Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Bringers of Chaos 1: Reality Check

The UK political classes claim an SNP victory in the general election would have cataclysmic results.

There are not many points of agreement between the left-wing Scottish nationalist Craig Murray, and the Conservative politician Boris Johnson. However they share a fondness for lurid rhetoric, and a belief in the awesome power of the SNP:

Murray:

A sweeping SNP victory on May 7 is considered enough of a threat to the United Kingdom for the security services to use up some assets. [...] The still bigger worry is that, as the security services get increasingly desperate as polling day approaches, they will manufacture a false flag incident in which people deliberately get hurt.

Johnson:

You wouldn’t get Herod to run a baby farm, would you? [...] [The SNP] want to end Britain, to decapitate Britannia, to cause a constitutional upheaval that would gravely weaken this country, a rupture that has provoked horror in Britain’s friends around the world – and a silent chuckle among those who do not wish us quite so well.
(Incidentally, what the hell is a baby farm? Does Johnson not know where babies come from?)

Newly elected SNP representatives arriving at Westminster.


A similar degree of horror is expressed, in slightly more measured tones, by David Cameron and his predecessor Gordon Brown.

Cameron:

Ed Miliband in Downing Street backed by the SNP, a combination to break up Britain and bankrupt Britain, and I think that would be disastrous for our country [...] there is only one way to stop this coalition of chaos and that is to have a Conservative majority government.

Brown:

... what they want is an SNP vote not to deliver social justice but to deliver the chaos and constitutional crisis at Westminster to as [Sturgeon] said force a second referendum.
[Emphasis mine]

They confuse what the SNP wants to do with what it can do. Of course the SNP would like an independent Scotland. They would also like to see Scotland win the Rugby World Cup this year. That does not mean it will happen.

A sharp dose of reality


It is time for a reality check.

There are 59 Parliamentary seats in Scotland. At the time of writing, the SNP are predicted to win about 49 of them. Even with a clean sweep of all 59, they would have only 9% of the 650 seats at Westminster.

The SNP's power would be constrained by their limited numbers, and by parliamentary procedure. As Colin Talbot of the University of Manchester explains, they could not increase taxes, abolish the Trident missile system, or shut down government spending altogether.

For the time being, the SNP are not asking for a new referendum on Scottish independence. If they change their minds, the legal situation is very clear. Any referendum would require an Act of the Westminster Parliament. In other words, many of the 90% of MPs who identify as unionists would have to authorise it. If the SNP wants to persuade them, it would probably need a better reason than "we think we can get a Yes this time."

We are left with Sir John Major's prediction that the SNP will somehow hold Labour to ransom:

At the very moment our country needs a strong and stable government, we risk a weak and unstable one – pushed to the left by its allies, and open to a daily dose of political blackmail.

Sir John Major's alternate view of the SNP.

Labour are well aware that if they give in to every possible demand from the SNP, they will face oblivion. Their main rivals are the Conservatives in England, and the SNP in Scotland. In both cases, albeit for different reasons, the voters have no incentive to back Labour if it is seen to dance to the nationalists' tune.

If we do see a minority Labour government trying to secure SNP votes (or at least abstentions), the negotiations would seethe with hostility and suspicion on both sides. It would be like talks on nuclear weapons during the Cold War, without the fun and carefree atmosphere.

The SNP are somewhat more left-wing than Labour. They are not the second coming of the Bolshevik Revolution. Their record in government at Holyrood is a moderate, pro-business form of social democracy. For what it's worth, their rhetoric promises they will play a responsible, constructive part at Westminster.

The Conservatives don't have to like it, but that is democracy in action. Thanks to the No vote on independence, which the Tories supported, Scotland remains in the UK. Its elected representatives have every right to participate in our government, notwithstanding any "constitutional principles" which Theresa May attempts to make up on the spot.

May and other Tories are trying to raise the West Lothian question: Why is it that Scottish MPs can vote on English health and education, but English MPs have no reciprocal rights in Scotland?

It deserves a better answer than, "MPs can vote when the Tory party finds it convenient." Northern Ireland has a devolved assembly of its own, but if the votes of the DUP are needed to give Cameron a parliamentary majority, I predict the Conservatives will suddenly forget their devotion to "English votes for English laws."

Unless the opinion polls are shockingly, wildly misleading, the SNP will be the democratic choice of the Scottish electorate. The other political parties need to grow up, and deal with it like responsible adults.



Notes
  • Regarding the Rugby World Cup: I am a Scotland supporter too, but we have to face certain facts. Sadly Scotland are 250:1 outsiders to lift the trophy.
  • The SNP is becoming a key factor in this election; this is the first post in a series on what it means. Part 2 is here.


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