The Fixed Term Parliaments Act was both a con and a mirage. A con, because it was primarily intended by David Cameron’s Conservatives as a way of redressing a demographic oddity which which meant Labour required far fewer votes at election per seat than everyone else. The number of seats would reduce from 651 to 600 and this reduction would favour the Tories (although could not truly be considered dodgy governance because it was in theory simply removing a ruffle in the system) at future elections. To cover this slightly sneaky move, it was said that the built-in government advantage of being able to call an election when it looked good for the incumbent would also go.
But the latter was nonsense, of course. The simple fact is that it’s virtually impossible for any party of opposition to vote against a new election. That would make it look like they think they’re incapable of forming a government and if that’s so then what’s their raison d’être? Even in the unlikely event of Labour agreeing it wasn’t competent, if the government simply resigned then that party would still have a majority so no-one else would be able to get past a vote of confidence anyway.
The Tories knew that it simply wasn’t true that there was any kind of lock on the system, then. Oddly, though, the media reported the whole thing as if it were real. Now of course we know it isn’t real and in fact it’s actually facilitated an opportunistic snap general election of the kind people were told by the Tories and media couldn’t really happen again.
An interesting question is whether opposition parties should vote with the government to call an election, or abstain. For the biggest party most likely to be open to form an alternative government, it’s hard not to vote with the government because oppositions spend all their time saying how great it’ll be when there’s an election so they can boot the incumbents out and do a better job. For smaller parties of opposition which couldn’t of themselves form a government, different political variables apply so it can be both logical and right for them to abstain.
Yesterday, Scottish Labour criticised the SNP for not voting to end the present Tory government (the SNP abstained). However, given that the Tories are 20 points ahead in the UK and the SNP are 30 points ahead of Labour in Scotland, this is daft. The Tories have used the mirage of the new Act to capitalise on Labour’s dire state and it looks like Labour will be dealt its worst ever crushing and may disappear as a UK parliamentary party in Scotland. These things considered, Labour has just voted for it’s own near (or actual) destruction and the strengthening of a Tory government, not ‘the end of a Tory government’.
Northern Ireland parties voted for reasons of local politics. And the SNP abstained on the basis (technically, at least) that the whole vote was the result of a con and mirage which involved promising this sort of thing couldn’t happen again while lining exactly that up off-stage. Why not vote against, then? Well, politics. No-one would really want to go as far as actually voting for the Tories to stay in. Plus, the coming election will harm Labour and strengthen the SNP’s drive for a second referendum, so for the SNP what’s not to like?
For Scots as a whole, of course the Scottish parliament has already voted for a new referendum, but returning mainly independence supporters makes it impossible for Theresa May to delay a referendum unreasonably since she’ll be claiming her Brexit mandate on the same ‘most constituency MPs’ basis as the SNP are demanding a new referendum.
Perhaps the most significant effects of this election, though, would come if the Tories win huge across the UK and perhaps a seat or two, while Labour is wiped out in Scotland and crushed across the UK. An increase in support for independence in Scotland in opposition to the rising Tories? You bet!