The Post-election UK: People are recovering from the shock and asking what on earth it all means. The general view is that Cameron now not only has a stronger hand for the EU referendum but that he will win it. There's also growing support for my view that the UK will transmogrify into a federation. Our old friend, Timothy Garton Ash, put this forward in The Guardian and his article was reprinted in El País. And see the article at the end of this post for Niall Ferguson, "Britain's leading historian". As he says: The election result is being seen by many commentators as a threat to both unions: the British one and the European one. True, the Scots voted for a party that wants to leave the UK. True, the English voted for a party that promised a referendum on leaving the EU. But neither danger seems that real. The SNP is much less eager for independence than its leaders like to pretend, while Cameron will win his referendum on Europe. Even The Guardian itself has fallen in behind me: So now we need a Federal Kingdom of Britain. Otherwise this most dramatic British election result could mark the beginning of the end of Britain, and of Britain in the the probably paltry results of Cameron’s self-styled renegotiation with Brussels. So let’s think big in response. It will take years to get there. But on Monday, when we have caught up on lost sleep, let’s start designing the foundations for the new state we need: the Federal Kingdom of Britain. Remember: You heard it here first! Me for President.
By the way . . . If you're a supporter of Britain's exit from the EU, this is the site you should be reading every day.
Here in Spain, the peal of midnight on Thursday saw the official start of the campaign for local elections later this month. Unofficial activities began before 12 but those responsible will be fined, if they can catch them. Anyway, one second after midnight and all over Spain, party activists rushed to paste inordinate numbers of posters wherever they could. Which explains this scene that foxed me on Friday morning.
Down in Valencia, members of the public, angered by policemen (local, regional and national) have been venting their spleen on Facebook. Here's a few examples, shorn of colourful Spanish swear words:-
'Tweed-capped red-neck yokels'
'Tinpot second-rate rustlers'
'Cheap and worthless Clint Eastwoods'
“Brazen, pig-ignorant cops'
"Abusers of their authority"
These have been accompanied by fotos of patrol cars in disabled parking spaces, on yellow kerbs, in front of garages with 'no parking' signs or in taxi ranks. But now the city council is investigating whether there are grounds for prosecution for libel because "They go beyond the principle of freedom of speech'. Additionally, the police have demanded of Facebook that they take down the page, on the grounds it constitutes 'incitement to hatred'. Plus, they say that, as civil servants, they're entitled to time off for their morning coffee and it's most efficient to park near the café. Only in Spain?
Finally . . . Don't you love the advertising slogans of big companies, particularly that of the Yorkshire - We care about here. I mean, WTF does it mean? Why not - We care about here, there and everywhere? My guess is it's a bit of regionalism, playing to the 'independence' (i. e. bloody-mindedness) of Yorkshire folk. Of which I'm an admirer, of course.
The election result is seen as a threat to the United Kingdom and the EU. But Scotland won’t break away and Cameron will surely win his referendum, says Britain’s leading historian
Try explaining this election to an American. Even the tiny number who follow British politics are baffled.
“So what happened in the English election?”
“You mean the election in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? Well, the Conservatives won in England, but the Scottish nationalists won in Scotland. Nothing much changed in Wales and Northern Ireland.”
“Wait, but didn’t the SNP just lose that referendum on independence?”
“Yes, but this time the Scots were voting for people to represent them in London. So they naturally voted for people who are against being governed from London.”
“Got it. So now does there have to be a UK referendum on membership of the European Union?”
“I guess the Scottish nationalists want out of Europe, too.”
“No, they would ideally like to leave the UK but stay in the EU.”
“They’d rather be governed from Brussels than London?”
“Something like that.”
Come to think of it, even I as a Scotsman am feeling a wee bit bemused.
As every commentator has said, the scale of the SNP’s victory in Scotland was epoch making. (I was so excited that I predicted a “seismic earthquake” on Channel 4 News, which is the kind of thing you blurt out when stuck in a darkened Massachusetts television studio with nothing but an earpiece connecting you, after several seconds of maddening delay, to London.)
All but three Scottish seats fell to the nationalists. The Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems were left with just one seat apiece. But the biggest loser by far was the Labour party, which for half a century has been able to count on at least 40 seats north of the border. From 41 to one. That is not a defeat. That is a massacre worthy of Glencoe in 1692.
For more than a generation, the Scottish Labour party has been over-represented not only in the House of Commons but also on the party’s front bench. For more than a generation, many cabinet-level Labour MPs have spoken with a Scottish accent. That era is now over. Gordon Brown’s Kirkcaldy seat has gone. In Renfrewshire East, the Labour leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, was soundly beaten. Douglas Alexander, the party’s election strategist, lost his Paisley and Renfrewshire South seat — to a 20-year-old woman with a Gaelic name (Mhairi Black).
Five years ago, the SNP won just under a fifth of Scottish votes and a mere six seats. This weekend Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP’s formidable new leader, has 56 and owns the country. She also has, in the form of her predecessor Alex Salmond, a wily political operator in the belly of the English beast, the Westminster parliament.
Understandably, Salmond was ready on Thursday night with a triumphant soundbite about the lion that roared. He also claimed that David Cameron now lacked “legitimacy” in Scotland. However, such characteristically bombastic rhetoric should not panic anyone into expecting an imminent Scottish secession from the Union.
First, the SNP has to focus its attention on the Scottish parliament elections due in May 2016. It needs to repeat last week’s performance to control Scotland itself.
Second, the party needs to decide how to react to the latest blandishments from the Tories. It is clear from statements by Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson that the Conservatives intend to offer the SNP a deal it will be hard-pressed to turn down.
Whether it is “fiscal autonomy”, “devolution max” or the “federalism” floated by Johnson, this deal will involve granting more spending and tax-raising powers to Edinburgh.
The Tories have a stronger hand than anyone expected. They know Scots were reluctant to back the SNP when the issue was independence. Instead, they voted SNP when the issue was Scottish representation at Westminster.
Salmond and Sturgeon would be mad to risk another referendum now. On the other hand, they must worry that yesterday marks the high tide of their popularity.
The nationalists may also fear that a long overdue Tory revival in Scotland could start today. There is, after all, nothing unnatural about Conservatism in Scotland — or rather Unionism, to give it the correct name.
In 1955 the Unionists were the biggest party in Scotland with more than half of the popular vote. As recently as 2010 the Conservatives could still get nearly 17% of Scottish votes. Last week they fell just below 15%, double the Lib Dem share of the vote and only 10 points behind Labour.
The SNP cannot expect to monopolise power in Scotland for long. The real question is who will emerge as the natural party of opposition to the nationalists. With Cameron triumphant in the south, might it finally be time for a Unionist revival?
The other problem for the SNP is how to co-operate with Labour at Westminster, if there is to be anything like a united opposition, while at the same time seeking to destroy them at Holyrood. Such a two-faced strategy will surely be impossible.
Technically, Cameron has a 15-seat working majority. In practice, so long as the SNP and Labour are at daggers drawn, he faces a divided opposition.
Meanwhile, Cameron must now honour his pledge to hold a referendum on Britain’s EU membership. Could this lead to the break-up of the EU? No, because this is a referendum he should easily win.
First, with no further need for the Lib Dems, his powers of political patronage have been doubled. Disaffected backbenchers will soon be receiving calls for meetings with the PM. Some will succumb to the tempting offer of a junior ministerial job. Euroscepticism is not dead, but it will be weakened. The Conservative party always loves a winning leader.
Second, Boris Johnson is now inside the government tent, rather than outside as he has been as mayor of London. Having won a Commons seat, he is likely to be given a high-level post in due course. Nothing could more effectively constrain him and put a stop to his occasional opportunistic sallies against the EU.
Third, Ukip’s failure to win more than a single seat is a heavy blow for Nigel Farage, whose populist campaign failed to deliver the breakthrough he had hoped for.
Finally, it is hard to see Labour doing more than mutter “Amen” to Cameron as he seeks to wrest concessions from Brussels and Berlin. Whoever emerges as Labour leader — whether it is Andy Burnham, Liz Kendall or Chuka Umunna — will need to be very afraid of the progress Ukip has made in the north of England. The party’s 12.6% share of the nationwide vote was impressive — and a large chunk of that came from disillusioned Labour supporters.
The point about Ukip is that it is much more an anti-immigration party than an anti- Europe party. Nevertheless, it cannot possibly help Labour counter the Ukip challenge to make Europe an issue in the coming years, especially if that means being more pro-Europe than the government.
The election result is being seen by many commentators as a threat to both unions: the British one and the European one. True, the Scots voted for a party that wants to leave the UK. True, the English voted for a party that promised a referendum on leaving the EU. But neither danger seems that real. The SNP is much less eager for independence than its leaders like to pretend, while Cameron will win his referendum on Europe.
Paradoxical as it may seem, the British electorate voted on Thursday like true Europeans. British politics, once the domain of two parties, is now characterised by multiple parties. Regional nationalists and environmentalists now enjoy substantial public support.
Two venerable parties — Labour and the Liberals — are in dire straits, victims of the post-crisis backlash against political establishments that we see all over Europe. Moderate conservatism, as personified by Cameron, is clearly the dominant force in England, as it is in Germany, where Angela Merkel is a vital ally.
No one can overstate the importance of this unexpected Tory victory. On paper, it is true, Cameron has a majority almost as small as Attlee’s in 1950 and Wilson’s in 1964. Unlike those leaders, moreover, he cannot opt for a second election on the old “back me or sack me” basis. Over five years, he is highly likely to lose seats and could end up running a minority government with Ulster unionist support.
On the other hand, Cameron now confronts a deeply divided opposition. The trick will be to lock in these fissures by devolving more power — and more responsibility — to Scotland (where the SNP tide is bound to recede) without losing the essential foundation of the existing parliamentary system: the historic first-past-the-post method of choosing MPs, which remains the ultimate guarantee of firm government for the UK as a whole.