If Scotland votes ‘Yes’, what would happen to Scotland’s MPs in Westminster? And how would Westminster change?
There’s been plenty of speculation that Scottish independence would lead to a permanent Conservative government in the rest of the UK. But that may not actually be true.
In fact, Scottish votes, and hence Scottish MPs, have only affected the outcome of a UK election four times since 1945, writes Andrew Grice in The Independent. The first occasion was in 1964 when Labour won a small majority in the House of Commons. If Scotland had been excluded, the Tories would have been the largest party, but without a majority. Both of the very close elections in 1974 were also effectively decided by Scotland, and then in 2010, Scottish votes meant that the Conservatives didn’t win a majority. As a result, the Tories formed a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.
So what about future elections?
Well, there’s actually a question mark over whether we’ll even have an election in 2015. Some MPs have called for legislation that would postpone the election in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote – the first time since 1940 that a general election has been postponed. However, the House of Lords constitution select committee stated that this move might be seen by voters as “self-serving” by “extending the time in power of the current government”.
The most likely scenario is an election in 2015 in which Scottish voters participate. That might then be followed by another election in 2016 in the rest of the United Kingdom, once Scotland has departed the Union.
Could Labour win in 2015?
That raises the question, what might happen in a 2015 election? Could Labour win a majority?
Let’s look at the opinion polls. Earlier in the year, the polling company Survation showed that 36% of participants said they would vote Labour next year, with only 27% of participants saying they would vote for the Conservatives.
However, that lead has now tightened. Survation’s more recent poll puts Labour on 35% with the Conservatives on 31%. Survation also looked at opinion in England and Wales, to see what would happen if Scotland were to be excluded. Labour drops a point to 34% of the vote, whilst the Tories gain two points bringing them in at 33%. This suggests that Scottish independence will make it harder for Labour to win a majority next spring. Indeed, a recent ‘poll of polls’ in The Independent suggested that, without Scottish MPs, Labour might be three seats short of a majority in a 2015 election.
Labour supporters, however, shouldn’t be too despondent. Recent history suggests that Labour will be able to win majorities in some elections without Scotland. Even without Scotland, Labour would have won in 1997 (with a majority of 139, down from 179), in 2001 (129, down from 167) and in 2005 (43, down from 66). However, for as long as opinion polls stay as tight as they are, Labour will struggle to win a majority without Scotland.
What it means for Ukip and Cameron
And what does this all mean for Ukip?
Dr David Moon of the Department of Politics at Bath University states that a ‘Yes’ vote in the forthcoming referendum could trigger a swing to the right even before the Scottish seats disappear. This is because “the election would be transformed… from a campaign focused on living standards and coalition failures, into a campaign on the question, ‘who do you want to negotiate the independence deal with the Scots?’ That would be great news for the Conservatives and Ukip.” Moon explains that a nationalist agenda may arise in Britain in response to a ‘Yes’ vote, to which the right-wing parties can cater to, as he notes that Labour and the Liberal Democrats would be portrayed as “soft touches” when it comes to Scotland.
As the Survation poll also suggests, if you just look at England and Wales, then Ukip makes up some ground – 20% of participants said they’d vote for the anti-EU, anti-immigration party next May.
Turning to David Cameron, former Tory leadership contender, David Davis has said that if a ‘Yes’ vote prevails it would be a humiliation for the prime minister. And Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University told The Independent that it would “destroy Cameron’s place in the history books. He would become known as the prime minister who gambled on keeping Scotland in the union and lost his gamble.” Cameron himself has insisted that in the result of a ‘Yes’ victory he would not resign, but if he is indeed forced to do so, what does this mean for British politics? No one can say with any certainty, but we can be pretty sure that a leadership contest would destabilise the Tories and possibly the UK as well.
It’s hard to know precisely how things will pan out in Westminster after a ‘Yes’ vote, but we can sure that the status quo will be seriously shaken up.