Saturday 22 November 2014

SNP plots have not been thought through

Predicting what happens next in British politics is becoming rather like predicting what happens next with the weather. Our system is designed to work best when there are two parties competing. It works less well with a major third party and when there are five or six parties competing it becomes chaotic. There may be some very odd results indeed at the next General Election. The Lib Dems may benefit from First past the post and gain more seats than their percentage of the vote deserves. The Conservatives may win more votes than Labour, but get fewer seats. UKIP may win over a fifth of the votes but end up getting less than five seats. The SNP on the other hand may win a far greater share of the seats in Scotland than their share of the vote deserves. 

Alternatively with the economy continuing to improve voters may reflect that the Lib/Con government hasn’t done such a bad job, which ought to benefit both parties, though it probably won't. Meanwhile Labour in Scotland and elsewhere will certainly benefit from a centre left charismatic leader in Jim Murphy who can attack the SNP at their weakest points. To have as your central policy something that has been decisively rejected by the Scottish people (independence) is a long term weakness, even if it is a short term strength. Furthermore, sensible people across Britain from all parties understand that we have to live within our means. We can’t continue to spend more than we earn. Hard choices must be made and ways to cut found. I’m sure Jim Murphy gets this, just as I’m sure "the 45" don’t. This is another strength that he can built on and a weakness he can exploit.

I keep hearing of SNP plots to overturn the result of the referendum. These are based on a number of scenarios. The first scenario is that the SNP hold the balance of power at the next election and make a deal with Labour. The deal would be that Labour would allow a second referendum on independence. This is possible of course, but it's hardly likely to help Labour’s fortunes in Scotland. If No voters think Labour would, contrary to the Edinburgh Agreement, allow a second referendum less than a year after the first, we will desert Labour in droves. It’s also unnecessary. Labour could form a minority government at Westminster or alternatively a grand coalition of Lib Lab and Con could decide to simply run the economy in the national interest and bypass the UKIP/SNP insurgency that way.  If Germany can have an SPD/CDU coalition of centre right and centre left why can't Britain? This would be better by far than being held to ransom by nationalists whether they are English (UKIP) or Scottish (SNP).

The second scenario, which is the one the SNP secretly hopes for, is that the Conservatives win the next election either by themselves or together with UKIP. The SNP narrative depends crucially on the wicked "Tory" enemy, posh and with an RP accent. Conservatives will be even more wicked if they make a pact with the Devil otherwise known as Nigel. The scenario goes this way: Either next summer, Farage’s plan, or in 2017, there will be a vote on the UK leaving the EU. Scotland will vote to remain in the EU, but the UK will vote to leave. This will lead to some sort of crisis which will end up with Scotland becoming independent.

I doubt very much that there will be a vote on leaving the EU in 2015. There will be no need for the Tories to make a deal with Farage, not unless he gets hugely more seats than he’s likely to. He can anyway quite easily be bypassed if necessary, in the same way as Lib Lab Con can bypass the SNP. I suspect however that at some point in the relatively near future there will be a vote on leaving the EU. It’s clear that a majority of people in the UK want one. I do too, though at present I'm still in favour of remaining in a reformed EU. But what would be the result of an in/out EU referendum? This is about as easy as predicting the next General Election. It must be about a fifty-fifty chance. But let’s imagine there were a vote to leave. Where would that leave Scotland?

Could Scotland have avoided joining the Common Market if we had voted No in 1975? Well actually Scotland was less supportive of staying in the Common Market than the UK average.  Indeed two parts of Scotland were the only parts of the UK to vote to leave. But it didn’t matter. We lived then in a single nation state called the UK and we still do. Just like every other nation state in the world, when votes are held nationwide everyone who is a democrat has to abide by the wishes of the majority. But of course there would be undemocratic nationalists in 2017 who would try to use the UK leaving the EU as grounds for Scottish secession.

How could they go about it? There are two ways. They could ask to be granted another referendum on Scottish independence by the UK government. There is no chance whatsoever of this under these circumstances. Alternatively Scotland could organise its own referendum. This would probably require another SNP majority in Holyrood. But even so such a referendum would obviously be illegal as constitutional matters are reserved to Westminster.

But would Scotland want to vote to the leave the UK if the UK voted to leave the EU? It just takes a little thought to realise that it would not, because it would be very stupid indeed to do so. What fundamentally is the EU? It’s a trading block. It’s other things as well, but its main purpose is economic. That’s the reason we joined in the first place. Scotland trades far more with the UK than with the other parts of the EU. To leave one trading block (UK) in order to remain in another (EU) with which you do far less trade is economically illiterate.  Moreover remember all the arguments about keeping the pound. It would be complicated enough for Scotland to continue to use the pound without political union with the UK, but it would obviously be impossible if the UK were not in the EU while Scotland was. Currency union while being in different trading blocks is clearly ludicrous. Besides no-one in the EU wants to encourage illegal secession, no-one in Nato also. It’s not even clear that Scotland, having declared UDI, would be recognised by countries like Spain. Sorry Yes friends that plan looks completely mad and unthought out. 

The Eurozone has become a depression/deflation machine. It may already be too late to get it off the rocks without breakup. The only thing that looks like bringing much needed inflation/growth to Italy is devaluation and that of course can only happen if it left the Euro. This would also mean default, but this looks like coming anyway. An alternative scenario that might just work is epic amounts of Quantitative Easing and Germany accepting that it must treat the whole of the Eurozone like it treated East Germany. There needs to be massive fiscal transfers from north to south and this needs to happen in the context of creating a new nation state called Europe. Neither scenario is likely to happen anytime soon, so we’ll continue for the time being with the depression/deflation machine.

These are the options facing Scottish nationalists in 2017 dissatisfied with the UK’s decision to leave the EU. The Eurozone at the moment is failing economically, but neither way of solving the problem can be palatable to independence supporters. Do you fancy the breakup of the Eurozone and probable breakup of the EU, or do you fancy being part of a nation state called Europe? Where's your independence under those circumstances? The UK, on the other hand, is one of the few world economies at present which is successful and recovering rather well. Would you really want to leave because you can’t stand the wicked “Tories”? 

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