Scottish politics has turned upside down since the independence referendum

Events in Scotland illustrate how a political situation can change very quickly. Paradoxically, the real winner of the 2014 independence referendum was the SNP, who have seen a surge in membership, while Labour and the other unionist parties are floundering. Thomas Lundberg looks at the aftermath of the referendum and the puzzling situation of winners turning into losers.

People outside Scotland could be forgiven for being puzzled about recent events ‘north of the border’. After all, didn’t the Unionist cause triumph in September’s Scottish independence referendum? Since then, the Scottish National Party (SNP) and Scottish Green Party, both supporters of Scottish independence, have more than tripled their membership. The SNP has surged in the opinion polls, endangering Scottish Labour at next May’s Westminster election. Events in Scotland illustrate the importance of multilevel governance and party systems, as well as how a political situation can change very quickly.

While nearly 45 per cent of Scottish voters said ‘Yes’ to independence, the break-up of the United Kingdom was prevented by the 55 per cent who voted ‘No’. Only hours after this result was reached, Prime Minister David Cameron moved the proverbial tanks onto the Labour Party’s lawn, saying that any significant increase in the devolution of power to Scotland would require a change in voting practices so that MPs at Westminster from the 59 Scottish constituencies would no longer be able to vote on bills deemed as affecting only England. Labour Party leader Ed Miliband rejected the linkage of enhanced Scottish devolution to what is sometimes labelled ‘English Votes for English Laws’ (EVEL), proposing instead a convention to examine Britain’s constitution more broadly. Both politicians have been criticised for evading the so-called ‘vow’ to grant Scotland greater autonomy, a promise that might have persuaded some voters not to vote for independence in the expectation of having ‘the best of both worlds’, whatever that means.

It is unlikely that the Smith Commission, an all-party group investigating routes to greater autonomy, will propose significantly enhanced devolution of power to Scotland unless the May 2015 Westminster election yields a hung parliament. The Conservatives, while supporting more radical tax proposals than Labour, are probably concerned about the prospect of too much decentralisation and how that might harm the centre, while Labour worries about the potential for undermining the British welfare state and the prospect of curtailing the voting rights of MPs from outside England. The SNP, however, will seek to gain as much extra power for the Scottish Parliament as possible, trying to satisfy both independence supporters and those who want ‘devo max’, the devolution of all domestic matters (basically home rule). Recent opinion polling reveals that the SNP is so far ahead of its traditional rival, Scottish Labour, that the latter would be nearly wiped out at Westminster. Such an outcome in May would have implications beyond Scotland – it would probably deny Labour a majority, keeping David Cameron in Downing Street if he can do some kind of deal with the smaller parties that might hold the balance of power.

Labour’s problems in Scotland result from both the sudden resignation of its Scottish leader, Johann Lamont, and from the perception, held by many of its traditional supporters, that the party betrayed working-class Scotland in the independence referendum campaign, doing the Tories’ dirty work. Class was one of the biggest demographic dividing lines in the referendum, with poorer people more likely to support independence than the affluent, who would have more to lose if things went wrong. The likely replacement for Lamont, Jim Murphy, may have a higher profile, but he also comes with a lot of Blairite baggage, such as his support for invading Iraq and for maintaining Trident, the nuclear deterrent based in Scotland. Such right-wing positions, as well as the fact that he is currently a Westminster MP, may put him at a disadvantage against the SNP, soon to be led by Alex Salmond’s deputy, Nicola Sturgeon.

Governing since 2007, the SNP has managed to become a highly successful catch-all party, appealing both to independence supporters and to those who prefer greater Scottish autonomy within the Union, to all social class backgrounds and age groups, and to both women and men. While it has business-friendly policies that include cutting corporation tax, the SNP has managed to compete successfully against Scottish Labour, using its left-wing image and grass-roots campaigning to steal supposedly safe constituencies in Labour heartland areas. Despite its significant decline, Scottish Labour remains the SNP’s bitter rival, while the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party now struggles to make an impact in polling and the Scottish Liberal Democrats scarcely register at all, with the latest Holyrood poll putting both Tories and Lib Dems behind the Scottish Greens in the regional vote part (the one usually cast for a party list) of the two-vote system. Despite the use of the mixed-member proportional electoral system for Scottish Parliament elections, the effective number of parliamentary parties in the body has dropped from a high of 4.2 after the 2003 election to 2.6 in 2011, suggesting that we should not give too much credit to the impact of the electoral system on the party system.

Perhaps paradoxically, the real winner of the 2014 independence referendum was the SNP. The party has emerged energised, larger, and better connected to the public. It now stands head and shoulders above its Unionist competitors. While the SNP finds itself in an enviable position, it must avoid complacency. The party began its ascent in 2007 by being seen as potentially more competent than Labour, and its performance running a minority government was rewarded in 2011 with a majority of seats; academic research has shown that public support for independence (typically among only about a third of the electorate in recent years) explains only a portion of the SNP’s support. Sturgeon must be careful to maintain her party’s image for competent management of Scotland’s affairs while appealing to the broad majority of Scots (even those who rejected independence) as their advocate when it comes to dealing with the UK government and the likelihood of further spending cuts after the 2015 election.

The big increase in the SNP’s membership following the referendum could pose challenges to the party’s leadership. The recent membership surge from some 25,000 to over 80,000 in the weeks following the referendum could make the party more difficult to govern. Many of the new members (perhaps alienated Scottish Labour members or voters) are likely to hold left-wing views and this could put pressure on what has been a remarkable effort to keep the party unified. Those disappointed or unimpressed with the SNP, however, could instead look to civil society, which has also been jolted by the referendum. The Yes Scotland campaign evolved into a social movement, with a range of organisations working together; aside from political parties, groups like Women for Independence, Business for Scotland, and the Radical Independence Campaign represented a wide spectrum of the public, and the movement included prominent individuals not associated with any party.

The aftermath of Scotland’s independence referendum resembles an upside down political situation: losers turned into winners and members of the public – including many from modest backgrounds – refusing to go ‘back into their boxes’. The supposed winners – the Unionist parties and privileged classes – must be just as puzzled as those living outside Scotland.

About the Author

Thomas LundbergThomas Lundberg is Lecturer in Politics at the University of Glasgow.

http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/scottish-politics-turned-upside-down/

Advertisements

Cameron and Miliband are both right on the constitution – But for the wrong reasons

Posted: 27 Sep 2014 12:00 AM PDT
Stephen Barber

As the constitutional fallout from the Scottish Independence Referendum campaign continues, Stephen Barber looks at how the two main party leaders down south are addressing ‘the English Question’. Cameron and Miliband may be acting from short term partisan motivations, but this doesn’t mean they’re wrong. While any plausible constitutional settlement is complex, it must be based on devolution to ‘cities and counties’, with any proposed ‘English Parliament’ failing to offer real devolution of powers closer to the people.

Westminster leaders need to put aside short-term party advantage in a similar way that Scottish politicans did during the referendum campaign. If they did, not only might they forge a constitutional settlement that will serve England well for a generation, they might also find they can enjoy the sort of ‘apathy free’ politics that was a highlight of the independence referendum. Whether they choose to engage seriously or not, it is clear that there needs to be real devolved power to England and if new institutional layers are to be discounted, the settlement needs to be one of ‘Cities and Counties’.

What a shame it is that the Westminster party leaders have reverted to type by putting narrow electoral advantage ahead of England and the United Kingdom’s constitutional future. The contrast in England to the sort of leadership Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling showed over Scotland is stark. Westminster should take note because it is this sort of politicking which is responsible for the cynicism of voters and poor turnout at elections: something entirely absent from Scotland where 86% turned out to vote in the referendum.

David Cameron favours ‘English votes for English matters’. Ed Miliband wants to delay changes for years and until a Constitutional Convention can report. It is clear why: Labour would likely suffer from the emasculation of Scottish MPs and whatever the chaos, the Conservatives (who only secured a single Scottish MP at the last election) would more often command Commons majorities on ‘English’ votes; irrespective of who formed the government. If anyone wanted a blueprint of how not to reform a constitution, this could well be it.

Credit: UK Parliament, CC BY NC 2.0But that doesn’t mean that everything the Westminster elite have said is wrong. Cameron is surely right that new powers for Holyrood must be balanced with a fair English Settlement. And Miliband is surely right that the position we find ourselves in demands more thought than enshrining two classes of MPs. They are right, but for the wrong reasons.

A better reason would be to forge a workable and legitimate constitutional settlement in England. And here Scotland has done the service of defining powers which need to be devolved from Whitehall not only to Holyrood in the wake of the independence campaign but also to England. As such, the English need to have a direct say over education, health, transport, welfare and the environment. Not only that, this power has to be balanced by the responsibility to raise taxation used to pay for those services. This ensures the new settlement isn’t simply about Westminster throwing more money at poorer areas of the UK but is about genuinely devolving both power and accountabilities.

An English Parliament has its attractions as a replication of the sort of devolution seen in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But as home to 53 million of the 64 million population of the United Kingdom, it doesn’t devolve power much of a step closer to the people. Moreover Miliband has already ruled out new government and new layers of politicians. Of course that could be solved by the John Redwood plan of English MPs doing two jobs; an English Parliament drawn from within the Westminster Parliament and two classes of MP. But that is so very messy with potentially rival governments created from a single chamber that it needs to be dismissed out of hand.

Consequently any new settlement in England needs to be forged from existing structures outside of Westminster. My proposal would be a combination of cities and counties plus a long overdue reform of the House of Lords.

This would mean empowering the great and small metropolitan areas of England perhaps comparable to what has happened in London. It would create figures accountable to the electorate and able to make policy in areas which matter to them. Such a move could both politically invigorate those parts of the country Westminster cannot reach and boost local economies left behind by the growth of the Capital. For those who do not live in or around the cities, the settlement should be accompanied by a new enabling of the existing twenty six County Councils of England and other council areas. The prize would be a new era for local government as real power is devolved from the centre.

One other overdue reform needs to be included in this settlement: the House of Lords about which I have recently written. The upper house is an indefensible, antiquated constitutional muddle. It remains appointed by the Prime Minister, has grown too big and is full of party donors and factotums. With any new constitutional settlement, reform of the Lords should not be ignored, because it presents an opportunity for some democratic legitimacy in the upper chamber as it is slimmed down and given a role in the new constitutional arrangements of the whole of the United Kingdom.

A new positive English settlement embracing the Cities and Counties and a reformed Lords is possible, but it needs leadership from the top of our politics. Putting aside narrow party advantage might be difficult, but if it happens, not only will Britain have the constitutional arrangements it deserves, leaders might also find some of that ‘apathy free’ politics rubs off on them.

http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/cameron-and-miliband-are-both-right-on-the-constitution-but-for-the-wrong-reasons/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+BritishPoliticsAndPolicyAtLse+%28British+politics+and+policy+at+LSE%29

Alex Salmond and David Cameron’s incoherent referendum plans mean that they are unlikely to get what they want for either Scotland or the UK

Posted: 06 Feb 2013 06:00 AM PST
An independence referendum is due to be held in Scotland in 2014, with another referendum being pledged by UK Prime Minister David Cameron on the country’s relationship with Europe in 2017. Jo Murkens and Peter Jones argue that in both referendums the options put before the electorate are likely to be exceptionally vague. The UK’s proposed new relationship with Europe is still largely unknown, and it is unclear what the precise nature of an independent Scotland would involve.

This article was first published on LSE’s EUROPP blog

Countries that are used to referendums on constitutional matters use them sparingly. The UK has no such constitutional requirement, but faces the possibility of having to deal with two such referendums within the space of a few years. The first referendum could see Scotland break away from the United Kingdom, the second could see the United Kingdom(which by then may or may not include Scotland) break away from the European Union.

The common issue to both Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, and UK Prime Minister David Cameron, is political sovereignty. They both want more of it; Salmond wants to claim it from the UK, Cameron wants to claim it from the EU. In that narrow sense, they are both nationalists: Salmond a Scottish one, Cameron a British one. Both also want, they claim, to be good European citizens but have to contend with the problem that the European club they want to be members of has rules which conflict with their visions of the idealised version they imagine it should be. And the promotion of this idealised vision to their voters leads them both to political positions which are incoherent.

Scotland’s difficult road towards independence and EU membership

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond and UK Prime Minister David Cameron Credit: Scottish Government (Creative Commons BY NC)

For the Scottish National Party (SNP) which was, until the advent of devolution in 1999, a minority fringe party, the ‘Independence in Europe’ policy was never subjected to serious examination. It was not much more than a political slogan used in political debate to counter the separatist charge levelled by opponents. The most that was done to develop this policy was to locate sympathetic European luminaries who gave the SNP helpful quotes asserting that upon independence,Scotland would move seamlessly into EU membership. It became an article of SNP faith that Scotland would be warmly welcomed into the happy European family, effectively countering ‘separatist’ accusations. So cemented into SNP ideology is this belief that Nicola Sturgeon, deputy first minister, told the Scottish Parliament’s European and external relations committee in December 2007: ‘It is the clear view of the Scottish National Party and the [Scottish] government that Scotland would automatically be a member of the European Union upon independence.’

The automaticity proposition founders on the rather obvious point that while the people and territory of Scotland may already be in the EU, the Scottish government is not. And the Scottish government being in the EU requires its votes in the European Council and other entitlements to be written into EU treaties, which can only be done with the unanimous consent of all other member states. This remains the case. The SNP, however, refuses to acknowledge this point because it raises the vision of Scotland being outside the EU and having to bang on the door begging to be allowed in out of the cold, bringing the separatist bogey back into play.

The battle against the separatist charge has had to be fought on another front – within the UK. Unionists have alleged that independence will mean that families with members on either side of the border will become fragmented, that they and commercial trade will have to negotiate border controls at Berwick and Gretna Green, that Scotland will lose access to popular BBC shows such as East Enders and Strictly Come Dancing and so on. To counter this, the SNP has devised a new strategy – that while the political union of the UK will come to an end, the social and civil union will continue and prosper. Thus families will be just as united and able to jointly celebrate such things as the Queen’s birthdays and anniversaries as she will still be the titular head of state in an independent Scotland.

Harsh economic realities, however, have forced the extension of this soft unionism into harder areas. The stresses and strains that the euro is under have made it as unattractive to Scots as it is to the English. The SNP decided some time ago that it would stick with sterling as its currency until such time as there are economic benefits to joining the euro, which would only occur after a referendum. As some 60 per cent of Scottish trade is with the rest of the UK, it makes little sense to erect a currency barrier to that trade while tearing one down to benefit the 20 per cent of Scottish trade that is with the Eurozone.

The travails of the euro and the proposed deeper integration remedies, however, demonstrate that such a currency union would erode Scotland’s fiscal independence. Proposed tax changes and government budgets would have to come under the tutelage of the (by then) foreign institutions of the UK Treasury and the Bank of England. Various unionist politicians, such as Treasury chief secretary Danny Alexander and former chancellor Alistair Darling, have argued either that the UK government simply could not countenance such an arrangement, or that the arrangements would be so restrictive as to nullify the claimed gains from political independence.

The SNP’s counter to this has been to assert a rather crude truth, that as sterling is a fully tradeable currency, the UK cannot stop Scotland from unilaterally adopting the pound. This, however, looks unsatisfactory from the point of view of independence. It leaves monetary policy, the determination of interest rates, and the operation of quantitative easing in the Bank of England’s hands. The SNP also claim, rather more vaguely, that the fiscal stability pact necessary for a currency union need not be so restrictive when, in fact, the lesson of EU struggles to stabilise the euro point to tighter rather than looser centralised fiscal controls.

This puts Salmond in the odd position of being, simultaneously, a Scottish nationalist, a European federalist, and a British unionist. He wants Scotland to have untrammelled use of its own credit card to dine at the same time in the British and European restaurants, but refuses the table d’hôte menu and insists on picking from two à la carte menus, which neither chefs seem willing to offer.

David Cameron is asking the impossible of Europe

Cameron is in only a slightly less strange place. He wants to trade heavily on his British nationalism with his domestic audience, but waves his European unionism when on the other side of the English Channel. Both audiences are, however, able to see what is being presented to the other and thus he runs the high risk of undermining his message to one by his contrary calls to the other.

In his much publicised speech on 23 January 2013, David Cameron set out his intention to renegotiate the UK’s relationship with the EU and put the terms of that changed membership to the British people in an ‘in/out’ referendum by the end of 2017, subject to the Conservatives winning an outright majority in the general elections in 2015. His speech received global attention and a mixture of praise (e.g. those who agreed that the EU ‘needs to be reformed’) and criticism (e.g. those who disagreed with the‘language of unilateral negotiations and the threat of withdrawal’). Much of the commentary, indeed much of the speech itself, is based on the dubious premise that the UK is a major player in the European Union.

On one level, the UK undoubtedly sits at the top table: it has the third largest population and the third largest economy in the EU. However, the UK already has a different relationship with the EU than the other member states. It gets a significant rebate on its financial contributions to the EU budget; it has external borders with other EU member states; it has its own currency; it did not sign the fiscal stability treaty which requires budget prudence and introduces a debt brake for the 17 Eurozone states; and it will not (unlike 11 Eurozone states) impose a financial transaction tax which is designed to discourage speculative trading. Moreover, the UK limited the applicability of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the way in which it may be interpreted. And its red-lines approach at the IGC in 2007 means that the UK can itself decide (by 31 May 2014) whether to implement all the European measures on police and justice (which will be subject to the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union) or whether to opt out of all the measures and then adopt individual measures on an ad hoc basis (subject to the consent of the other member states). Although how exactly the latter option ‘cuts red tape’ is anyone’s guess.

If this isn’t à la carte, then what is? What more does Cameron want to renegotiate? No one knows, and no one has yet produced a checklist, although the government will be working on one until the autumn of 2014. For the time being, the Working Time Directive, the European Arrest Warrant, and a better deal on fisheries keep coming up in debate. Is it realistic to argue that powers in those areas can be returned to the member states? The practical options are the following. Either the UK tries to tackle the matter from above by reducing the law-making powers of the EU institutions (that option would require a treaty change and the unanimous agreement of the other member states which is, currently, unrealistic). Or the UK tries to negotiate a better ‘deal’ for itself (e.g. through opt outs and protocols that are attached to the Treaty). But is it credible that the other member states would grant the UK special treatment when every member state is subject to aspects of EU law of which it disapproves? Overall neither option seems workable.

On a more fundamental level it seems baffling that British Euroscepticism would appear to hinge on a handful of powers that need to be ‘repatriated’. It doesn’t, and it is ludicrous to suggest that the Europhobes in the Conservative party will be placated if junior doctors work longer, and UK nationals who are wanted on charges abroad cannot be extradited (whereas, of course, UK nationals who have committed a crime in the UK but fled to another EU member state will immediately be brought back home). On fishing, where the real issue is depleted stocks through overfishing, the Commission is already transferring decision-making powers to the member states in an attempt to decentralise fishing policy and tailor it to local conditions. As Douglas Alexander put it: ‘The gap between the minimum the Tories will demand and the maximum the EU could give is unbridgeable’. These are not the fundamental issues, and any self-respecting Europhobe will not rest until the UK has exited the Union and re-attached itself to the single market like a dingy to a supertanker.

So if Cameron’s speech does not stand up to scrutiny from a European perspective, maybe its intended target was closer to home. Almost all foreign and domestic observers noted that the speech was driven primarily by domestic party politicking (the United Kingdom Independence Party – UKIP) and internecine party struggles (Bill Cash). Cameron is trying to unify a fractured party in the run-up to the general elections in 2015, and UKIP and the Tory backbenchers forced his hand. But even domestically Cameron may have dealt himself a bad hand. The offer of a referendum on renegotiated membership after the next general election is subject to two unknowns: i) the outcome of the 2015 elections; ii) the outcome of the negotiations. It is presently far from clear whether he will be successful with respect to either or both.

Until then Cameron will be seeking, not so much nouvelle cuisine as cuisine impossible, just like Salmond: untrammelled UK access to the European single market restaurant, refusal of the table d’hôte menu and insistence on the à la carte menu which is not on offer. And then he will have the nerve to ask for a rebate (i.e. other member states subsidising his dining) when presented with the bill.

Two Incoherent Policies

Cameron’s policy on the EU is just as incoherent as the SNP’s policy on continuing EU membership on current terms. Cameron assumes he will win the next election, just as Alex Salmond assumes that Scotland will automatically be an EU member state. Cameron claims that he can walk into the room and negotiate a new deal. Salmond claims that he can secure Scotland’s place in Europe on current terms: i.e. by inheriting the UK’s opt outs on the euro currency and the Schengen free travel area, which is illusory.

Moreover, a referendum (if one is to be had) needs to set out two clear choices beforehand. The in/out referendum on the EU or the Yes/No referendums on Scottish independence do not offer sufficient alternatives. What will come after EU membership? A free trade (all pay and no say) agreement with the EU like Norway? The Commonwealth? The USA? NAFTA? The global market? Splendid isolation?

Likewise, Salmond promises continuity when any EU lawyer, politician, and bureaucrat will tell him that there is no automatic right to membership of the European Union. So, what if membership is not automatic? Will Scotland stay outside the EU? Have its application fast-tracked? Join the queue of applicant states? He also promises currency continuity within a skeletonised British union, when there are an array of economists and Treasury politicians past and present saying it either will not work, or will render the gaining of political independence pointless. So what will happen then? Freelance use of the pound? Enforced joining of the euro? Invention of a Scottish currency?

The à la carte menus offered by both are, in reality, a dog’s dinner.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the British Politics and Policy blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please read our comments policy before posting.

About the Authors

Jo Murkens is Senior Lecturer in Law at the LSE. Dr Murkens was previously a researcher at the Constitution Unit, UCL, where he led the research on the legal, political and economic conditions and consequences of Scottish independence. Jo has taught at University College, King’s College, and Queen Mary College (all in London), and was called to the Bar in 2006.

Peter Jones is a freelance journalist, writing on Scottish current affairs for The Economist, the Times and The Scotsman. He is also, with Jo Murkens, a co-author of Scottish Independence: A Practical Guide, EUP 2001.