April 20, 2015 by Paul Goldsmith
Somewhere, deep in Conservative Party headquarters, under some kind of secret codename, and most probably dressed in black, will be some people working on a plan to persuade the Scottish National Party that they have no option but to support the Conservative Party in government . Somewhere, deep in Scottish National Party Headquarters, almost definitely under an even more secret codename and under pain of some sort of torture if they even mention it to their families, some people will be working on a plan to work out the conditions under which the Scottish National Party will support the Conservative Party in government.
You might think this would be impossible given they have both promised not to do a deal with each other, and Nicola Sturgeon has effectively staked her credibility on that. But, whenever I hear her say that she will not work with the Tories under any circumstances do wonder what would happen in the circumstances that they offered the SNP something that their entire existence is based upon.
It is becoming increasingly obvious that the Scottish people are moving away from the rest of the UK in terms of how they want their country to be run. It started with the great achievement by Alex Salmond in 2011 to gain a majority in the Scottish Assembly under an election system expressly created to make that very unlikely. Then the independence referendum campaign showed a desire on the part of many of the Scottish people for a fundamental change. Yes, you could say that the referendum was lost. But 45% of a massive turnout were prepared to take the massive risk that independence would mean, and that after the kitchen sink was thrown at Scotland in terms of devolution offered, they were told they would not get currency union, and all but one of the newspapers in the country were anti-independence.
The awakening of self-determination that has come to Scotland is reflected in the polls at the moment, which suggest the possibility of an almost complete whitewash. It is actually within the realms of reality that they could win every seat, although 50 out of 59 is more likely. That would mean huge power for the 4% of the UK’s population that those MP’s would represent. It is then very likely that the SNP will end up with a complete landslide in the Scottish Assemboy elections in 2016, winning a mandate for whatever is in their manifesto, and that could include another independence referendum. And why not? That is their ultimate aim and there is surely no problem with it contintuing to be so.
I would like to put forward that the Conservatives are the only party politically able to grant the SNP another independence referendum. It is precisely because they are so against it (few people realise that the actual full name of the party is still the Conservative and Unionist Party) that they are more likely to be given the leeway, if they can proves it is in the interests of the stability of the country, to grant another independence referendum.
Robert Harris pointed out in the Sunday Times yesterday that the General Election of January 1910 brought a similar result as we are expecting now. The two major parties of the time, the Conservatives and Unionists and the Liberals, got around 270 seats. The Labour Party got 40 seats and the increasingly assertive Irish Nationalists got 71 seats (almost all of those they contested). The historian AJP Taylor notes that the Liberals managed to win the Nationalists’ “tame acquiesense” for the rest of their legislative programme by offering the irish home rule. So Herbert Asquith became Prime Minister even though the Conservatives and Unionists had a greater share of the popular vote.
Ed Miliband and Labour won’t want to offer independence for Scotland in return for “tame acquiesense” from the SNP on their legislative programme, for the simple reason that without Scotland Labour will find it very difficult to have enough seats even to form a minority government in the future. You only have to realise that Michael Howard’s Conservatives in 2005, moribund and short of ideas, still won more votes in England than Tony Blair and Labour to know that Labour would fear Scottish Independence more than the Conservatives would.
The Conservatives, meanwhile, are a pragmatic bunch. They will know that having a party that dominates Scotland but represents only 4% of the UK’s population having an effective veto over the the legislation programme in England, Northern Ireland and Wales whilst still having control over their own domestic legislative affairs will be like having someone scream the West Lothian question daily. The answer to that question, which may well be demanded by the English as well as the Scots, could well be another Independence referendum.
So I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a year of SNP/Tory arms length collaboration next year, just until a second independence referendum is on the statute books. This time I imagine the Scots would be offered Sterling in a currency union and possibly even a permanent seat or two on the Bank of England monetary policy committee. Which is why this time I think the Scots would vote for independence. However much Nicola Sturgeon protests that she would never work with Tories, and however much she insists that ending austerity is her main concern, would she seriously pass up the prize of a second independence referendum under far more favourable conditions?
As Harris points out at the end of his article, “there is a storm coming”, and unprecedented circumstances give cause for unprecedented events. The oddest alliances may form, and Harris recalls the two-year Nazi-Spviet pact at the start of World War Two, which lasted two years, and led a British Diplomat at the time to comment that, at times like these “all the -isms are -wasms”.