This unexpected victory is welcome in the short term because it means time doesn’t have to be wasted on horse trading over coalitions, but in the long term it raises many questions about the future of the British Constitution.
The only disappointment of the night was that UKIP’s (United Kingdom Independence Party) 3 million votes only translated into 1 MP. They were the third highest polling party ahead of the Liberal Democrats, Scottish National Party and Greens. Their strong showing without hardly any representation will be seen as unfair and doubtless there will be calls to change the voting system.
The political map shows the sharp division between England and Scotland as well as the extent of the Labour loss, so what are the questions facing a divided United Kingdom.
The UK Question
Will the Union survive? This is the BIG, BIG question. Despite the result of the recent referendum on Scottish Independence resulting in a NO vote it is clear that there is a thirst in Scotland for more say in their own affairs. The Tory scare tactic of frightening the public with the spectre of a left wing Labour/SNP alliance worked brilliantly for the Tories in England and led to tactical voting in Scotland that saw the traditional Labour stronghold of Scotland disappear to be replaced by the SNP. Such a result would have been unthinkable five years ago. Without Scottish seats Labour cannot survive. England has NEVER voted for Labour. It was only by virtue of their Scottish and Welsh seats that they have ever held power.
The Labour Question
Is Labour finished as a political force? Once the Blair government decided to devolve more power to Scotland, Wales and Ireland the writing was on the wall. The big working class votes in the coal mining Welsh valleys and industrial heartland of Scotland around Glasgow had always belonged to Labour. As the working class has waned it has left behind a few traditional Labour strongholds in the industrial north and but even these are threatened by the rise in nationalism. Labour is now the province of rich inner city middle class London but that alone will never win them an election again. This election result shows they have no answers. They will go into a long, steady decline. Meanwhile the vacuum north of the border left by the Labour rout in Scotland was filled almost exclusively by the Scottish National Party. The political map of Britain has changed forever.
The Scottish Question
Will Scotland remain in the Union? They have been offered, and will get, more revenue raising powers and maybe a devolved federal system of government within the UK. Scotland, just by having a referendum on independence, has extracted a huge price out of Westminster in terms of more autonomy and more money. From David Cameron’s victory speech outside No 10 it is clear he will be considering a federal system of government whereby the Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have a much bigger say over their own affairs including raising taxes. If Scotland has to fund it’s own economy and not rely on hand-outs from the English then you could see the thirst for an independent Scotland evaporate overnight as the SNP struggles to make ends meet. Or it could strengthen the Scots resolve to become a sovereign nation.
The English Question
Should England have its own parliament? What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. There is a revival in English Nationalism in response to the increasing autonomy of the other countries in the Union. The English are questioning why they should pay for a Scotland that doesn’t value the Union and doesn’t value their contribution towards propping up what is an ailing economy. They are also sick of Scottish, Welsh and Irish interference in purely English affairs. Cameron cannot solve the UK question without paying attention to the English question.
The European Union Question.
Should the UK remain in the EU? Ceding more and more sovereignty to Brussels has not been popular in Britain, especially in Tory England, hence the rise in UKIP. From virtually no voter base in 2010 this party has become the third largest, garnering more than 3 million votes on a ticket of getting out of the EU and stopping mass immigration. It is a message that appeals to both Tories and Labour voters. The Tories have been forced to hold a referendum on British membership of the EU by the very popularity of UKIP. UKIP is the biggest UK party in the European parliament where it shines a light on the bureaucratic lunacies of that organisation.
The Constitution Question
All these questions raise constitutional issues for the new government and the country to grapple with. The voting system needs close scrutiny when 3 million voters feel disenfranchised by the system. Can both the Scots and English be appeased through a more devolved federal system? Does the UK as a whole want out of Europe or is it just England? Will the Labour party survive? Is left/right politics a thing of the past when nationalism comes into play? So many question, so few answers.
The Cameron government, the first outright Tory government in nearly a quarter of a century, has to grapple with fundamental questions that haven’t been aired for 300 years. If he gets the answers right Britain could be Great again. Get them wrong and the once great nation that ruled half the world will not be able to rule itself.