The 7th of May 2015 was the day the SNP tsunami almost entirely cleansed Scotland of representation by any other party. The SNP’s grip on power in Scotland is almost total.
The biggest immediate impact was to the Labour Party. The Conservatives have been long vanquished, only winning a total of four seats in the last five general elections. Labour went from forty one seats to one. They were routed in their traditional heartlands. Long standing, established ministers were soundly beaten by fresh-faced students. Losing so many seats in Scotland means that Labour, to get close to Government, needs to soundly beat the Conservatives in England, something that didn’t happen in May, and looks a steep mountain to climb for 2020.
What must be galling for Labour is the fact they gave the SNP the route to power. Scottish national identity has lived for centuries, rooted in the history and mythology of Robert the Bruce and William Wallace, to the poetry of Robert Burns. What the Scottish Parliament did was to provide a body for this identity to flourish. The SNP had the good fortune to be led by Alex Salmond, and now Nicola Sturgeon, both exceptional leaders. They built on the opportunity provided, and recognised the power of building a strong national identity. The Conservatives and Labour seemed to recognise this far too late, if at all, treating Scotland as a ‘branch office’ of Westminster. Even losing the independence referendum was not enough to stop the SNP wave. Labour and the Conservatives both declared they not work with the SNP in the event of the hung parliament. This, I believe, was critical as it demonstrated a refusal to treat the SNP as equal partners. The last nails in the coffin.
This has left the constitutional settlement of the UK precariously balanced. Non-Scottish parties now have only three MPs in Scotland, due to impact of FPTP has when a party wins 50% of the vote. The pressure for more powers going to Scotland is unstoppable. The path to independence seem this way too. Unless something radical happens, the UK is headed for a messy divorce.
Events have actually demonstrated a clear path to more democratic and sustainable settlement for the United Kingdom. A truly federal nation would have many benefits. Areas away from the capital feel the dominance of London and the South East. Most powers of government could be devolved into regional parliaments – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. These should be elected using a proportional system. Powers could include health, education, local government and so on.
A central body would be required for truly national matters such as defence. This could be smaller, made of a proportionate representation of MPs from the regional parliaments.
This plan would devolve powers, increase voter participation as there would be fewer ‘wasted votes’ and remove the pressure to break up the UK. In the Scottish referendum the will of the electorate indicated strongly that most people don’t want to break away, but want more devolved powers. This plan would deliver that and kill off the independence cause.
The party most in need of a plan to revitalise themselves are the Labour Party, as they are facing an existential crisis. This plan would be radical, reforming and bold.
Have they got the courage? If not, how will such an idea be carried forward?