Archive for the 'Guest slot' Category

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Do the size of ministers’ majorities matter?

Friday, June 7th, 2013

 

One of the charms of the Westminster system is that Cabinet ministers still have contact with the electorate through their surgeries and case work. It’s a reality check. In other electoral systems Ministers are not constituency MPs. However the make-up the voters that have the ear of Cabinet and Shadow ministers matters and they’re not always representative.

Earlier this week Patrick O’Flynn at the Express argued how some of the Conservative Party’s current problems related to the fact that hardly any of their Cabinet Ministers weren’t in marginal seats.

In fact only 3 of 24 Conservatives who attend Cabinet have a majority less than 10,000. According to O’Flynn this means that they don’t have the same feel for the concerns of swing voters and end up down electoral cul de sac by spending political time and capital on issues such as ‘gay marriage’ rather than addressing the cost of living. It’s an interesting argument and raises wider questions.

Why would party leaders pick their top team from people who don’t represent the type of seats they need to retain and win? From day one the political advancement game is geared up for those MPs with safe seats. I

f you have to spend every weekend campaigning and being visible in the constituency then that takes you away from raising your profile at think tank events and conferences, speaking at other Constituency Associations or CLPs or having the time to write a pamphlet on this or that, no matter how much you’d be keen to do that.

Tough choices have to be made and most MPs with a small majority will opt for self-preservation over self-advancement.

Reaching the top doesn’t happen overnight but is the product of furious lobbying, schmoozing, self-improvement and hard graft. But what plagues many MP’s doors is the raw electoral risk of losing the seat on your way to the top. The ebb and flow of elections – a 5% swing here, a 3% swing there has wiped out many MP’s promising careers before they’ve begun.

Whereas over half of MPs effectively have a job for life and political longevity is fundamental to success. As your government becomes less popular in office, a minister with a slight majority inevitably becomes a bigger target and potential scalp for opponents.

There are some parallels between from O’Flynn’s analysis of the Tories and with the Labour Party. I can see some of the risks already. As important as the bedroom tax, benefit changes and unemployment are, they’re bigger issues in the poorest areas – those that tend to already return Labour MPs with big majorities.

That’s not to say there isn’t a moral case for Labour raising but that it’s about recognising it’s going to resonate differently. The red team shouldn’t rely on the experiences of their own constituents being enough to drive voters elsewhere back into the party’s bosom. However the parallels aren’t quite the same.

Although Labour Most Shadow Cabinet members have very large majorities – a significant number don’t. Ed Balls has a majority of 1,101. Sadiq Khan 2,524, Ivan Lewis 3,292, Mary Creagh 1,613, Vernon Coaker 1,859 and Owen Smith 2,785. Now if you asked any of them if they’d prefer to add 10,000 to their majority they’d bite your arm off.

If O’Flynn is right then having some Shadow Cabinet members with marginal majorities could be a useful advantage for Labour to have over the Conservatives and keep some of their colleagues in touch with the sort voters that will determine elections.

Henry G Manson



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Who would take over as Labour Leader if Ed fell short?

Friday, May 31st, 2013

 

I expect Labour to win most seats at the next general election and for Ed Miliband to be Prime Minister. The bookies make it the most likely event but not a certainty. They price it as a 1/2 shot that Labour will return the most MPs at the next election and 4/6 that Ed Miliband makes it to 10 Downing Street. This is not a universal view by any stretch of the imagination.

So what happens if Labour falls short in 2015 and doesn’t win most seats – the bookies make this a 1 in 3 chance after all. Well in a nutshell, Labour’s leader wouldn’t last long. There’s a big value bet to be had in this eventuality.

The Labour leadership contest that would follow any failure to win the most seats would be too early for some of the young guns elected in 2010. Instead the main battle would likely be between Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper (or Ed Balls again) and possibly Jim Murphy or Caroline Flint from the right of the party.

I’d back Burnham to win either eventuality and would make him even money favourite to be next leader in those circumstances. As a double (Labour not win most seats, Burnham win) you’d be looking at a double around 3/1. Instead the odds of Burnham being next leader are an eyewatering 25/1 with Ladbrokes.

The only question some may ask is ‘would he stand’? I’m almost certain of it. He stood in the last Labour leadership contest and grew week by week into the contest. Since then he has adapted well to the challenges of Opposition and is now arguably Labour’s most effective Shadow Minister.

His supporters on the green benches are growing and growing and his opposition to the Coalition’s Health and Social Care Act is a lesson to his colleagues as to how to hold the government to account and cut through with the public. His support for the Hillsborough Justice for the 96 campaign has allowed people to see a side of Andy Burnham that most politicians struggle to show.

Burnham’s popularity in the party grassroots is high. He’s from an ordinary background and is earthier than Ed Miliband’s. If Ed were to fall short then the party would likely be looking for someone earthier who could connect better with voters. When I speak to members and ask who they’d like to speak at a constituency dinner, Burnham’s name now comes top every time.

Andy would get some trade union support too. Unison would likely be the first in the queue, although in this context I’d expect the leadership context to be a short affair where union backing and resources would be less of a factor.

Yvette Cooper, the current 5/2 frontrunner in the betting, would have a real fight on her hands. She is in a difficult brief and while she is still popular, I feel the pendulum has swung towards Burnham. In Andy’s favour is the fact that health is much more likely to feature as part of Labour’s attack on the Conservatives over the next two years than Home Affairs is.

I largely expect Labour to win a majority and certainly most seats, but if you accept that this is not nailed on, then backing Burnham to be the next Labour leader at anything over 8/1 is one hell of a covering bet.

Henry G Manson



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TSE on Making Your Mind Up on who to back at Eurovision.

Saturday, May 18th, 2013

Whilst the polls show Brits remain cynical about Eurovision and think it is all about politics, some of us enjoy Eurovision for that reason, for the music and the betting opportunities.

With the elimination of the Former Yugoslavian states of Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia in the semi finals, and Bosnia and Herzegovina withdrawing from the contest, due to financial reasons, there’s a potential for less Balkan bloc voting this time around which could make the final result more open.

There are many opportunities available to bet on the song contest.

The Danish entry, is the overwhelming favourite, and has been for quite some time.

Fortunately there are betting markets for a winner without Denmark or going for an each way bet with Ladbrokes and Paddy Power.

My tips, apart from the Danes, are The Germans, who are represented by Cascada, a band that has enjoyed pop success in the UK, in the past.

I’ve also backed  The Ukrainian, Norwegian and  Irish entries.

I’m quite impressed by the Irish entry, for the last couple of years by sending Jedward, I’ve wondered if the Irish really wanted to win Eurovision. Short of sending Johnny Logan, I can’t see a clearer statement from the Irish that they want to win Eurovision this year.

It wouldn’t be Eurovision, without an entry that looks like something Borat has produced, and the Romanian entry meets that category.

What of the UK’s entry, this year?

I have to confess whilst being a fan of Bonnie Tyler, like Engelbert Humperdinck, I don’t expect her to do well, I suspect some of her 80s material would have done very well in Eurovision.

I have the expectation that she’ll finish 21st or lower, and have availed myself of Paddy Power, who offer evens on such an occurrence (Englerbert finished 25th last year)

Hopefully next year the BBC will allow the viewers to choose the artist/band who represents the UK in Eurovision 2014, and maybe some of the UK’s best artists and bands decide to be shortlisted for the honour, musical giants, such as The Rolling Stones, New Order, Emeli Sandé, The Stone Roses, Depeche Mode, Steps or Radiohead, and we can go back to the halcyon days when the likes of Bucks Fizz won.

For true fans of Eurovision, the main focus of attraction of the evening is not on the artists performing, or the voting, but that the news that Abba’s Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus have teamed up with Swedish DJ and producer Avicii to produce the anthem for this year’s ceremony.

The Eurovision Song Contest starts at 8pm BST and will be on BBC 1 and BBC1 HD.

 

TSE

(Whose interest in and enjoyment of all things Eurovision has disturbed his friends for many years)



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Corporeal on Lady Thatcher

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

 

With the passing of Margaret Thatcher, many obituaries have been written (or at least dusted off and had the dates filled in) alongside as many pieces about her time in power and that word that hangs over every politician, legacy.

What many of them will do at some point is refer to her as “The Grocer’s Daughter” (and this is the title of the first volume of John Campbell’s definitive biography of her, a book I highly recommend and this post is heavily influenced by) and that is rather characteristic of both how she governed, and how she is remembered.

It’s a nickname, obviously, which is a pretty rare status symbol in British politics; if being known by a single name is a sign of being properly known then a nickname is a step beyond even that (and Thatcher has at least a couple that are instantly recognisable). It speaks to one of Thatcher’s great strengths, her understanding of the power of image.

What many of the pieces will also do is drop into a personal recollection of how they experienced Thatcher, and I might as well indulge. I was born near the end of Thatcher’s premiership, so I have no memory of her time in power; I encountered her through second hand accounts, historical works, and news references, through the way people described her and the images they used.

This goes beyond the changes she made to her surface image; hair, clothes and vocal lessons (it’s become almost a rite of passage for prominent Tories to be portrayed with the Thatcher halo) to an identity she portrayed and a narrative she built onto it. It is this that makes her surprisingly hard to pin down, even what we know of her early life is clouded by a layer of public relations polish.

The Grocer’s Daughter was always her background, but it was burnished up and brought into the political arena for the 1975 leadership election and (as she would do more than once) wrong-footed her opponents as she slipped past them to victory, fighting on different ground that her opponents struggled to handle.

During her time in power she used this identity to great effect, she may have been banging the works of Hayek on the table but it was with shopping bags she made her case over inflation. It’s also the narrative of an outsider, ‘Margaret goes to Downing Street and continues to speak past and around the established channels direct to the ordinary people’ (as opposed to say the much more establishment identity as lawyer and wife of a millionaire businessman).

Her conversion to the economic policies that she’d become known for was a late one, sparked as it was by Keith Joseph in the mid-1970s after she’d already been an MP for 15 years, but that reality gave way to the narrative of principles learnt at the shop-counter and from house-wife budgeting leading to economic theory in parliament (never mind that until recently those experiences had pointed her in a very different direction).

If that identity was one she crafted, the second nickname that filled the obituaries was initially meant as an insult, but she adopted The Iron Lady moniker and she ran with it. Whether pictured in a tank or of the many representations of her that called back to the representations of warrior-queens, Boadicea, Elizabeth I, Britannia; she portrayed the matriarchal mother in a breastplate, doling out the tough medicine needed at home, and tougher vengeance on her enemies, but always in charge and ready for battle.

This image of the Iron Lady, armed with her handbag and always ready to take someone on is one that has resonated amongst her supporters and her critics ever since, whether they are praising her for her courage, or castigating her for her harshness. It’s also a further victory of narrative over reality.

To take the unions as an example, few now remember that in the early 1980s she faced a number of strikes where she either compromised or avoided battle. At one point she declared she’d resign rather than raise Civil Service pay more than 7%, some expensive strike filled time later she agreed to a 7.5% rise (a small but significant distance past her line in the sand).

Later on she was actually a restraining hand on some of her cabinet who wanted to go even further, the lesson of her clashes with the unions was not ‘fight them on the beaches’, it was ‘pick your battles’ and that sometimes a tactical retreat is the best option.

Politics is the art of the possible, as an Iron Chancellor once said, and in her career Margaret Thatcher was very aware of that fact, she negotiated, she compromised, and she did in fact u-turn. That she is remembered as unattainably great by her supporters (and created an unreal measuring stick to hit her successors over the head with) and implausibly awful by her opponents is an indication of the strength of her mythology, she is a legend in every sense of the word, devil and saint.

Her demonisation and canonisation are a testament not just to the long shadow she casts over British politics (that all leaders must wrestle with, and some of her successors have found a burden) but also to the strength of the identities and narratives she portrayed both in power and out.

Her legacy is as built as much upon these creations as the reality, so that stripping them away reveals more and more about Thatcher but less and less about Thatcherism. But the ability to exercise such power over the memory of her shows her as the master communicator she undoubtedly was.

Corporeal



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Corporeal asks: Are the Kippers a red herring?

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

In case you didn’t notice there was a by-election the other day in Eastleigh, and UKIP did rather well (as did some of our punters).

So now is the time to glance ahead at the markets for UKIP at the next general election, namely whether they will win a seat, and their percentage of the overall vote.

There’s been quite a colourful cast of parties who’ve had an election night triumph somewhere at sometime: Communists, Respect, Green, the Common Wealth party, and various independents have all had their moment while the nationalists in Wales and Scotland have established themselves in their respective heartlands (and that’s just since World War II, extend it before that and I could have included Scottish Prohibitionists, an Empire Free Trade Crusader, Anti-Waste league, Constitutionalists, etc).

UKIP have failed to add themselves to that list, they are historically bad at converting their seats into votes, no party in British electoral history has polled as well as they have (in either vote numbers or vote percentage) without winning at least a single seat (few have even got close).

Labrokes offer 1/3 odds that they won’t win a seat at the next General Election, 2/1 for them to succeed (with WilliamHill offering a 5/2 bet that they will win a seat).

For UKIP to not win a seat they’ll likely have to break their own record and go to new heights of futility, but there is not a seat in which they are well placed. Their best result in the last election was Farage’s attempt at unseating Bercow in Buckingham and that was a third place on 17% of the vote (and will likely go to waste since I doubt they’ll try it again).

In no other seat did they crack 10%, and in only a few were they even close. The kind of rises they’d need in a given seat to win it are very difficult to achieve, particularly if you don’t have a built up local organisation.

I should note here that I don’t have in-depth knowledge of UKIP’s local capabilities, but their reputation as local campaigners is poor and the recent-ness of their surge points against much of a ground network. A by-election obviously allows for a concentration of resources (and if they want to focus on seat winning they should adopt a similar strategy at the next GE; whether they do, and how effectively they can do so will be interesting to watch).

Some serious long term seat building is required on their part, at the least the odds aren’t tempting enough to brave the variability of seat markets.

The odds I do think are very tempting however, are the Ladbrokes odds on UKIP’s overall vote percentage.

 

Vote Share Odds
0-5% 5/4
5-10% 6/4
10-15% 6/1
15-20% 16/1
20-25% 25/1
25%+ 20/1

 

At the 2010 General Election UKIP matched their opinion polling and hit 3% of the total vote standing in 558 seats (the main 3 parties stood in 631). As far as I’m aware they intend to stand in every seat at the next election and while they will probably perform poorly in these seats it’ll provide a boost. Alongside that they are polling slightly higher than 3% these days. 5% should be very achievable.

My humble betting advice would be to leave the 0-5% range and spread some money about between 5 and 15%. Not only because of their positive prospects, but also the odds are likely to shorten further. With the European Elections next year likely to put UKIP’s success in the spotlight and provide some hedging opportunities to cover all eventualities.

Corporeal



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Corporeal on David Cameron and the NHS

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

The Three letters of David Cameron

When David Cameron won the Conservative party leadership contest he said he could state his priorities in three letters: NHS. More than any other issue, from the Big Society to hugging huskies in hoodies, he’s tried to connect himself to the state of healthcare in this country.

While prescribing declaring cuts had to take place in almost every other department he declared he would protect the NHS by ring-fencing its budget. It is a personal crusade (he has talked about how his experiences with his son made the issue so important to him), it is central to his campaign to de-toxify the Conservative party, with the Stafford hospital report published it is very much on the agenda.

From a polling standpoint on YouGov’s issues tracker it ranks as the 2nd most important issue facing ‘you and your family’ (behind the economy) and 3rd facing the country (behind economy and immigration).

But has Cameron’s focus on the issue been successful?

Or at least has it been popular (in politics the two are so entwined with each other). Below are graphs tracking the Conservative score, and Conservative lead (either positive or negative) over Labour, I’ve drawn them from YouGov’s recent tracker (which since early 2010 has regularly been tracking issue ratings, and infrequently in between 2005 and 2010) and Ipsos Mori’s unparalleled historical data which covers a much longer time span but always infrequently.

Firstly the YouGov data:

What we can see here is just how badly the Conservatives have rated on the NHS, since 2005 and including 75 polls taken since the start of 2010, they have one instance of being level with Labour, and three of leading them (with leads of 1, 1, and 3). The other 71 polls have them behind (even while they were leading in voting intention polls).

Cameron’s time as Leader of the Opposition up to the early years of his premiership show some sustained improvement in the Conservative ratings (and that helping to drive a similar level of improvement in the gap to Labour) with the caveat that given how the polls since 2010 jump around the infrequency of the polling 05-10 casts a bit of doubt on reading too much into it.

From the start of 2010 we have much more frequent data that places them mildly behind Labour up until the election and improving after the election through to that autumn, but then turns downwards and heads below even the 2005 ratings.

(The separate lines indicate a change of methodology, before 1988 the question was about the National Health Service, from the start of 1988 the question referred to “Health Care”).

What the longer historical perspective offers is a suggestion that Cameron is still performing relatively well even after his decline, remaining higher than all the ratings apart from Major’s stretch before the 1992 election and his peak the highest Conservative rating of the past 25 years (and comes outside of election time, while the other Conservative high points cluster around elections).

The leads (fairly unsurprisingly) tell a broadly similar story, that Cameron’s worst result (or conversely Miliband’s biggest lead) is better than any other since the 1980s.

That is certainly the most positive way of interpreting this data (it also depends on how much you think the change in wording has changed the results) but for all Cameron’s efforts on what in many ways has been his flagship project, I think he’ll view these figures (and hello to Dave if he’s reading, or Samantha for that matter) with some disappointment.

Corporeal



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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.

Predictions

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.

antifrank

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.



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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.