07 Sep 2014
September 7, 2014

If Yes wins then what next?


Jim Murphy and Alistair Darling – with energy and passion on the one hand, decency and commonsense on the other – have, I think, done their best for the No camp. The No campaign has in general been terrible, obviously, but if No wins, however narrowly, both politicians will have played important roles – and if Yes wins, no-one will be able to say either man didn’t do all he could to win. The best thing for No now is for both men, and folk like them, to carry on doggedly doing what they’re doing and hope that it’s enough (although see my point about the margin of victory, here).

The absolutely worst thing for the No campaign now would be to deploy English politicians on streets across Scotland to lecture Scots about where our best interests lie. Oh, and to announce that a paternalistic ‘convention’ of the great and good will tell Scots what devo-plus goodies they will get in return for a No vote – like weird old headmasters handing out sweeties to ‘naughty’ children. If anything is to propel yet more undecided Scots hurtling towards Yes, it would be telling us that if we vote No we’ll get to be patronised by an unelected, self-serving elite cadre of our ‘betters’. Alas, this seems exactly what we’re all about to be treated to. Oh dear.

Given that virtually all Scottish Tories will vote No, the swing towards Yes seems to be a function of the consistent and calamitous inability of Scottish Labour to present a coherent unionist prospectus that might serve as an alternative to the SNP’s. Murphy and Darling are in effect trying to convince Labour supporters to stick with Labour’s unionist vision because the leadership of the ‘Scottish Labour Party’ – which Labour MPs have a dysfunctional relationship with – has failed dismally over time in this respect. If Yes does win, the silver lining for Labour will be the removal of that farce of a ‘leadership’ of a pretendy ‘Scottish Labour Party’, along with the creation of at least one real new party and a move from Westminster to Holyrood for some thoroughly talented Labour politicians.

But here’s a few other things that would happen the the immediate wake of a Yes vote.

First, the last UK general election 2015 would surely be cancelled. An English parliamentary election (rUK will surely disappear as a clumsy reference since England will make up way over 90%) would be an entirely new proposition for voters south of the new border. There could meanwhile be no question that, for example, Labour might win a UK election by a small majority, only to see a Tory government and prime minister take power in England without an election once the Scots had departed. Moreover, the notion of Scottish MPs voting on England-only matters while the whole parliament was consumed by Scots extracting themselves from the union would be nonsensical and unmanageable.

Second, while the SNP would naturally dominate negotiations with England they would need to form a broader negotiating coalition with other parties, since the party has a democratic mandate to run Scotland under devolution rather that Scotland as an independent state. I imagine Alex Salmond will stress this point this week, contrasting such democratic inclusiveness with the No camp’s paternalistic and exclusive ‘convention of the great and good’.

Third, new political alliances would develop prior to the first Scottish general election. Again, Salmond and the SNP would be in a powerful position, but unless Scots want Peronism then new allegiances will form across the old parties and new formations will emerge. The outcome of a Scottish general election in 2016 would be much less predictable than commentators have so far suggested.

Fourth, the outcome of the English elections in 2016 – an election in 2015 being impossible for the reasons I’ve outlined above – would be equally unpredictable. It’s hard to see a Tory prime minister who lost Scotland, particularly one so beset by rebellion already, surviving for even a few months. A caretaker Tory prime minister would likely oversee a negotiating coalition in the same way as Alex Salmond would do in Scotland. UKIP and right-wing Tories would work on a new formal alliance. And while commentators often see great significance in the loss of 40 or so Scots for Labour’s chances, the simple fact is that an English election would present a different calculus for all voters, meaning that this simple ‘subtraction’ exercise is devoid of any meaning.

For now, though, I hope Murphy and Darling continue to do their best. One thing is for sure, though; the idea that, with 11 days to go, undecided Scots will trust a last-minute, super-duper-devo-plus offer from politicians who until very recently stood wholly opposed to such a notion is profoundly misguided. It is lunatic. It is baws.