Four months to go to the British General Election and the only certainty is the uncertainty.
The 2010 Election produced a strange result…a hung parliament. Arguably the worst possible result if you care about cohesion within the “United Kingdom”. If, on the other hand, you hate, loathe and despise everything about the “United Kingdom”, a hung parliament is at least possibly another good result.
The basic duty of a (global) republican is to undermine the “United Kingdom”.
The basic duty of an (Irish) nationalist is to undermine the ” United Kingdom”.
I have been a student of politics for nearly five decades. I actually formally began to study Politics…actually an A Level subject called “Economics and Political Studies” (EPS) in September 1968. So much different then of course. Pre-Troubles but we could see them evolve. Civil Rights activists had just begun to march the previous month and the big adventure for the two classes of EPS boys was taking part in our first Civil Rights March on 7th October 1968.
Yes …we thought it was an adventure…to be led by those QUB students, who we had only seen on the TV News.
Yes…Politics was “British Politics” which was a fairly static thing. Labour were in power in Britain. Tories in Opposition. And Liberals maybe had less than ten seats in the “UK Parliament”. Only a couple of nationalists in Scotland and Wales. And eleven of twelve Norn Iron seats held by Unionist Party who were an integral part of the British Conservative Party.
All very static because for fifty years, power had been in the hands of the Tory and Labour parties. Pre-Scottish and Welsh Devolution. Pre-Troubles. Pre-European Union. Pre-Multiculturalism. Pre-the collapse of Trade Unions. Pre-Internet. Pre-the End of Deference.
It is not for Nationalists and Republicans to have angst about “UK” having problems. I have been studying History for even longer than I have been studying Politics and as every schoolboy in an Irish Christian Brothers classroom knows…England’s Difficulty is Irelan d’s Opportunity.
That is simply a fact of life. Spanish Armada 1588 to Malvinas 1982. And even to the fragmentation of Greater England thru Scottish and Welsh devolution or Europe or multiculturalism. Simply put Britain is no longer a homogenous country.
Yet in British politics, there is an ongoing narrative where the system becomes less based on a Parliamentary system and more a Presidential system. With an envious glance across the Atlantic Ocean, in 2010, Britain’s broadcasters, BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky persuaded the the leaders of the three main parties to agree to TV Debates, not unlike the traditional American model.
From the perspective of the British (unwritten) Constitution, this was a grave error. It set a precedent and it is reasonably expected that there should be a series of TV Debates. But who exactly should be taking part.
Well a look at the 2010 Election Results provides the first clue.
Conservative 306. Labour 258. Liberal Democrat 57. Scottish Nationalist Party 6. Welsh Nationalists (PC) 3. Green 1.
Norn Iron’s 18 seats hard,y count. DUP 8. Independent Unionist 1. Alliance 1. SDLP 3. Sinn Féin (who dont go to Westminster) 5. While DUP and SDLP tend to vote with Conservatives and Labour respectively, they cannot be relied upon. The notion that the 2015 Election Results will give some leverage to Norn Iron parties is certainly possible but it seems a long shot because there has been a change in British politics.
The Liberal Democrats (57 seats in 2010) are believed to be in melt-down. Traditionally the third Party, they are suffering thru their decision to go into Coalition government with David Cameron’s Conservative Party. Their opinion poll numbers and performance in the European and Local Elections in 2013 look bad. Traditionally they attract tactical votes. Labour and Conservative voters in “unwinnable seats” often vote Lib Dem the lesser of two evils. They are also the traditional beneficiaries of “protest votes”.
The Green Party (just 1 seat…itself a breakthru) overtook the Lib Dems in the European Elections. And seem to have inherited the protest vote and seemingly …positioned to the left of Labour (always too cautious in elections), they can claim the mantle of the de-facto fourth Party …in England.
The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) is the third Party, according to opinion polls and European elections. They cant shake off the mantle of being Europhobes and anti-migration but although they did not get a seat in 2010, they have gained two defectors from the Conservative Party (the unpleasant right-wing). They are not unlike the American Tea Party, predominantly white and out of step with the modern world.
Also easy to overlook the Respect Party (no seats in 2010 but a subsequent bye-election victory) which can take a lot of votes in Muslim areas of Britain. Probably at most one seat but certainly enough to influence results.
So what about the Debates? Well the suggested formula….one debate a head-to-head between Cameron and Ed Miliband as the only two people who can aspire to be British Prime Minister….a second Debate featuring the traditional three Parties, Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem (this seems to ignore the reality of Politics 2015).
The third Debate….Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem and UKIP….has angered Conservatives because it does not include the Greens. David Cameron, who as Prime Minister has most to lose by participation, has threatened to boycott the Debates which means they either cannot proceed or go ahead without a Conservative.
But what about the Scottish Nationalist Party. Devolution and the 2014 Referendum has changed Scotland. The SNP only picked up 6 seats but expected to gain a lot in 2015. As the Party are …by definition “Scottish”, SNP will only be standing in 59 seats so obviously wont be competing to be part of the “UK” government.
But of course, Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem will be competing in Scottish constituencies.. The three pro-Union parties formed an unholy coalition to defeat Scottish Independence 55-45. The unionist tactics of Fear, Threats and Promises has left a bitter taste in Scottish mouths.
As I have often said, nationalism feeds off Resentment. And the bitterness from the Referendum in September 2014 will certainly last until May 2015. Labour are set to lose seats. The only question is how many.
So should the SNP get a place in the Debates. They of course say that they should. They have more seats than (say) UKIP and will likely have more than UKIP, Greens and even the Lib Dems. Although they wont be part of the “UK ” Government, their numbers should ensure a solid voting block which would caucus (at a price) with Labour. These Debates will be shown inScotland…and a Debate featiring Cameron, Miliband and Clegg and not showing Salmond (SNP Leader) would be grossly unfair to the Scottish electorate.
Of course British TV channels are…British. BBC, ITN, Sky and Channel 4 were not exactly even-handed during the Referendum Campaign. The British Media is pro-union. It is an article of faith with the London metropolitan elite that the “union” is a good thing.
The Controversy about Debates is just one more example of the self-inflicted chaos within British politics.
Dontcha just love it?