Opinion: Scottish independence – bleak consequences for LibDem and Labour Westminster representation

It seems to me that murmurs in political circles regarding the Scottish desire for independence are on the increase. It’s a very tangible situation. – Not least with the SNP as a single-party government in Holyrood and some polls showing a strong desire to break away from the UK. (I should point out, that many polls show that the English are more in favour of Scottish independence than the Scots).

What, then, are the consequences for Liberal Democrats and the composition of Westminster, should Scotland secede from the Union?

On first investigation, I’d say ‘bleak’ at best. Scotland has provided many of our traditional Liberal heartlands. Our previous two leaders were Scottish, as are many of our more high-profile MPs. In fact, without Scottish constituencies, our presence in parliament would reduce from 57 seats to 46.

That is roughly the same proportion as Labour is set to lose. They would see their presence fall from 257 to 216 seats. About 1 in 5. However, it only takes a look at the impact on the Conservatives, to see what a difference this would make to the balance of power Westminster in the future. Their share of the chamber would fall from 306 seats to 305. Need I say more?

“What about those dreaded boundary reforms?” I hear you ask. Well, even when we compare this situation against a reformed Scotland, the number of seats there are being reduced by 7, from 59 to 52. So I think we can safely agree, that we’re set to take a hit, should Scotland leave the Union.

As the statistics show, whilst the Lib Dems and Labour are set to lose a fifth of their seats, the Tories will be without 1/300th of theirs. I would suggest that this, combined with our archaic first-past-the-post system, would change the face of politics. By that I mean, the entrenched superiority of Tory majority governments for years to come.

Moreover, boundary reforms will only compound this, as they’re set to carve up many of our existing constituencies. Based on 2010 voting patterns, the proposed reforms alone suggest a net loss of six seats in England. Again, that is proportionately the greatest loss amongst the three major parties.

Perhaps then, as good optimistic Liberals, we should think of potential positive outcomes from this.

Firstly, should Scotland not secede from the Union, I dare say it will render the entire raison d’etre of the SNP invalid. Perhaps then we’ll see a return of some of our more marginal seats to Lib Dem control as our traditional supporters, those who support reform and devolution, realise that we’re the national party that most strongly advocates such things.

Secondly, should such a post-independence scenario as described above take place, I sense an opportunity for proper constitutional reform. I don’t mean a half-attempt at a referendum on a stop-gap voting system. I mean a complete overhaul of Westminster. At present, one of the big constitutional reforms picking up steam is that of the House of Lords. That is encouraging. But, if the Commons was to be left in a situation of constant Conservative domination, complete imbalance between the popular vote and allocation of seats, I daresay we’d see our best evidence yet of the weaknesses of our electoral system.

At long last, the electorate may see the importance of PR in making our Parliament more representative, accountable and democratic.
Such situations aren’t of course, entirely predictable. Who knows how the electorate would react to the idea of entrenched Tory domination? Maybe this will signal the rise of smaller parties and the fall of tactical voting. Or perhaps, we’ll see all third parties completely wiped out as the population begin to believe in a bi-polar American-style system, with a strong opposition party as the only way to challenge such domination.

That is perhaps my most feared situation, as all politics is compelled to come under either a right-wing or left-wing banner. As we know, it’s a strength of our system that we aren’t forced to make such sweeping generalisations when choosing our party allegiances.

The idea of Scottish Independence, once radical, is now tangible. – Some could argue imminent. I’d suggest that no-one can really predict the impact that this will have on democracy in what remains of the UK. However, one thing is for sure, Westminster in 2020 is set to be completely different.

David Franklin is a member of the Leeds NE local party and am currently a 2nd year Politics/International Relations student at the University of Birmingham and 2010-11 Vice-Chair of the University Liberal Democrats.

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34 Comments

  • Malcolm Todd 9th Jan '12 - 2:22pm

    Oh god, not this 1980s tosh again: the permanent Conservative majority in England and the duty of the Scots to save us from our own inability to vote out the Nasty Party.

    Some electoral facts: the following relate to English seats only (i.e. not even including Wales and Northern Ireland, which show no immediate signs of following Scotland out of the door):

    1997 Labour 328 seats, Con 165, Lib Dem 34, Other 2. Lab Majority: 127 (Labour outpolled Tories by 2.5 million votes in England)
    2001 Labour 323 seats, Con 165, Lib Dem 40, Other 1. Lab Majority: 117 (Labour outpolled Tories by 1.3 million votes in England)
    2005 Labour 286 seats, Con 194, Lib Dem 47, Other 2. Lab Majority: 43 ( though Tories outpolled Labour by 50,000 votes in England)

    Yes, in 2010 the Tories won a majority in England again. For the first time in nearly 20 years. It’s not much of a hegemony, is it? Calm down.

  • I don’t think the Scots who support the SNP have though carefully about the consequences of tearing up the union. They think that separation can be achieved without any problems at all, with everyone parting on the best of terms. But with the Tories effectively occupying the role of English Nationalist Party, I just think UK politics is about to become a whole lot nastier and more conflictual. After all, how many divorces end up being conducted on a purely amicable basis after even a few years of married life, let alone after three centuries?

    Nationalism generally is inimical to the Lib Dem view of the world. We should be actively articulating what our view of a future federal UK should be, rather than standing passively on the sidelines waiting for the meltdown of the current system without any viable replacement.

  • “It’s not much of a hegemony, is it? ”

    Quite.

    Besides, the Tories’ demise in Scotland is a relatively recent phenomenon. In 1955 they polled 50.1% of the Scottish vote – the only party to have achieved a majority share in Scotland.

    There’s a lot of disaffected lefties that vote SNP – Scottish voters have the chance to vote for someone other than the blue, red and yellow tories.

  • Does anyone know what will happen with currency when Scotland is independent?

  • David Evans 9th Jan '12 - 4:06pm

    The key question is how much of the massive National Debt that Labour left us with will Scotland want to take? Or from the other side of the equation – how much of the National Debt will the English, Welsh and Irish be prepared to keep?

  • I believe that maintaining the union with Scotland is an issue of such importance that we have to work with people from all the democratic pro-union parties and not allow partisan rivalries to get in the way. Arguing among ourselves, or even with our political opponents, is going to play straight into Salmond’s hand. As is David’s argument from the potential electoral damage to the Liberal Democrats. We have to rise above party self-interest or the union will be broken.

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg need to stand together on this. They must stress the contribution that Scots have made to the United Kingdom over the centuries, and the inter-connectedness between the two countries. The union has benefited the whole of the United Kingdom, and we need to point that out.

    Let’s not have any more of this wishy-washy stuff about independence not being that bad after all, and Salmond being quite a nice man. Salmond and his party are threatening the future both of Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Let’s get out there and persuade the Scottish people to stop him.

  • The effect of the coalition’s campaign for a no vote needs to be considered also. Everytime Cameron opens his mouth it is clear that he has no understanding of, and little concern for Scotland. Nick Clegg’s extremely unhelpful contribution last week where he implied that the majority of scottish voters had voted for an extremist party was also a sign that his contribution to any debate should be minimal too.

    The campaign needs to be lead by the one party that can represent Scotland and is staunchly unionist – Labour. Sadly the rightwing hate campaign against Labour, with prominent liberal support, makes it unlikely the coalition will allow this. Interesting times for us unionists…

  • Nationalism generally is inimical to the Lib Dem view of the world.

    But all of the arguments for the Union are essentially nationalist in nature. “Stronger together” and “punch above our weight” and all that. Stronger to what end, precisely? To give our political class a bigger stage on which to pose? To spend billions on nuclear weapons we can never use and billions more on conventional weapons we use all too often?

    The choice before the Scottish people isn’t between nationalism and something else, it’s between two forms of nationalism – inclusive, progressive, civic Scottish nationalism vs belligerent, nostalgic, imperialist British nationalism.

    We should be actively articulating what our view of a future federal UK should be, rather than standing passively on the sidelines waiting for the meltdown of the current system without any viable replacement.

    There is no viable federal solution. It’s a pipe dream.

  • Old Codger Chris 9th Jan '12 - 5:15pm

    The voting figures quoted by Malcolm Todd are very interesting and a surprise to me.

    But – on the party political point – isn’t the main significance of Scotland the fact that the once considerable Tory vote north of the Border collapsed in the 1980s and shows no signs of revival?

  • @ Ivan

    “inclusive, progressive, civic Scottish nationalism vs belligerent, nostalgic, imperialist British nationalism.”

    It never fails to amaze me how much Scottish nationalists are dependent on this kind of (frankly bordering on racist) confected sense of moral superiority and differentiation versus the English (you say British, but really you mean English). Just calm down and get off your high horse.

    The Scots were ardent supporters of the Empire and have always taken a leading role in its military exploits. To try to reinvent history in the way you are doing is nonsense.

    @Andrew Ducker

    “Well, RC, for a start you could avoid using phrases like “tearing up the union”

    What are the SNP doing other than tearing up the Union? That is exactly what they are proposing. To pretend that it would be

    “I would like to hear some good arguments for why being part of the UK rather than a separate country (within the EU) is better for Scotland. If anyone could point me at them that would be great!”

    1) Actually having a seat among the major countries in the EU and on the World stage rather than becoming one of the “little ‘uns” in European politics, forced to do whatever the Germans tell you to. The UK is still listened to in international politics and economic discussions. A country with 5m people would not be.
    2) Having direct internal influence on the monetary policy adopted for the currency you use. If you choose independence within Sterling or within the Euro, the influence that you do have on monetary policy will disappear entirely;
    3) Good relations and transport links with a much larger southern neighbour. You may say this is a far fetched point to make, but many nations within the EU impose a “vignette” to pay for road maintenance and improvement on transit traffic. Independence for Scotland is also very likely to jeopardize any plans for high speed rail links. What incentive would a UK minus Scotland have for investment in transport north of Newcastle, for example?
    4) Access to a wider jobs market and career opportunities across a wide range of fields from politics to finance and business within the UK plus usage of the UK’s influence, connections and presence across the globe e.g. embassies worldwide.
    How would it feel as a Scot to be turned away from a British consulate if you got into trouble while on a foreign trip?
    5) Involvement in major world class cultural institutions like the BBC.

  • Meant to say:
    “To pretend that it would be anything else is just simply ignoring reality”.

  • g,

    “Everytime Cameron opens his mouth it is clear that he has no understanding of, and little concern for Scotland.”

    I disagree. Whatever I may think of Cameron (and it isn’t very much), he is a Scotsman, and takes the issue of the future of the union very seriously; unlike some of his senior Tory colleagues, who would be happy to see Salmond get his way. Cameron ought to be commended for standing up for the union in the way he has, and other political leaders should follow. As I say above, using this issue to score political points against opponents, as you have just done, is exactly what Salmond wants. The campaign must be multi-party.

    “The campaign needs to be lead by the one party that can represent Scotland and is staunchly unionist – Labour.”

    Wrong. It needs to be led by all the democratic unionist parties, not just Labour. Remember, Labour lost badly to the SNP last May, and this was not helped by two Englishmen (Ed Miliband and Ed Balls) going up there and telling the Scots what to do.

    RC,

    Thanks for pointing to the excessive reliance on pseudo-history by Scottish nationalists to make their case.

  • @ Ivan

    It never fails to amaze me how much Scottish nationalists are dependent on this kind of (frankly bordering on racist) confected sense of moral superiority and differentiation versus the English (you say British, but really you mean English). Just calm down and get off your high horse.

    The Scots were ardent supporters of the Empire and have always taken a leading role in its military exploits. To try to reinvent history in the way you are doing is nonsense.

    Hold your horses. No, I quite categorically do not mean ‘English’, I mean ‘British’, as in ‘of it pertaining to the British state’. I’m more than half English myself, I live in England at the moment, and my kids are English, so your accusation of racism is as ludicrous as it is desperate. Secondly, at no point did I suggest that Scots were unwilling participants in the empire, so I don’t really understand what point you think you’re making there.

    For the record, I’m a (small-l) liberal and a former (big-L) Lib Dem who is as suspicious of nationalism as you are. My support for independence is based on the fact that I find the Scottish nationalism of the SNP considerably less objectionable than the British nationalism of their opponents, and when I look at the institutions that constitute the UK – our absurd so-called constitution; our utterly broken system of so-called “democratic” government and the odious careerist turds who dominate it; our pompous, try-hard,willy-waving militarism; our addiction to absurd tradition and flummery; and so on – I see much that I despise and absolutely nothing that deserves to be saved, and I conclude that not only could the Scots make a better fist of it, but that such a seismic event might actually break the stranglehold of old assumptions elsewhere on these islands.

    Fact is, I’m much more against Westminster than I am for Scotland per se, and if there were other causes that stood a similar chance of lighting the metaphorical gunpoweder under Westminster or stemming the crippling small-c conservatism that oozes from it unto every aspect if British life, then I’d support those too, but there aren’t.

    So, how about responding to things that are actually said, rather than to what the cartoon nationalist in your head is shouting?

  • Daniel Henry 9th Jan '12 - 7:53pm

    If Salmond goes ahead with the “preferendum” with “independence lite/home rule/devo max” as the middle option, that’ll likely secure the ideal outcome for us.

    I don’t like Cameron’s plans to interfere.
    1) I think Scotland should have the right to determine their own referendum.
    2) Westminster interference will simply bolster the case for full independence.

  • 1) Actually having a seat among the major countries in the EU and on the World stage rather than becoming one of the “little ‘uns” in European politics, forced to do whatever the Germans tell you to. The UK is still listened to in international politics and economic discussions. A country with 5m people would not be.

    You’ll have to explain how having a relatively small independent voice would be worse than having no voice at all and having to rely on senior Tories to act in our interests, if it suits them.

    2) Having direct internal influence on the monetary policy adopted for the currency you use. If you choose independence within Sterling or within the Euro, the influence that you do have on monetary policy will disappear entirely;

    Most MSPs are from the SNP. Most Scottish MPs are from Labour. What influence do either of these groups currently have over monetary policy?

    You are right to an extent that there is no ideal solution to this question, and the SNP have failed to come up with one, but it’ll take a lot to convince me that the advantages of having control over most of the levers of the economy will be worse than having a little bit of influence over monetary policy.

    3) Good relations and transport links with a much larger southern neighbour. You may say this is a far fetched point to make, but many nations within the EU impose a “vignette” to pay for road maintenance and improvement on transit traffic. Independence for Scotland is also very likely to jeopardize any plans for high speed rail links. What incentive would a UK minus Scotland have for investment in transport north of Newcastle, for example?

    Small beans, and I oppose HS2 anyway, but the answer would surely be that the Scottish government would have to find additional funding to pay for it. Fairly obvious, I’d have thought.

    4) Access to a wider jobs market and career opportunities across a wide range of fields from politics to finance and business within the UK plus usage of the UK’s influence, connections and presence across the globe e.g. embassies worldwide.

    What, Scottish people won’t be able to work in England? Really?

    How would it feel as a Scot to be turned away from a British consulate if you got into trouble while on a foreign trip?

    In the event of independence I would no more turn up at a British consulate than at any other foreign one. I’d go to the Scottish one, or that of whichever country the Scottish state had an agreement, in much the same way as people from all of Europe’s other small nations do. In reality though, I can’t see Scotland and the rump UK disantangling themselves to that extent for at least a generation, so it’s not something I’ll lose sleep over.

    5) Involvement in major world class cultural institutions like the BBC.

    I’m pretty sure you’ll find that the BBC isn’t held in the same regard north of the border, even amongst Unionists, but even if we grant you that one, what else is there?

    I don’t think you’ve got even the beginnings of a case for the union here, what you’ve got is a small list of easily surmountable inconveniences of independence. Thanks for at least trying though.

  • Jock MacSporran 9th Jan '12 - 8:41pm

    Andrew Ducker – I would be delighted to point you to Positive-Case-For-The-Union Watch: http://wingsland.podgamer.com/?p=12039

  • I’ll tell you precisely how the Lib Dems could score a winner in Scotland over the next couple of years: by facilitating a Devo-Max™ or FFA option in the referendum.

    As has been pointed out endlessly, it’s not within the gift of the SNP to offer that, but since it seems to be the option that most Scots want Salmond has been characteristically canny in challenging the unionist parties to offer it, thereby making them wary of doing so. Cameron’s “yes or no, when I say so” policy is high-risk, to say the least.

    Of course, you’d have to accept that the SNP would still steal most of the glory even though they’d essentially lost the argument, but the Libs would get a bit of it (and let’s face it, you need it), and it would maintain the Union and achieve the kind of settlement the LDs always claim to want anyway, which is surely the point.

    It will be sadly ironic if the unionists fail to offer the one settlement that most of them want and that is most likely to defeat independence, just because they reckon Salmond wants it on the ballot as much as they do.

  • Daniel Henry 9th Jan '12 - 10:39pm

    I agree with Ivan’s last comment (although I disagree with much of what he wrote before)

    Devomax is our preferred option and the one we should publicly get behind. Preferendums usually favour the compromise option and I suspect that many SNP privately recognise that Scotland having its own military is needless and that there’s more to be gained by continuing to work with the rest of the UK on some areas. I think Ivan is right that championing a preferendum with Devomax and then winning that result would be the best outcome for us.

  • I can’t believe reports that a Lib Dem Secretary of State is about to stand up and support Cameron in his games with Salmond. Despite the statistics quoted above, Cameron knows that independence would give the Tories (aka the English National Party) an instant majority in Westminster. So he has nothing to lose, whereas we do and so do the people of Scotland and England.

    Lib Dems (and Liberals before them) have always supported Home Rule of Scotland within the Union, so we should be putting forward the option of Devo-Max, not threatening to withdraw it:

    http://www.scotlibdems.org.uk/news/2011/09/home-rule-blueprint-be-developed-scottish-liberal-democrats

    If we want to maintain our credibility, we have to stand up for our principles.

    SO STOP THIS NONSENSE NOW PLEASE!

  • The LibDems should argue in favour of the proposed Devolution Max option for Scotland. This should be followed by campaigning in favour of Devolution Max for Wales and the English regions.

    The liberal answer to the inequalities and divisions across the country, class based, north/south and so on, is to decentralise power and allow regional communities the taxation and corresponding spending powers they need to build the sorts of societies they want to see, locally.

    Because there’s a real and largely justified loss of faith in the ability or willingness of the Whitehall bureaucrat or Westminster career-minder to address local concerns and make policy with the needs of the communities affected in mind.

    Its also a pretty good answer to the West Lothian Question. And would get the English devolution issue rolling again – it seems to have stalled with only the London Assembly implemented.

  • The campaign needs to be lead by the one party that can represent Scotland and is staunchly unionist – Labour. Sadly the rightwing hate campaign against Labour, with prominent liberal support, makes it unlikely the coalition will allow this. Interesting times for us unionists…

    Award winning humour from g once again. Do point us to Miliband’s views on the Union, or indeed Labour policy. I assumed EdM was doing some kind of sponsored silence, there is more chance of Anthony Worrall Thompson leading a campaign to save the Union, at least he can get in the papers.

  • Richard Swales 10th Jan '12 - 1:07am

    Slovakia also has 5 million people. At independence they were (economically and a every other way) a long way behind the dominant Czech part of Czechoslovakia. Running their own affairs, they have now caught up to a great extent. Relations between the two nations are much better now than before the split. Scotland is definitely big enough to be independent if they want and they probably should if they don’t feel British.

    Someone asked about currency. Initially Scotland would continue to use Sterling, after which it would be a matter for the Scottish government.
    1) They could issue their own currency at par to the English pound to minimise disturbance to cross-border trade and employment, but have to then shadow Bank of England rates which would be set based on England only (plus Wales plus NI) targets without direct reference to Scottish data.
    2) They could have a free floating pound, which would no longer be 1-1 with the English pound but economic policy could be tailored to Scottish conditions, or
    3) they could join the Euro.

    All of the above have disadvantages of course. It’s none of my business anyway, but what to do about currency seems to me to be the biggest problem.

  • Daniel Henry 10th Jan '12 - 3:50am

    Either Nick and Michael Moore have been reading this thread or maybe it’s just a case of great minds thinking alike!
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/coalition-divided-over-camerons-plans-on-scottish-independence-6287401.html

    Whichever it is, it’s great to see them standing up to Cameron to preserve Scottish democracy from Westminster interference and also saving Cameron from accidentally furthering the cause of independence by his meddling!

  • Malcolm Todd 10th Jan '12 - 9:06am

    From that report in the Independent: “The Government’s legal advice is that an independence poll will only be binding if the SNP stages it with permission from Westminster.”
    Since when were referendums legally binding?

  • David Allen 10th Jan '12 - 6:02pm

    There’s a problem with “Devo-Max” in a referendum.

    We’re in Call-me-Dave’s used car showroom, and he is offering an (unusually) straightforward, fair choice. He is saying “You can do one of two things. You can drive the car away (stay in the UK) for £11,995. Or, you can walk away (leave the UK) and pay nothing.”

    The SNP are saying “No, Dave, here is my third option proposal. You take the radio out, and then I’ll have your car for £4000.”

    What happens when the Scots pick option 3 in the referendum, and Call-me-Dave then tells them that a car with no radio costs £11,994?

  • Richard Swales 10th Jan '12 - 11:05pm

    If Scotland goes independent it doesn’t simply disappear, we don’t “lose” Lib Dem politicians north of the border, in fact they/we have a lot of influence in a newly independent country.

    I think like most people in England I am tired of this whole “Anyone but England” thing from Scotland. I think they will be just embarrassing themselves if they don’t vote for independence now after all they have said. It won’t be the end of the world, we will gradually be able to start to have good relations as equals finally.

  • Richard Swales, there has never been a majority of scots supporting independence, how will they be embarrassing themselves if they vote no?

  • Why oh why are we insisting on a single “all-or-nothing” “decisive” referendum?

    We know how fickle referendum results are, and how easily swayed by one-off issues. As Ming has said on the radio, independence is not just for Christmas. So we should surely have more safeguards than this. In particular, what is wrong with a two-stage process:

    (1) do the Scottish voters favour independence in principle? If not, forget independence, but by all means let’s have a further discussion about where powers should lie and perhaps have a referendum on that. If yes, let’s negotiate terms.

    (2) Now that the Scottish voters (and perhaps the English voters as well) have seen the terms do they still really want independence?

    Independence requires negotiations eg about the Scottish constitution and the assets and liabilities which an independent Scotland would take with it. For a decisive referendum, we would have to hold those negotiations first, which would allow Salmond to ramp up the belligerence and hysteria in advance of the referendum. Far better, I would have thought, to put off all these destabilising negotiations until after the Scottish people have actually said in a referendum that they want to follow that path. The SNP didn’t win a majority of votes in the last election – just a majority of seats thanks to having won three-quarters of the first-past-the-post seats.

    Some people think Salmond would find it easier to win a first-stage consultative referendum. But I doubt that. I suspect that the majority of the Scottish people would be very alarmed about having to enter into the kind of destabilising climate of negotiations that an initial yes vote would entail.

    So I would favour letting Salmond have his consultative referendum, with 16 and 17 year-olds if he likes, since we would support letting them vote too.

    But we also need to be clear about the timing of these negotiations. For example, I think it should be clear that if the Scottish people vote in favour at stage 1, any negotiations should then take place between new Governments with fresh mandates rather between what would by then be tail-end Governments.

  • As an SNP supporter, I am interested to see that there is still some debate taking place in the LibDems on constitutional options.

    As with many other long-standing Liberal policies, the desire for Devomax or Federalism or what Ming Campbell is again calling Home Rule got swept aside by the LibDem MSPs who signed up to the coalition with a most reactionary and illiberal Labour Party.

    Over the first 12 years of devolution, the cause of Liberalism was badly damaged by its association with Labour. It is not clear that all of the LibDem MPs have learned that lesson in terms of how far they become defined as mere extensions of their coalition partner.

    I know that John Farquhar Munro spoke for many long-standing Liberals when he broke ranks and endorsed Alex Salmond as First Minister against a very poor Labour candidate. For the party leadership, it seems as though unionism trumped all other considerations.

    It is not clear that LibDems can survive in Scotland if they join a campaign to persuade the Scottish people to vote for continued Tory government – at least from 2016 to 2021. It is good to see that there are still some voices asking why Scotland’s LibDems are not actively pursuing something more meaningful than the Calman sideshow has become.

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