Posted on | September 19, 2014 | No Comments
Scotland has voted to stay in the Union by a margin of 55% to 45%, with only the Highlands left to declare their result. The turnout was an unusually high 84%. In the final days of the campaign, the pollsters converged on a margin of victory for the No side of 52% to 48%. This is within the margin of error (+/- 3%), however there will be questions asked of the methodology used by the main polling companies.
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has reacted to the result by stating a “balanced settlement” is needed for the whole of the United Kingdom. He has announced that work will start immediately on proposals to answer the West Lothian question – that is, the situation whereby Scottish MPs can vote on issues that only impact England. The Prime Minister hopes to deliver this in tandem with greater devolution to Scotland and other regions of the UK. Our soundings from English MPs made it clear answering the West Lothian question will be crucial to secure a majority in the House of Commons for greater devolution.
Once an agreement is reached – and it is unclear at this stage how widely David Cameron has consulted on this strategy – this will mean a substantial transfer of power from Westminster to Holyrood. Gordon Brown, the former Prime Minister and effective leader of the No campaign in the final weeks, has argued that effective “home rule” for Scotland will be delivered. Early indications are that the Government are not prepared to go this far. Furthermore, the House of Lords are highly sceptical of any far-reaching constitutional change. A deal that involves devolution and restricting voting rights for some MPs will face much scrutiny in the Upper Chamber.
David Cameron will have a brief respite. The Union has not, after all, been ended – though it was an almighty scare. He has declared the question of Scottish independence settled for “a generation”. Many Conservative MPs are unhappy with the Prime Minister for how the No campaign was conducted, despite it being led by the Labour Party. His immediate position is safe, but in the examination that follows this result, he has some serious work to do to reassure his party he can deliver on his promise to successfully renegotiate the UK’s relationship with the European Union by 2017.
Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour Party, has also been undermined by this campaign. It fell to Gordon Brown to lead the final weeks of the pro-unionist argument, injecting much needed passion into the debate. Though Miliband will not be ousted, it will play to the fears among some Labour MPs that he cannot deliver a Labour majority in May next year. He also faces a tricky problem in calibrating his party’s response to the West Lothian question. He does not want to see a Westminster Labour Government without the votes to pass their manifesto commitments. Overnight a number of his MPs announced the need to settle the question along the lines the Prime Minister outlined this morning which will put further pressure on him to make his views publically known.
Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland, emerges – along with Gordon Brown – with his reputation intact. Even though he has not delivered independence, Salmond will likely secure some form of further devolution. The additional powers that Scotland receives will play an important part of the May 2016 Scottish parliamentary elections, and could have far reaching implications for tax rates and the regulatory regime north of the Border. Although he hinted at a second referendum on independence in the future in his concession speech this morning, this is highly doubtful this will take place in his political lifetime.
UK Public Affairs Team
Posted on | September 12, 2014 | No Comments
It will be like any other day. Across the lochs and glens, the ancient castles and moors, the stunning landscape of Scotland so beloved by its people and visitors alike will remain unchanged. The Scottish scenery will shrug off any upheaval, as it has always done, but her inhabitants will find that a harder course to plot.
There is much we know about what Friday 19 September 2014 will feel like in Scotland, and to her children scattered across the globe. We will have an answer to the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?” Whether a victory for Yes Scotland or Better Together, Scotland will be a far more autonomous country than anytime in its recent past. This will come either in the form of independence or a substantially more powerful Scottish Parliament. We also know that the vote will be close.
Quite rightly, many column inches are being filled with speculation about all these things. However, as a Scot living in London it is the latter point which most focuses my attention. For a close vote heralds a divided country — that of a people in fundamental disagreement over the future course of their country.
Better Together have fought a relentlessly negative campaign, verging on scaremongering. More worryingly, Scottish nationalism has shown an ugly face in the form of Internet trolling, intimidating No campaigners and fellow Scots, and calling into question the patriotism of any who dare disagree with their creed.
A close vote, which all the recent polls now suggest is very likely, will exacerbate the tensions created by both sides. Not that these are equivalent. Only a complete partisan would disagree with the observation that the nationalists have been by far the more antagonistic. Therefore the question most occupying me is how will Scotland begin to heal, whatever the outcome of the referendum, come Friday 19 September 2014?
There is much talk among No campaigners, led by Gordon Brown, of a new settlement, conventions and gatherings to renew and enhance devolution. It is hard to see how this will please so many Scots who will awake having dreamt of casting aside the Union altogether. By the same token, many on the Unionist side will feel a dread chill if Yes carries the day.
For all their undoubted skill as political campaigners, are Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon the non-partisan figures to lead a divided country into the new dawn? Unlikely. Better Together is an alliance of necessity which will very soon publicly fracture (rumours abound it has done so privately already). There is no-one among them who can play the role of healer-in-chief. Perhaps the most natural figure is the Queen, though even that is to be doubted given the desire of many nationalists to abolish the monarchy.
My own family is divided over how to vote — three are for Yes, three for No and one as yet undecided. This pattern will be repeated among so many families. Oddly, this seems the beginning of a solution. All of those who vote in the referendum ought to bear in mind that, regardless of our views, we Scots are a family. We love our country and, although we irritate one another often, we have a shared passion for Scotland. However the day dawns a week Friday, we should hold that truth close to our hearts.
But I don’t have a full answer to how we can heal Scotland in the aftermath of the vote, only that I think it will be necessary to do so. My hope is that someone somewhere can rise to the occasion and play the part. We will need it.
Posted on | July 15, 2014 | No Comments
This is not only the largest and most wide-ranging reshuffle of the Cameron years but also gives us a fascinating insight into both the coming election campaign and the shape of a potential Conservative-led Government post May 2015.
Firstly, this is not as is being widely reported, a change of direction for team Cameron, but more the coming of age of a rebranding exercise started when Cameron became leader almost a decade ago. In opposition the A-list was contrived to change the face of the Conservative Party in Parliament, making it less “pale stale and male” and ensuring the selection of more women and ethnic minorities to fight seats at the 2010 Election.
Today’s reshuffle is possible in large part because of that earlier intervention; and some of the brightest of this intake are now sitting round the Cabinet table. The likes of Nicky Morgan at Education, Liz Truss at DEFRA, and Esther McVey at Employment, are widely viewed to be appointments based on merit; although many of the Prime Minister’s political opponents have branded it an exercise in tokenism. Either way, over the next ten months they will change the tone and look of Government. Other women have been promoted to more junior ministerial positions, some for the first time, and have potentially long careers in front of them. Most notable, at time of writing, they include Anna Soubry at Defence, Priti Patel at the Treasury, Clare Perry at Transport, and Penny Mordaunt, who has become a communities minister.
This reshuffle is also all about putting the most articulate media performers in positions where they are of most utility to the Conservatives election campaign. William Hague and Michael Gove no longer have departmental responsibilities to distract them, and instead as Leader of the House and Chief Whip will be trotted out to promote the Conservative message.
It has been a dramatic reshuffle because many Ministers have been dismissed not because of errors they have made, but on the basis of a calculated judgment: “if you are not going up, you are going out.” We thus gain a glimpse of how a second term Cameron administration might look. Many believe Chancellor George Osborne will be Foreign Secretary if the Conservatives win the election and a job swap with Philip Hammond is on the cards.
The culling of Owen Paterson was also widely expected after a series of perceived blunders, including the ill-fated badger cull, as well as this year’s floods. He may however prove to be a thorn in the side of the Prime Minister on the Backbenches.
Let us return to Michael Gove, perhaps the most interesting character in this drama. His role as Chief Whip and election campaigner comes to a natural conclusion next May and meanwhile whilst his school reforms were popular in Conservative circles, he had become a hate figure amongst many of those on the left including teaching unions. It is believed that the Conservatives private polling show him to be an electoral Jonah amongst key groups of voters including women and many parents.
Staying put are Theresa May, now the longest serving Home Secretary since the 1950s, the Chancellor, who has seen the promotion of many of his acolytes and the other female members of the cabinet, the DFID Secretary Justine Greening, and the Northern Ireland Secretary, Theresa Villiers. With the new arrivals there will now be seven women attending Cabinet.
Posted on | May 23, 2014 | No Comments
It was hardly a surprise that UKIP did well in the local elections. In an age of rampant political antipathy, their voters represent the three D’s, a holy trinity of problems for mainstream political parties. They are dissatisfied, disapproving, and distrustful. However, the scale of their performance defied expectations, and apart from in London, they gained seats across the country. The other widely predicted story concerned the battering meted out on the Liberal Democrats, who lost dozens of seats, including control of Kingston-upon-Thames Council. With the General Election approaching, many will be concerned with how Labour and the Conservatives respond to the rise of UKIP.
Experts had assumed that UKIP would gain around 100 seats, and despite this prediction coming true, they will not be in charge of any councils, and will have fewer councillors than their rivals. Yet this cannot take away from the fact that they can now be considered a fourth national political force.
UKIP’s success points to the widespread antipathy felt towards Westminster, and it is telling that no sizable gains were made in London. Indeed, the main narrative in the run up to the elections concerned how the UKIP vote would mainly affect the Conservatives, with even high profile Tories espousing their new message, “vote UKIP get Labour.” However, this seems to be only half true, as key gains in the north have shown that UKIP are as much of a threat to Labour.
Far from being a success for Labour, the Party has made only modest gains, and their overall share of the vote will be disappointing. At the time of writing, Labour has gained control of six councils Redbridge, Hammersmith & Fulham, Cambridge, Amber Valley, Croydon and Merton, but they have lost control of Thurrock, a council in the South East for Labour. This was predictably spun, and Hammersmith & Fulham in particular was billed as a “spectacular win”. Douglas Alexander seized on the results immediately to proclaim on the Today programme that the UKIP vote could help Labour win the General Election next year. However, Labour sources have expressed concern that this kind of complacency typifies the manner in which the Party has dealt with the threat.
The Conservatives on the other hand will be happy with their performance, and although they lost control of eight councils, and almost 100 seats*, they will have taken comfort from the fact that Labour’s progress has been limited. The major impact of the results has been the opening of a debate regarding how the Party engage with UKIP, with MPs including Peter Bone, Douglas Carswell and Jacob Rees-Mogg calling for a pact with UKIP. Their intervention has been billed as “in-fighting” by parts of the media, however their intervention was largely expected, and in reality the Conservative Party is still united in its approach to UKIP. Notable Tory rebels Mark Pritchard and Philip Davies have also come out against any pact with UKIP, echoing this sense of unity within the Party.
The backlash for Labour is more uncertain, and the attention is likely to switch over the coming weeks away from the gains of UKIP, to the relative losses of Labour, who would have been expected to win far more seats. Labour MPs have also questioned Ed Miliband, with both Graham Stringer and John Mann criticising the way Labour have engaged with UKIP. Mann stated that “Ed Miliband ran a “tremendously ill-judged campaign”. A more tempered intervention came from Graham Allan, who downplayed UKIPs gains as “a slap on the wrists, not a kicking”.
With the local elections out of the way, people will now be looking to the General Election next year. There will be lots of conjecture over the coming months, and it will be interesting to see how, and if, the main political parties change their tactics towards UKIP.
By Toby Denselow
*At the time of writing
Posted on | April 7, 2014 | No Comments
As Nick Clegg recently found out, you can’t fight Nigel Farage with stats. Perhaps this is why David Cameron and Ed Miliband attempted the Herman Van Rompoy approach, and simply imagined him away by refusing to debate. However, this goes against the recommendations of Dr Mathew Goodwin’s new book, Revolt on the Right, which argues that mainstream politics should engage with UKIP to address the cause of their rise, namely a deep rooted dissatisfaction with mainstream politics.
There are many myths surrounding the average UKIP voter, who, if all is to be believed, hasn’t been to Europe since 1945, wants to bring back the birch, is grey, male, living on the edge of Salisbury plains, and of course, hates Europe. However, recent polls by Yougov, as well as Dr Goodwin’s new book, suggest that UKIP voters are more sceptic than Eurosceptic, and can be classified by the three d’s: dissatisfied, distrusting, and disapproving. They are not single issue voters or unhappy middle-class Tories, and this goes against the traditional narrative of UKIP gearing up to steal Tory votes at the next election.
Last week, during an event at Chatham House, Farage gave an interesting glimpse into UKIP’s election strategy, suggesting that Labour and not the Tories will be more affected by the right-wing-populist-party. Of course, we have to take everything he says with a pinch of salt, as this is the man who recently praised Putin, stated the EU has “blood on its hands”, and claimed that 70% of our laws come from Europe (Clegg stated it was 7%). He emphatically stated that UKIP will be targeting the Midlands and the large cities in the North. This is made more worrying for Labour, as Yougov research shows that 19 of the 20 most UKIP friendly seats are held by Labour.
The rise of UKIP is worrying, and far from indicating an antipathy towards Europe, it represents a paradoxical apathy towards politics. The main parties must therefore look to treat UKIP as a symptom rather than a party, and look back through our recent history to trace the evolution of this discontent. Although it is unlikely that UKIP will win many seats at the next General Election (if any), that should not stop Labour and the Tories from forging a proper conversation about the concerns of UKIP voters, and thus counter the pervading sense of disappointment which many feel towards our political system.
Could big business speaking out against Scottish independence help to bring about the break-up of the union?
Posted on | March 18, 2014 | No Comments
Going beyond the assumption that big business concerns around independence serve to only bolster the No campaign, there is an argument to say business interventions of this nature may actually provide an unintended boost to First Minister Alex Salmond’s pro-independence movement
Not a day seems to go by without another big business with interests in Scotland weighing into the Scottish independence debate. BP, Shell, Standard Life, RBS, Lloyds Banking Group, Sainsbury’s, Asda, alongside prominent Scottish companies and UK trade bodies, have now voiced concerns. The unanswered questions over Scotland’s currency, its membership of the European Union, its monetary system, financial services regulation and tax have combined to create a heightened sense of uncertainty for companies with operations north of the border, as well as companies considering investing in Scotland in the future.
For months, businesses worked to stay out the debate in case they irked their shareholders by getting too political, now the floodgates seem to be open. On first inspection, their interventions represent a triumphant period for the Better Together movement that is campaigning to secure the union. Job losses would appear to be a clear deterrent to those who are thinking to vote Yes on 18th September 2014. Given the electoral mantra “it’s the economy stupid” this can only be very good news for the No campaign, right? To Salmond’s delight it’s not quite as simple as that.
It’s a fair assumption to make that, traditionally, ordinary Scots with a typically nationalistic world view will be less inclined to support multinationals regardless of whether their headquarters are nominally based in Scotland. If well to do multinational CEOs tell Scots they shouldn’t plump for independence then Scots may well be inclined to say “well, no, I couldn’t care less about helping you line your pockets. I’ll vote Yes”. Voters look to statements from people they trust, not the views of affluent businessmen in ivory towers with little understanding of the rising costs of living in Scotland. Given undecided voters in Scotland account for a sizeable 15-20 per cent of the electorate on the last count they may well be the deciding factor come referendum day. Union campaigners would do well to look a little closer when celebrating another multinational coming onside.
Couple this effect with a barrage of back to basics headlines from the Yes campaign splashed across the front page of the Scottish Daily Record about how the so-called ‘Bedroom Tax’ – an “enforced Westminster diktat from the Tory elite” – then you have a large section of the Scottish electorate that may think Scotland can prosper on its own outside the sphere of influence of Westminster. Put simply, policies emanating from Westminster look like it will cost ordinary Scots, say, £500 more a year, they may well vote Yes. The Yes campaign could seize victory if they can persuade the electorate that they are concerned about the lives of ordinary citizens struggling to pay their mortgages and put food on the table.
It is, of course, possible to overplay this effect as polls following Chancellor George Osborne and Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls’ announcement that they would block a currency union in the event of independence boosted the No campaign. This demonstrated that those undecided voters with a modicum of long-term economic awareness took the significance of currency uncertainty on-board.
Nonetheless, John Curtice, Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University and Scottish electoral sage, says big business interventions are not a guaranteed win for unionists. “In general, what is undoubtedly true is the willingness of people to believe a message does depend on the credibility of the source,” he said. “You have to remember what’s in the back of all our minds was business wasn’t too keen on devolution. It was on the wrong side of the argument in 1997, so it doesn’t always work.”
In a dream world, the union campaign would screen the messaging of big businesses due to publicly announce their independence concerns to make sure those businesses state that keeping the union together will enhance the welfare of the Scottish people, not that it will boost the value of their stakeholders’ assets.
Weir Group, one of the world’s leading engineering businesses originating from Scotland, is due to unveil independently commissioned research into the implications of independence in late March. This will hopefully push conversations toward rigorous economic analysis and away from the current mire of political rhetoric that has characterised the economic impact debate so far.
Posted on | March 12, 2014 | No Comments
The real loser is UKIP. Nigel Farage has always maintained that Labour would eventually come down promising a referendum so there would be no need for UKIP voters to switch to the Conservatives to have their say on our future membership of the EU.
It has been a bad week for UKIP as its healthy poll ratings have meant it coming under increasing media scrutiny. Previously good results in the European parliamentary elections have not been matched in the following general election. This looks set to be repeated with many Tory leaning electors voting UKIP for the European elections but returning to the fold for the big one in May 2015.
There has clearly been a huge internal debate within the Labour Party. David Cameron is mightily relieved that the intellectuals have seen off the hard-headed and he now leads the only major party committed to a referendum in the next Parliament. Ed Balls and Policy Review Chair Jon Cruddas are savvy, hard-nosed politicians and Labour could well rue the day they were ignored when the votes are counted next May.
Posted on | March 6, 2014 | No Comments
Last week, the Education Secretary Michael Gove met with anti-female genital mutilation (FGM) campaigner and the all-round inspiring, Fahma Mohamed to discuss the anti-FGM movement currently playing out in the UK. Her anti-FGM initiative denouncing the mutilating practise on young girls and calling for an end to this traumatic tradition, has seen 230,000 back her campaign on Change.org. She has also garnered support from top female activists and politicians such as the high-profile Pakistani education rights campaigner Malala Yousafzai, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Public Health Minister Jane Ellison MP and prominent anti-FGM advocate Lynne Featherstone MP.
Mohamed is now taking her cause directly to the Education Secretary with one clear purpose; to end the cycle of FGM through the power of education.
In an interview with the Guardian, her message to Gove is quite clear; FGM violence should be prevented. She says by asking ‘head teachers to train their staff so that they may teach school children and young people about the risks of FGM.’ This is a noteworthy cause and one that also has the attention of European policy-makers. Members of the European Parliament’s Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee want EU member states to toughen their stance on FGM who see the act as barbaric and a “gross form of violence against women and violence against the child”. Mohamed is right to believe that education is a powerful weapon to tackle cyclical acts of violence in the name of tradition and culture, but more than that, she is correct in arguing that education in itself is a powerful weapon of influence on school children, who are an impressionable audience, often trusting and heeding the words of their tutors.
My question is this: why stop at FGM? Gove has taken some criticism since coming to office for not improving or modernising sex education in schools. I understand that his first and foremost goal in government has been to raise education standards and expectations of children to improve the inequality imbalances across the UK. But what of standards in society? What of the disgusting violence towards women depicted in pornography on the internet, which has not only become an accepted norm, but an alternative educational tool, in the absence of an up to date syllabus that tackles common phenomena such as graphic pornography, the depiction of women in the media, underage sex, pregnancy and adult relationships. The BBC reported on a survey, released yesterday, announcing that a third of all women in the EU have experienced either physical or sexual violence since the age of 15. Shocking and disgusting figures which should demand not just outrage but real action. Sex education, delivered in a classroom to age appropriate children, would see the under 16’s of this generation learning that adult sexual relationships comprise of mutual respect and understanding, rather than violence and dominance, as often delivered to impressionably young minds on the internet.
The Guardian reported that Gove has now pledged to write to all primary and secondary head teachers in England about FGM, drawing their “attention to guidelines around the issue and reminding them of their duty to protect schoolgirls”. Whilst this is a step in the right direction for a fantastic and important campaign, I still believe that Nick Clegg’s argument to update the education syllabus is of momentous importance in the progressive battle to un-objectify women in our society.
Labour’s attempt to bring about mandatory sex and relationship education in schools under the Children and Families Bill for statutory Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) Education, failed last summer; PSHE still remains a non-statutory subject, and Gove’s answer for now is “the right thing to do is to trust teachers.” Yes, teachers should have the ability to teach without limited scope, but on this segway I feel strongly that the Department for Education must own the issue to pronounce its significance. The Prime Minister’s attempt to filter pornography online is welcomed, but only the tip of an iceberg to a deep rooted issue which education could begin to rectify.
Education is a powerful weapon in the fight against violence against women, and now that Fahma Mohamed has our Education Secretary’s attention, something yet more brilliant might come of the campaign – a wholehearted attempt within our education system to tackle the issues of violence against women more broadly.
On Monday, I will attending the UN Women All-Party Group’s panel discussion on ‘The Global Epidemic of Violence Against Women and Girls through Innovative Policy and Programmes’ to follow International Women’s Day, 8th March.
Follow me on Twitter| @HattieLeach
Posted on | February 20, 2014 | No Comments
“This is an extremely disappointing day for me as a descendent of a Scottish clan and as a proud, patriotic Prime Minister committed to keeping our three hundred year old Union together. However we must move forward to address the democratic will of the Scottish people voiced yesterday.”
- Prime Minister David Cameron, 19 September 2014
These may be the heavyhearted words of David Cameron if Scotland chooses independence on 18th September 2014. Looking into the future, a Yes vote in the independence referendum would send shockwaves through UK politics while presenting the greatest constitutional challenge since the Great Reform Bill clashes of 1830-32. Demonstrating commentator’s fixation on the short-term ups and downs of the campaign up to this point, there has been little consideration of the unprecedented political and constitutional scenario that may unfold the morning after referendum day.
Politically, it is a given that the Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems would be seriously weakened as a result of a Yes vote. Moreover, David Cameron will be put in a particularly difficult position due to his actions that inadvertently set in motion the break-up of the Union. In early 2012, during negotiations on the holding of a referendum, Cameron was certain the Scottish people would not bring themselves to choose separation. In a conscious effort to put the issue to bed, Cameron forced Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond’s hand by demanding a decisive yes or no referendum question that paved the way not just for more devolved power but full independence. When the dust settles, it will sink in that Cameron’s premiership brought about the loss of a swathe of the country. History will treat Cameron harshly, arguably overshadowing all other Coalition achievements.
A Yes vote would also galvanise the sense that Cameron has never overseen an outright election victory – something which would raise serious questions over the PM’s ability to win for the Conservatives in the 2015 General Election, potentially prompting calls for him to be replaced. Unsettled party backbenchers, still digesting the very real possibility of a sizeable European elections setback on 22nd May 2014, may ask ‘why continue to back a loser?’
Separately, there will be a section of the Tory faithful that will recognise the mathematical benefits of a Yes vote. Many Scottish Labour constituency MPs would cease to exist after independence was legally enacted. As a result, future general election contests would benefit the Tories due to traditionally higher Conservative support south of the border. This would render Labour’s future chances of a general election victory seriously difficult. However the prestige lost due to the breakaway of Scotland will hurt the unionist wing of the party as it goes against bedrock Conservative principles – something which will weigh heavier than simple mathematical gains. It will be a moment of principle versus party within Tory ranks. Questions over Cameron’s leadership would also play a decisive role in how to solve a series of constitutional conundrums raised by a Yes vote.
Addressing the May 2015 General Election, the SNP independence blueprint, Scotland’s Future, claims that Scottish MPs elected in May 2015 would serve curtailed 10-month terms, until the ‘independence day’ in March 2016. However, if Labour was to secure a majority purely by virtue of Scottish seats, then months later this majority evaporates on Independence Day when Scottish MPs cease to sit in Westminster… what then? Could we see a change of Government between elections?
Separately, what motivates Scottish MPs to stand in the May 2015 General Election knowing they will only be lame duck MPs with an imminent expiration date? And, what Scots would bother to vote knowing their MPs would be no more come Scotland’s official day of separation?
Further complications arise around the makeup of the UK negotiation team if Scotland votes for independence. The UK Government contains several Liberals Democrat ministers and is supported by 12 Scottish MPs. The morning after the Yes vote, won’t all those Scottish MPs have a conflict of interest when discussing the terms of Scotland’s separation? One member of the quad of negotiators that forged the Coalition Agreement, Danny Alexander, would be ruled out of separation negotiations.
These serious questions remain unanswered as we approach referendum day.
The political ramifications of a Yes vote are politically explosive and constitutionally challenging given the complication of European elections and the General Election. David Cameron’s handling of the situation and his personal standing will feed into the ‘what now for parliamentary democracy’ question that will no doubt arise. Ahead of referendum day, there needs to be a more frank discussion on the constitutional nuts and bolts of keeping the political system operating both to prepare for possible independence while also safeguarding the public’s trust in the Westminster system of government.
With the polls tightening, there is still the chance that the questions posed in this article could become much more than hypothetical theories.
Look out for our next blog discussing the impact of a Yes vote on businesses north and south of the border. Follow @PolicyPeriscope, Burson-Marsteller’s 360 degree perspective on the latest political trends in the UK.
Posted on | February 3, 2014 | No Comments
When looking at the political landscape for 2014 a few weeks back we repeated President Bill Clinton’s famous mantra, “it’s the economy stupid”. This has been reflected in a quite major shift in the opinion polls. The Labour lead of 7-10 per cent has been reduced to 1-4 per cent in a sufficient number of polls for it to be proved accurate. The main change has been more positive economic indicators which have boosted Chancellor George Osborne’s claim to be on the right track and put his opposite number Ed Balls in a tricky position. Labour really need to acknowledge some past economic mistakes and move on but this looks unlikely. They may even regret making such an issue about cost of living if the economic recovery is sustained up to the general election with people feeling better off as well as more confident about the economic future.
We looked at the Scottish independence referendum and concluded that “Union campaigners cannot be complacent”. Such complacency must have been jolted when after several stellar performances from First Minister Alex Salmond the polls started to shift in his favour. However the cavalry rode in the distinguished shape of Bank of England Governor Mark Carney who made a thoughtful speech in Edinburgh expressing practical reservations about Scotland joining the rest of the UK in a currency union. When the referendum votes are counted on September 18th we may well look back on this Carney speech as pivotal.
We also looked at Europe. If you were to have read the media at the end of last week it had been bad news for Prime Minister David Cameron. They cited the Oxfordshire meeting with French President François Hollande and seemed surprised that the President was not persuaded to give priority to the Cameron reforms. Surely this just adds weight to the Prime Minister’s campaign, and also, does not the power really lie in Germany and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s hands. That is a far firmer relationship. You cannot imagine the Prime Minister, who was openly disdainful of French economic policy, saying the same about Germany under his political soulmate Chancellor Merkel. The media then cited the European Union Referendum Bill being talked out in the House of Lords. Again surely this plays into the Prime Minister’s hands with Labour and Liberal peers denying the British people a referendum. No wonder Downing Street were quickly briefing a fresh Bill would be introduced in the new and final session of this Parliament. This gives yet another opportunity to distance the opposition parties from public opinion.
Finally, we discussed the Coalition in our previous blog and pointed out that “the two parties are increasingly trying to differentiate themselves by policy”. This was vividly illustrated when the normally coalition collegiate Education Minister David Laws seemed to publicly disagree with his Secretary of State Michael Gove not re-appointing Sally Morgan as Chair of Ofsted. It is a good bit of old fashioned politics. Put simply, traditionally a disproportionate number of teachers have voted Liberal Democrat. The party languishing in the polls needs to bolster its core vote every bit as much as the other parties. Expect more in the weeks ahead.
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