow railway station.

Labour leaders from London came up to campaign which just gave the impression that they considered Gray incapable of running the show.

Then ex-PM Gordon Brown, a Scot, was wheeled out to say that a SNP government would be disastrous for the economy. Possibly true, but coming from the Prime Minister who presided over the UK’s financial meltdown, it allowed an easy target to shoot at.

In comparison, the SNP leader and current First Minister Alex Salmond has looked bold and confident and has laid out a positive campaign with what Scotland could do, as opposed to what it cannot.

Some solidly anti-independence newspapers have endorsed him.

It helped that his record in power for the last four years has been decent if not spectacular. He is his party’s best, some would say, sole asset.

Despite that, Labour has very loyal heartlands that will turn out for it. Glasgow remains solidly Labour and the elderly demographic is firmly in their camp.

Younger voters are more pro SNP but less likely to vote especially if the weather is poor.

The number of MSPs who favour an independence referendum may not reach 65 by the end of the count.

This will turn the spotlight on the remaining Liberals again who will have to defend their demand for a referendum on the voting system in London with their refusal to allow the Scots a vote on their own future.

After an electoral battering, they might change tune.

With all that said, today is about electing the next government of Scotland. Opinion polls suggest that support for independence never hovers about 35% and the referendum would reject it and just park the issue for a decade.

There is a model for this. Catalonia regularly elects nationalist parties to run its provincial government but makes few serious moves about actually leaving Spain.

Results should start to come in about 6pm Pacific.


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  1. Chris Ballard on

    I would think it very unlikely that Scotland and Wales ever go for full independence, if only because the tax revenues that their respective populations generate would probably not be enough to sustain them in independence. England (the biggest country of the ‘alliance’) is a next exporter of tax revenues within Great Britain & NI, meaning that some of the money that the english people pay is used in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. I don’t think it would necessarily be a bad thing for each countries to get independence, although it is interesting that there are often strong nationalistic/patriotic views in both Wales and Scotland, but not quite as much in England. At least, there wasn’t when I was living there..really, the only time England as a separate country is ‘celebrated’ is during sporting events, like the world cup.

    And even then, usually until the quarters.

  2. I have an [albeit dated] insider view of the SNP. I interned for a MSP and actually helped the party during their campaign four years ago. Saw Mr. Salmond’s acceptance speech live at 4am [they don’t start ballot counting until all polls close]. Learned a ton about Edinburgh and electoral politics

    Independence is a platform, but as stated it mostly resembles a byline rather than a stumping point. Their goal of independence is to promote a referendum that has not been seen for 40 years. There never was one for 360 years since the union was formed, other measures towards gradual independence probably wont work. Labour certainly doesn’t want to see independence because of how strong Labour is in certain areas of Scotland. It does well in Parliament elections whereas the SNP does not [SNP did take EU seats though]. Losing Scotland means being marginalized in London.

    About the EU. They may play a significant role in forming a Scottish nation. Problem is once the EU lets Scotland do it why not the Basques, etc?

  3. Chris, the thing that has tipped that balance in terms of tax wealth is oil. Scotland has more. Not sure that’s cause enough, but my SNP supporting dad is always going on about it. 🙂

    Though oddly enough he’s also not republican. He’s all about restoring the Stuarts… or maybe him… always hard to tell.

  4. By the way, for those who didn’t check the results, SNP did in fact get a majority and pledged a referendum within 5 years.

  5. Will have a full round up of the political earthquake in Scotland when that damned bear quits dancing!