Déjà Vu Elections
Over the next three weeks, I’m going to look at the big round of national and local elections coming on May 6th. After three General Elections and a major referendum in under five years, people were fed up with voting. The virus has caused a 17-month break in democracy, so it will be interesting to see if much has changed since the Tories swept to an 80-seat victory at Christmas 2019.
I suspect little has altered. The Tories are riding on a vaccination bounce, Labour is finding it difficult to grasp the voters’ attention in a pandemic and the Lib Dems remain sadly irrelevant. North of the border the unchanging pattern is the same with the Scottish National Party way ahead of the Tory and Labour parties scrapping to be in second place.
Next week I’ll preview the northern local council elections and the week before polling it will be the turn of the mayors and police and crime commissioners.
Indyref in all but name
The elections to the Scottish Parliament will effectively be an independence referendum in all but name. Despite big problems with crime and education, the SNP have kept voters’ sole attention on gaining independence. So, we have the SNP, the Scottish Greens and Alex Salmond’s Alba Party lined up against the Tories, Labour, the Lib Dems, and All for Unity (George Galloway), favouring the union.
The SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon is seen to have handled the pandemic well and has left Alex Salmond looking like an old man bearing a grievance.
The Scottish Tories, although well behind in the polls, are in relatively good nick. The loss of Ruth Davidson as leader is a big blow but her successor, Douglas Ross, has made a good start making it clear he is no cypher for Boris Johnson whose Etonian manner makes him deeply unpopular in Scotland.
Labour have had 9 leaders since the Scottish Parliament was set up, all increasingly ineffective since the giant Donald Dewar left the stage. At last Anas Sarwar seems to hold out the possibility that they can regain second place in Scottish politics, although there is a mountain to climb to convince voters to leave independence behind and see Labour, in their historic role as the party to deal with poverty, health and education.
Labour have been out of power in Scotland since 2007 and that’s not going to change this time.
Willie Rennie is a good leader of the small group of Lib Dems and accompanying Alex Salmond in the room for elderly men who just cannot let go is gorgeous George Galloway, now on to his fourth political party with All for Unity.
The big financial question for the SNP
The SNP should be closely questioned on this before people vote on May 6th.
North Sea oil revenues originally drove the SNP grievance. That is a rapidly diminishing asset. The Institute for Fiscal Studies reckon that the Scottish budget deficit could hit 28% of GDP. An independent Scotland with its own currency and bank would be unable to call on the UK for support nor the EU. Scottish membership of the EU would be likely blocked by the Spanish over Catalonian independence fears.
Just say no
People can vote to be poor and free, so what if that is the message from Scotland on May 6th. Boris Johnson could just say no, which could be risky. He only has to look to the consequences of his reckless Brexit policy in Northern Ireland.
He could offer more devolution, but that has only stoked the independence appetite so far.
He could offer talks on a confederation of the nations of the UK and Northern Ireland.
Probably the best solution would be a two-stage referendum. One to trigger detailed talks where the full implications of independence could be spelt out and then another referendum to finally decide.
Labour trouble in Wales
The Scottish poll will overshadow the vote in Wales where things aren’t looking great for Labour in another nation it used to dominate. The latest poll indicates they will be the largest party but with the Tories not far behind. Plaid may pick up seats too, but the appetite for independence remains weak. Indeed, representatives calling for the abolition of the existing Senedd may get elected.