Archive for the 'Guest Contribution' Category


Searching for a parallel to 2015

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

Westminster twlight

Parallels from the past can never be as neat as those proposing them might like to hope. For starters, any modern comparison for 2015 could never do justice to the SNP’s triumph, and what happens in Scotland over the next five years could dramatically change the Parliamentary arithmetic in 2020. Regardless, let’s see what we can come up with, focussing on the two main parties.

1992 is a very tempting parallel, and probably the one that offers Labour the most hope. The failure of polling (check!) led Labour to think that victory was within its grasp, yet doubts about their leader combined with an economy on the mend ended up delivering the Tories a thin majority. Within five years a New Labour dawn had broken. But to focus on the Tories’ narrow win as a comparator is to miss the significantly worse scale of Labour’s defeat.

So perhaps 1983 is better? A third party (for UKIP, read the Alliance) took chunks out of both major parties’ vote but the net beneficiary was the Conservatives. Once again, an unelectably left-wing leader meant the middle classes deserted Labour. If this is the right parallel then there are another 3 parliaments of Opposition to look forward to. 1979 is even a contender – a return to Conservative majority government forced the underlying left-right tensions within Labour out into the open with disastrous electoral effects. Neither parallel can be written off but the Tories’ position today is nowhere near as strong as it was then.

Less apocalyptically, there’s 1955. After a term of steady-as-she-goes government the Tories improved their position by 23 seats, though in that case it was enough to convert a slim majority into a comfortable one. Happily for the Tories they were able to survive a foreign policy adventure and a change of leader – both of which are definitely on the cards today – to do even better next time.

But all of these examples have assumed that the best parallel must be a Conservative victory. Yet a reverse of 2001 seems the neatest comparison – a first-term opposition retreating to its own comfort zone after years in government, willing the electorate to come to them rather than putting in the hard yards required to persuade them to return. The pro-Tory swing in their own marginal defences this year echoes that achieved by first-time Blairite incumbents 14 years ago.

Choosing 2001 also allows me to tentatively present these leadership parallels:

Thatcher : Blair
Major : Brown
Hague : Miliband
Duncan Smith : Burnham
Howard : Cooper or Balls
Cameron : Jarvis or Kendall

History is not destiny, and all the more so when it’s another party’s history interpreted with plenty of licence, but it might give those intending to install Andy Burnham as Labour leader some reason to pause for thought. “Ed Miliband with a Scouse accent,” according to one unnamed MP – well what was IDS but Hague with posher pronunciation?

If Burnham does win the leadership and subsequently turns into something akin to The Quiet Man mk II, then Labour will have to rethink their policy on regicide. As Nick Bent, defeated Labour candidate in marginal Warrington South, puts it:

Some in our party think that getting rid of a failing leader is a Tory thing to do, and typical of the ‘nasty party’. This sort of irrational hippy nonsense has no place in the Labour party – if we are serious about the values we represent, if we care about the people we represent and we if really think Britain is better off with a Labour government, then we have a moral duty to be a serious contender for victory at every general election. And that requires a winner as a leader.

There’s been much discussion regarding the possibility of establishing a 3 year “break clause” for Labour’s new leader – i.e. requiring them to submit themselves for revalidation in 2018. I think that this would be a mistake as it would inevitably weaken the new leader from the off and take the focus off the policy work required. But the very fact that it has been suggested indicates that many in Labour are worried that they’re about to elect the wrong person, again.

Tissue Price


Corporeal suggests that political punters should be rooting against the Pollsters

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

vote counting

Confusion might be best for those wanting a bet

Here at PB we generally like pollsters (especially if they drop by to read and boost traffic numbers). I’m sure many of them are lovely people (a couple have even retweeted me occasionally) but it’s mostly the polls they produce that we like (sometimes with the slight undercurrent of getting a fix supplied). As a site where we mix polling and betting good data on likely outcomes is valuable as well as interesting.

So it seems a little odd (and possibly ungrateful) to suggest that perhaps the outcome we should hope for is that the pollsters should get the independence referendum badly wrong, but at the risk of their tweeted wrath I think it might be worth considering.

Polling has seen a great growth in prominence in recent years, something that’s been particularly noted in the USA, and the advent of cheaper online polls has caused a massive surge in the number commissioned by media outlets over the current electoral cycle.

As any punter knows the key is not just having good information, but having an edge in information (or understanding) over those you’re betting against (whether bookmakers themselves or other punters on an exchange) and the progressing prominence of polling erodes some of the edge we’ve tried to tease out from datasets and weighting changes.

 In the last few days there’s just been a little undercurrent of nervous uncertainty about the possibility that pollsters might face an embarrassing Friday morning.

The task for them is undeniably greater than at a normal election. Pollsters relies on the evidence of past elections and previous voter behaviour to tweak their methodologies towards an accurate snapshot of public opinion, a one-off referendum is not such a different beast that all previous work should be discarded, but it is different enough to make things tricky.

This also means that an innaccurate set of final polls wouldn’t be a reason to downgrade your expectations of the pollsters performance in the upcoming GE2015, but if it did occur then it might create some unjustified decrease in confidence in pollsters and return a little bit of edge.

So perhaps PB punters should raise a glass of Scotch (while it’s still British) and toast to some temporary confusion to our friends?



Corporeal asks: Will the dog bark

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Sex and politics is an explosive mix and one that has driven a lot of scandals in British history, from Parnell’s divorce through the Profumo affair, Jeremy Thorpe, and up to the present day scandals to not even scratch the surface. The most recent rumours (that I happily don’t know enough about to make any troublesome innocent faces) aren’t either as influential or as shocking (the Duchess of Argyll’s divorce case is inexplicably obscure now) as the most infamous historical episodes, but sit comfortably on the lower level of dirty laundry that comes around regularly.

Actually regularly is an understatement, the rumours or stories are constant and familiar to almost anyone with any familiarity with politics, and particularly the world of young activists or staffers. It’s not even an open secret, it’s just open.

It’s tempting to suggest that this is just the revelations of close observation, the only difference with politicians is the microscope applied to them. No doubt if you trained a magnifying lens on any sector of society you’d find plenty of ongoing goings-on, but there is far more to it than that, a confluence of factors that breed a particular type of environment.

Power is its own particular type of aphrodisiac, but political power brings an extra ideological edge to it. If power is sexy then righteousness mixed with power is another level again, and a sense of shared righteousness is beyond even that.

So much for attraction, politics also provides opportunity (or risk, depending on your perspective). Frequent stays away from home at a second address, leaving aside the intense communality of election campaigns or party conferences  (and by-elections are notorious for people being thrown together and then getting together).

So much for the backroom party gossip, there is also a darker more unsavoury side to it.

Politics also places a lot of young and comparatively powerless people close alongside older, more elevated and revered persons and this kind of structure lends itself unpleasant results. Rennard-gate was disheartening (particularly for Lib Dems) not just because of the allegations themselves, or the “investigation”, but that certain older Lords suggested that low level sexual harassment, the not-that-occasional grope is expected and also nothing to worry about.

They are utterly and disgustingly wrong on the second point, and depressingly accurate on the first one. As with expenses, politics is often at the back of the line for modernisation, the culture still hangs over a lot of Westminster and this is especially true of the Lords with its older membership.

Sarah Wollaston MP passed police contact details to people who came to her with allegations, since the acquittal she’s faced everything from apology demands to House of Cards style conspiracy theories. Whatever you think of the investigation itself helping someone who wishes to contact the police do so is surely the correct action here. That she has been vilified in some quarters reflects badly on the critics rather than on her.

The unique nature of political parties is itself a contributing factor, not least in its inherent discouragement of reporting. The victims of the harassment have a personal commitment to the party and so a vested interest in avoiding any public relations damage. Equally there aren’t really any alternative parties to shift to, allegiance is largely defined by personal principle so a shift of organisations is both harder than moving companies and comes with a certain stigma.

Alongside that there is the notoriously murky world of party advancement, something so subjective that it defies transparency. Nepotism scratches the back of cronyism behind principle compatibility, personal rapport and political alliance where a good word in the right ear goes a long way, and a reputation for kicking up a fuss can follow you even further. It all adds up to pressure to keep quiet, smile, and get along.

The traditional method of discipline is the party whip, whose role of enforcing party loyalty to maintain a positive public image leaves them in a less than ideal (to say the very least, and not even mentioning their personal working relationship with the MPs) position to act in such cases,

The unusual nature of politics means it is more vulnerable to these kind of incidents, but the protections have traditionally been far laxer than other workplaces.

The Rennard allegations were one of the most disappointing things I’ve heard as a Lib Dem, not least for the comments by some of the Lords excusing them. Nigel Evans was acquitted, but the spotlight on his behaviour has brought an anonymous wave of stories detailing various levels of sexual harrassment.

What depresses me further is my conviction that whatever the truth (or not) of those two sets of high profile allegations, what they have brought is attention into a culture of harassment puttering along below the surface, while the circumstances that allow it to perpetuate are largely still in place. This is not all MPs by any means, but it seems reasonable to call it a significant number.

The question now is whether anyone is actually going to do anything. Will the party hierarchies fear what they might find if they went looking, or rather do they fear what they might have to admit to already knowing about if they stopped looking the other way? Will the Commons authorities feel strongly enough about the ‘integrity and honour of the House’ to get really involved? Many of the tales after all are taking place literally on their turf in the Parliamentary bars.  How hard and for how long will the media investigate and keep the story going?

Westminster was rocked by the expenses scandal, not that it was going on, but that the media informed the public about it (and the public really cared). Will anyone care as much about widespread allegations of sexual harassment?

So far we have a third of young men and women working in parliament reporting suffering sexual harassment, and the party whips have been told to tighten things up, opening of hotlines and independent complaints processes, and a promise to look into reform of procedures.

I hope the commitments are followed through on, proper reforms, pathways, structures, and all the rest of it are put into place, I hope they work. Although the Chairman of the 1922 committee has already pointed out problems in the Conservative plans there are improvements being made, or at least touted. But if I’m honest I’m sceptical, and cynical, and doubting of how much of a cultural change will happen and how long it will take. I doubt in the hope of being proven wrong.

I (and I should mention I’ve never been more than on the very humble outer fringes of politics) have heard for years now that this is a hurricane just waiting to touch down, and when it breaks it’ll be a massive scandal. So far, still up in the air. Isolated cases come and go but the big picture stays under wraps.

Will this be the time everything breaks open? I hope so, but sadly I doubt it. I’d encourage you to read the articles that are written with more anonymous anecdotes but don’t worry if you miss them, I suspect they’ll all get written again next year when he have another isolated incident that happens to make the news.



And now… our inaugural New Year’s Day Crossword

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

It is with some considerable trepidation that I step into the estimable shoes of stjohn, who has provided us with splendid Christmas Day cruciverbalism for the last six years.  Fear not, stjohn is merely resting, and may well be setting more puzzles in future.  If this offering gets his famous “nod” then we may even collaborate on a jumbo sometime!

Traditionally members have supplied the answers (and explanations of the wordplay) in the comments, so consider this a spoiler alert and a word of warning not to scroll down if you want to have a crack at it on your own first.  If you’d prefer to print off a copy then you can do so here.

A very Happy New Year to lurkers & posters alike, and all good wishes for 2014.

Tissue Price



Henry G Manson – On the Lobbying Bill

Friday, August 23rd, 2013



This Big Brother Bill Belongs to Zimbabwe Not Britain

Hasty legislation usually makes for the lousy legislation. But for lousy and cynical legislation, look no further than the government’s ‘Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill’. It appears to be the latest sinister stunt from a Conservative Party looking to boost its chances in the run-up to the general election by effectively clamping down on dissenting views.

Under this legislation the staff time, office costs and expenditures of thousands of blogs, think tanks, charities and campaigners are all set to be heavily capped in the year before the May 2015 general election. What’s worse is that the regulation of independent organisations will not only come from the state, but even from the political parties themselves.

The Spectator’s Sebastian Payne explains that political blogs that spend more than is permissible would require the permission of political parties. ‘This new regime, unless clearly defined in the bill, could affect political blogs. Not necessarily due to their funding, but because some bloggers write primarily about the ongoings of a particular party, which could be classed as campaigning. This would give Ed Miliband the power to shut down LabourList, or David Cameron to Conservative Home, if he took a dislike to their coverage.’

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations warns that charities campaigning seeking to change views and attitudes risks being classified as electioneering. ‘This means that a charity that published campaigning material on an issue such as housing or healthcare could be considered to be engaging in political campaigning if it shares a point of view with one party but not another, even if its intention was just to inform the public, and even if it did not even mention the election.’

Respected anti-fascist campaigners Hope Not Hate have highlighted  how they will be legally limited to spending just 2% of what the British National Party is able to spend in the year before the last general election under these new proposals. They describe it as ‘nothing more than a Gagging Bill, limiting democracy, political involvement and criticism. At a time when trust in political parties and politicians is at an all-time low we need to increase involvement and participation in the democratic process rather than limiting it.’

Meanwhile the TUC have calculated that to hold their traditional annual Congress in the year before an election would become a criminal offence due to the expenditure involved. Their General Secretary Frances O’Grady damned the bill as “an outrageous attack on freedom of speech worthy of an authoritarian dictatorship” 

So charities, anti-racist organisations, trade unions and political blogs stand to be hit hard by the bill, while decaying political parties including the BNP will be its beneficiaries.

Presumably such a Bill must well and truly cover lobbyists? Seasoned lobbyist and former head of Public Affairs at Bell Pottinger Peter Bingle says no ‘Only a tiny percentage of the so-called lobbying industry will be covered by the bill, and in-house lobbyists are excluded. This is bizarre, as most lobbying of ministers, special advisers and officials is done by employees of corporations and trade associations and not by public affairs consultants. I will not be covered by the bill as it is drafted and nor will most of the major players in the public affairs consultancy world.’

Guido Fawkes agrees adding that ‘a huge amount of the type of lobbying that needs most scrutiny has been let off entirely’.

Politics simply should not be the sole property of political parties. Thoughtful Conservative MP Douglas Carswell asks, ‘If 38 Degrees or the Taxpayers’ Alliance want to get stuck in during an election campaign, why shouldn’t they? What possible reason can there be to regulate the political engagement of institutions in a free society?’

It is a sad reflection on David Cameron, who once described himself as ‘a liberal Conservative’, that his government seems intent on curtailing the campaigning freedoms of others to buttress support. He refuses to admit how many Conservative members have been lost under his watch yet wants to curtail thriving civic campaigning organisations far bigger than his own. His desperate response through this Bill owes more to Zimbabwe than Britain.

For Liberal Democrat MPs to back such Big Brother measures would surely mark a new chapter in the party’s departure from liberal values. It speaks volumes about Nick Clegg’s leadership that it cannot be ruled out. Chloe Smith is the government minister responsible for this Big Brother bill’s speedy passage. Email her at to tell her what you think. While you can.


Henry G Manson


Great Britain as a multi-party state

Thursday, May 30th, 2013


If the opinion polls hold up then at the next election we’ll have four parties polling at least 10% of the vote for the first time in almost a century (the last and only time it previously occurred was in 1918, with the two Liberal factions alongside the Conservatives and Labour all achieving double figures, with 1922 being the only other election to come close).

So what would this new state of affairs look like? In deference to Harry Hayfield’s article I’m shying away from declaring this a four-party system, it’s certainly a rarity for four parties to have this kind of vote and what you call this state of affairs is not hugely relevant.

In some way, it might not look much different, the likelihood is that UKIP’s realistic potential is in low numbers of seats, the Lib Dems will fall back and the make-up of the House of Commons will look more like a two party system than it has for many years.

This is going to lead to further talk about a change in the voting system, but little action. More than ever the two largest parties will want to hang on to their inbuilt advantages and talk about the issue being settled for a generation. Where I think there will be shifts is in a re-visiting of House of Lords reform, not least as a way of deflecting talk of wider reform but also while the opportunity is there for it to be done in a way that suits them reasonably well.

The battle for media attention will intensify, and a shift away from front-bench spokesman (particularly opposition ones and minor roles) and towards party leaders and small cadres covering everything and fighting for airtime.

In this crowded marketplace, the struggle for policy ownership is going to be fiercer and less meaningful. The media will enjoy asking front-benchers if their policy isn’t really the same as what another party will announce, and then watch them try and make chasms out of split hairs.

Plagiarism accusations will be thrown around, along with hints that (for one example) some Tory backbenchers prefer UKIP policy. With a competitor close by there’s less room for straying before questions about defection are asked at every turn and if not outright defection, then the possibility of joint candidates will be brought up.

Ultimately the feel is far more important than the reality, the general public’s knowledge of individual policy is small, it’s something they pay little attention to, and even less about whether someone else had the idea first. What will be much more important is the impression they choose to give (and the media take on that) whether the Conservatives will continue to distance themselves from UKIP or claim them as pointless imitations.

In seat numbers the House of Commons will have a more traditional two party dominated look to it than it has in a long while while vote-wise it’ll be more spread than ever; and while how we are governed will be defined by the seats, how it is covered and talked about will change with the votes.




antifrank looks ahead to 2013

Sunday, December 30th, 2012


So, what lies ahead for politics in 2013? Pausing only to admire my willingness to have a go, given my mediocre track record in predictions, let’s get stuck in.

The current state of play

Where are we now?

For this, I can borrow wholesale from my summary from last year.

  1. The public doesn’t approve of the Coalition.
  2. The public doesn’t much like David Cameron.
  3. The public really doesn’t like Nick Clegg.
  4. The public doesn’t rate Ed Miliband either.
  5. The public doesn’t like the EU. Surveys show that more people want to leave the EU than remain in it.
  6. In fact, it’s very hard to find anyone or anything at all that the public approves of right now. (Apart from the Queen and the Royal Family. The public love the Queen.)

But some things have changed a bit. Ed Miliband isn’t disliked as much as he was a year ago, while the gilt has continued to come off David Cameron’s gingerbread (though David Cameron and George Osborne retain a substantial lead on economic trust over the two Eds). Boris Johnson had a gala year, but has ended it with his star dimmed in the eyes of the headbangers because of his apostasy on matters connected to the EU.

Alex Salmond had a pretty mediocre year on the UK stage, saved only by the dismal quality of his Scottish opponents. The suspicion persists that he’s a flat track bully, too easily found out when he tries to take the step up against more serious opposition. And UKIP have definitely taken a step forward this year, consistently polling near or ahead of the Lib Dems in the polls, and having made some impact in by-elections.

Economically, Britain had a pretty dismal year. The best that can be said is that some other countries had grimmer years. But it was not a land of milk and honey. Employment is rising, unemployment is falling, but real incomes continue to decline. Growth remains fragile and the deficit remains stubbornly high.

On the plus side, the Eurozone did not collapse. That’s a much bigger achievement than seems to be acknowledged. It is leading to a financial union of the Eurozone, with Britain on the outside. The implications of this have not begun to be understood either in Britain or in the rest of the EU.

So, what’s next? Last year, I concluded that when no one commands public support, the public follow Newton’s First Law of Motion, proceeding in a straight line with no outside force operating on them. I stand by this judgement. If this is correct, then we should not expect events by themselves to make much difference until sections of the public are persuaded from their current default settings by the analysis of those events put forward by one or more public figures. Or, as happened this year, where one of the parties scores an own goal.

2013 has fewer set piece big events than 2012 that can already be foreseen, but three stand out as of particular importance:

1. The fiscal cliff

As I write, the news media are full of stories of the Republicans and Barack Obama’s failure so far to agree on how to avoid the fiscal cliff leading to a massive tightening of US policy. Whether or not agreement is reached by 1 January 2013 (I doubt it), some form of resolution will ultimately be reached, largely on Barack Obama’s terms – because he’s won the battle of public opinion in the USA and the Republicans will need to avoid lasting blame. This is likely to have a very substantial impact on the debate in the UK on the proper treatment of deficit reduction vs growth. This could be shaped by either George Osborne or Ed Balls in their favour if grasped quickly.

In practice, I expect neither to gain a competitive advantage by themselves, which means that the media will be decisive. I expect that on balance the press will regard this as giving more weight to Ed Balls’s “too far too fast” narrative, which may in turn mean that Labour gain some points in economic credibility.

2 The Royal baby

In the summer, assuming that the Royal pregnancy proceeds as we all hope, we shall succumb to Royal baby mania. Republicans may wish to check likely dates in order to book their holidays now.

While this story is not of direct political relevance, the papers are likely to spend some time considering the prospects for children born today. The coalition looks weak on family-friendliness. This may in turn give a nudge in Labour’s favour.

3. The German election

Germany will hold its federal elections in September or October. At present, Angela Merkel looks likely to win. But whoever wins, the new Government will be ready to take a more dynamic position regarding the Eurozone and its future. The end of the year is likely to be taken up (again) with interminable discussions about the future of the EU, and Britain’s place in it. I’m sure you can’t wait.

More generally, there is no obvious sign that Britain’s economy is going to start improving dramatically any time soon. There are a few recent signs that George Osborne is getting better at expectations management.

North of the border, the debate over Scottish independence will continue. To date, the NO side has been very effective with its message of fear, uncertainty and doubt, aided by some entirely avoidable blunders by the SNP.


OK, time to bite the bullet. In a year where there are relatively few British political events scheduled, I suppose it should be harder to get too much wrong (famous last words).

Labour will keep and perhaps increase its lead in the polls

If the economy doesn’t improve, faith in the coalition’s policies will continue to wane. I have already noted two reasons why Labour may get additional support in the polls, and neither the Conservatives nor the Lib Dems are doing particularly well at media management, to say the least. Labour are not doing anything brilliant, and the public are not going to fall in love with them, but there aren’t too many options out there for the disaffected, and Labour remains the obvious one.

UKIP will rise further in the polls

The EU is going to be in the news a lot this year, from discussions about Romanian and Bulgarian migrants, Croatia’s accession on 1 July (another country to supply immigrants?), budgets, fiscal union and its consequences to Britain’s role in the new European order. Aided and abetted by the continuing hysteria of the Tory right acting as a fifth column, UKIP will pick up its share of the disaffected. Nothing David Cameron can say or do will ever satisfy the hardliners, of course.

But don’t expect major changes in the identity of Britain’s politicians

This will be another year where our top politicians stay put. Barring mortality, personal decision or unforeseen scandal, all three party leaders look safe enough for the coming year. David Cameron is likely to come under most pressure, but in the absence of a remotely credible rival, he should be safe enough (even in the Conservative party, which is addicted to plotting).

The Cabinet is unlikely to undergo a major reshuffle (it’s too complicated and anyway David Cameron doesn’t seem to believe in reshuffling endlessly). Will Andrew Mitchell or Chris Huhne return? Chris Huhne will have firmer party support if he rebuts the charges against him, but it would be easier to accommodate Andrew Mitchell (there are more Conservatives in Cabinet to eject). In practice, I expect both will find their political aspirations in 2013 progressing outside the Cabinet, unless others blot their copybook and create the necessary space.

The cause of Scottish independence will continue to languish

2012 showed that the SNP are nowhere near ready enough with their ideas as to what an independent Scotland would look like, or even what the route to independence would look like. Unless they can get a grip on this very quickly in 2013, the public will decide that it’s all just too big a gamble. Since there is no sign at present of them doing so, I expect the polls to look pretty dreary for the independence cause.


This article first appeared on PB Channel 2

antifrank is a long standing contributor to PB, he would also like to stress, this piece was written mainly to help him form his own views as to what to expect, he doesn’t want anyone thinking he’s any kind of oracle.


How will the Scottish independence referendum affect the next general election

Saturday, August 25th, 2012

James Kelly looks at the various scenarios.

One thing is for sure – Scotland will be returning MPs to Westminster at the next general election, whenever it is held.  On the SNP’s proposed timetable, a Yes vote in the 2014 referendum would not result in an independent Scottish state coming into being until 2016.

It is inconceivable that Scotland could remain part of the United Kingdom, even for a few months, without parliamentary representation.  Perhaps a provisional arrangement might be made for a drastically reduced Scottish contingent during the transitional period, but the most likely outcome is that the present number of Scottish MPs would see out the remaining time until independence day, while perhaps observing a self-denying ordinance on any legislation not directly affecting Scotland.

So regardless of the outcome of the referendum, Labour will still have to face the SNP threat at the next election, and indeed the Conservatives will still be hampered by their own unpopularity in Scotland.  However, it seems safe to suppose that the referendum result will have a profound impact on the nature of Scotland’s contribution to that election.  Let’s consider four potential scenarios –


1. Scotland votes Yes to independence in a single-question referendum.

With the momentum from having achieved its raison d’être, the SNP would be well-placed to make sweeping gains in this scenario.  The electorate would also be conscious of the fact that the proper function of Scottish votes in such an unusual election is not to affect how the remainder of the UK is governed for the next five years, but rather to ensure that Scotland’s interests are protected in the final negotiations on the independence settlement.

On that basis, the SNP would probably look like the best bet.  However, it’s possible that Labour might seize the opportunity to ‘out-Nat the Nats’, and promise a more favourable independence settlement than would be achieved by SNP negotiations with a Tory-led government.

On the other hand, there has been some limited speculation that Labour might refuse to recognise the validity of the referendum result, and would use the election to seek a “mandate” to overturn it.

This is highly improbable.  Even a very narrow Yes victory in the referendum would mark an enormous psychological turning-point, and the likelihood is that both Labour and the Tories would quickly move on and look ahead to the opportunities that independence offers them – in Labour’s case, to dominate the politics of an independent Scotland, and for the Tories, to entrench their position as ‘the natural party of government’ in what remains of the UK.

2. Scotland votes No to independence in a single-question referendum.

Some commentators have assumed that the SNP would collapse in this scenario, but the evidence from Quebec’s two referendums suggests that support for the pro-independence party is in fact likely to prove resilient.  It’s also worth bearing in mind that any No victory might be partly won by means of the ‘Alec Douglas-Home strategy’, ie. the promise of a non-specific form of enhanced devolution if people vote against independence.

If there was any backtracking on this unionist commitment in the wake of the referendum, which seems more than possible, the SNP would have an opportunity to seek votes on a pledge to keep the Westminster government honest. However, it’s fair to say that the gains the SNP would be looking to make under this scenario would probably be more modest, and that Labour’s prospects of retaining its Westminster dominance in Scotland would look considerably brighter.


3. Scotland votes for Devo Max (or Devo Plus) in a two-question referendum.

This is probably the scenario that would give the unionist parties, and especially Labour, the fairest wind going into the general election – but only if they respect the outcome of the referendum.

With all three London-based parties committed to speedily introducing the form of government the Scottish people have opted for, the SNP could easily find itself sidelined by an electorate who see no further reason not to focus squarely on the question of who they want to see in power at Westminster.   But of course the reverse would be true if the outcome of the referendum is not respected, in which case the SNP could expect to make substantial progress.


4. The referendum does not take place at all.

This is a possibility that until recently was taken seriously by virtually no serious commentator in Scotland, but it has now gained some small currency, almost entirely due to the determination of a Labour blogger called Ian Smart to advance the notion that Alex Salmond will find a ‘way out’.  Frankly, this is fantasy.  Alex Salmond, John Swinney and even Nicola Sturgeon joined the SNP at a time when the party had no prospect of offering anyone even the slightest whiff of ministerial office.  These are not conventionally careerist politicians – ultimately, they’re in the game to advance Scotland’s constitutional status.

Of course they will make a hard-headed tactical judgement over whether pushing for an additional Devo Max question is the best way of maximising the chances of achieving that objective, but it is inconceivable that a fear of failure will cause them to back off from holding the constitutional referendum that their entire political lives have been devoted to bringing about, especially when there is no guarantee of ever again holding the outright parliamentary majority needed to legislate for that referendum.

It should also be noted that past history shows that Alex Salmond is a gambling man, and that he generally gambles on success, not failure – something which came back to haunt him in Glenrothes, but which has stood him in good stead more often than not.

Barring the premature fall of the coalition, the only way a referendum will not have occurred by the time of the general election will be if the negotiations between the Scottish and UK governments end in failure, and the Scottish government pushes ahead with the consultative two-question referendum its legal advisers have suggested would be within its current powers to hold.  If that decision is then challenged in court, there could in theory be a delay.

The unionist parties would be wise to fear how this scenario might impact upon the general election, because it would be relatively easy for the SNP to make the point that it had only happened due to the UK government’s determination to obstruct a question on Devo Max – the constitutional option that currently attracts the broadest public support.


These are four very different scenarios, and each one is laced with considerable uncertainty.  So, more than ever before, Scotland looks set to be the joker in the pack at the next general election.


James Kelly is a regular contributor to PB.