Scotland, UK and the EU - Update and More Potential Twists by John Thornton (19 November, 2014, 26 Cheshvan, 5775)
Scotland is yet again a topic, both for itself and for its potential within the political shifting sands of the United Kingdom.
Yesterday a poll was published in the Scottish Daily Record, and commissioned by that paper through Survation, another UK pollster company.
This online panel survey was conducted across 1,001 participants and much more representative than the previous 'Sunday Times' poll (only 159 from Scotland).
The poll covers a range of questions in the run up to the UK General Election in 2015 and the Scottish Parliamentary Election in 2016. It follows the Scottish Referendum (55.5 % NO) vote (which, BTW, was even lower at 37% YES, if you include those who did not vote), and the election of Nicola Sturgeon as the new SNP leader (and incumbent Scottish First Minister). It also follows several weeks of fratricidal infighting within the Labour party, both in Scotland and at UK level.
The poll is quite interesting, and kinda bears out some of the comments in my previous email. However thereafter the matter becomes more potentially serious and complex.
But let us continue with some more of the poll's findings for the moment.
The Daily Record's headline is that a quarter of Scottish voters never want another referendum. The figure is actually 28.2%. If we include another 12.2% covering those who do not want another referendum for 10 years or more, the figure rises to 40.4%. There were 10.6% don't knows, which might place the 'don't want' figure closer to 45%, if adjusted. So let's forget about independence for a while?
The other significant outcome was the degree of preference for the EU among Scots. Participants were asked 'If there was a referendum tomorrow on whether the UK should remain a member of the European Union, how do you think you would vote?'. 45.6% voted in favour of staying, with 33.4% voting to leave, and 20.9% undecided. This is significantly 'softer' than the 57% claimed by the recent Sunday Times/YouGov poll, plus the degree of 'don't knows' is similar in both cases. Then that is less likely to force a split over the EU too?
Participants perceive the Conservatives and the Liberals as the most pro-Union of the main parties, and both their 'core' voters much more inclined to support it. Labour voters are more fickle. Overall the Labour vote is very 'soft' and that party is in danger of losing heavily to the Nationalists, who could overtake them in the number of MPs, elected to the UK Parliament. On the other hand the Liberal Democrats are in danger of being overtaken by UKIP (UK Independence Party) is percentage terms. The latter is unlikely to win any seats, but they are targeting the only Conservative seat in Scotland. Though the question was not asked in the poll, this suggests immigration is more of a concern to Scots than is being generally admitted (the Nationalists and Greens want more immigration to fill skills gaps and develop a multicultural society). A bit of a mixed bag then?
Now for the twist.
The possibility of a Labour 'vitual wipeout' in Scotland is also highlighted in the Daily Record article. The implication is that without its current 40 Scottish Westminster seats, Labour could not form a UK government. Indeed former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, in an interview with the BBC, openly discussed the possibility of an SNP/Other Nationalists/Greens propping up a future UK coalition government, while his successor Sturgeon has ruled out any deal with the Conservatives in such an event. Thus a 'Nationalist rainbow grouping' is only likely to do a deal with a weak Labour-led coalition, and no doubt extract concessions. Herein could lie the realpolitik and twist of the EU/independence debates, rather than in the 'democratic will' of the electorate.
The Nationalists claim that Scotland never gets the government it votes for, since the outcome of the UK elections is out of Scotland's hands. In the upcoming UK election maybe a couple of more pertinent questions might be a) 'Will the UK get a government the whole of the UK voted for?' or perhaps b) 'Will the UK get a government Scotland alone voted for?'. The latter might not be so ridiculous as it sounds.
To explain and put this into further perspective, the current Conservative-led UK Coalition government is supported by 59 Liberal-Democrat MPs. On the other hand Scotland has 59 UK parliamentary seats, of which Labour currently holds 40. The Liberal-Democrats have 11 UK MPs in Scotland, Conservatives 1, and there is 1 Independent (a retiring, disgraced former Labour MP). The bulk of these seats are also SNP targets.
The Scottish Nationalists currently have 6 UK MPs.
Thus were the SNP to win anything near the total seats Labour, Liberals and others currently hold in Scotland, and then to link up with other parties, that grouping would be a significant player at UK level. Indeed it might be argued by their opponents that the best way to counter such a threat would be a Conservative/UKIP/Ulster Unionist bloc. The voice of 'English nationalism' might then come to the fore, both in terms of the Union and the EU.
People are often unaware of history. Until the end of WW1, Ireland (then unified and part of the UK) elected MPs for the Westminster Parliament. In the 1918 UK election (of then 707 MPs), Ireland elected 73 Sinn Fein (Irish Nationalist) MPs led by Eamon de Valera (future President of the Irish Republic), but who refused to take their seats at Westminster, meeting instead in the newly-formed Dail ( then, 'Dublin Parliament') where they declared independence and proclaimed a provisional republican constitution. This group represented the bulk of all 105 Irish UK MPs elected. In London, the overall result was a UK 'hung parliament', from which the Liberal politician David Lloyd George emerged as coalition Prime Minister, despite his own party losing roughly half their seats. (The Liberals had been in power since 1900, and throughout WW1.) Within a relatively short space of time Ireland came to be seen by the UK as ungovernable. This was also in the aftermath of the 1916 Easter Rising, the wave of unpopularity against the UK and the civil war of the early 1920s. All these events led to partition in 1922, and the formation of the Irish Free State (later Republic). However, it should also be borne in mind that this followed hundreds of years of conflict and almost a century of Irish political activism, following Ireland's inclusion within the United Kingdom in 1800 and 'Catholic Emancipation' thereafter.
We are now almost 100 years further on. Scotland is very different from Ireland in many of those contexts but there could well be a precedent, and a common factor, namely a weak, largely divided, UK coalition government, faced with a well-organised and very vocal regional party.
A Labour-led coalition supported by a Nationalist/left-wing bloc could make the UK itself virtually 'ungovernable'. It would be forced into increasing Scottish/Welsh/Ulster concessions via the back door and further erode Britain's international standing. To what degree would a Nationalist grouping support further 'British' military involvement in a troubled region like Syria/Iraq. How long would England (representing 90% of the current UK, and which didn't vote in SNP or other regional parties) just sit back and acquiesce? How long might such a coalition survive? And if it collapsed what might follow? What might be seen as a group of 'foreign' Scottish/Welsh etc. MPs propping up a less-than-popular Labour UK government could appear just as bad as, say, a hypothetical bloc of 'unelected' French or German 'MPs' parachuted into Westminster to do the same. At the same time the wave of anti-immigration/anti-EU sentiment would inevitably continue to grow, particularly in England, no doubt fed by UKIP and other right-wing elements. 'For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction' (Sir Isaac Newton).
Indeed UKIP has been described as an essentially English nationalist party. In the upcoming UK by-election in Rochester and Strood to take place this coming Thursday (20 November), and due to the defection of the sitting Tory MP to UKIP, they are likely to take the seat from the Conservatives. David Cameron is already bracing himself for defeat there ahead of next year's UK election, and the reaction of his own backbench MPs, particularly the Euro-sceptics.
Potentially interesting times indeed within the 'Union of Jacob'.
And finally - polls can uncover other trivia. Within the Survation questions, 32.5% said that their relationship with a friend or family member had been permanently damaged by the recent referendum campaign. So much for the positive effect of 'engaging politics' and the high voter turnout acclaimed as a 'victory for democracy' (cf. Proverbs 6:14 with perverted mind devising evil, continually sowing discord).