The general election in May is one of the most difficult to predict in British history. The result will undermine old certitudes. An incumbent’s share of the vote typically dwindles from one election to the next. An opposition has never won with Milibandite ratings on both the economy and the strength of its leader. Two-party politics, injured in 2010, could be confirmed dead in 2015. Six parties could have a critical role in deciding the allocation of seats. The 650 constituency races each have their own dynamic; it doesn’t make much sense to think of this as a single election.
Scotland is a case in point. Since the independence referendum on September 18, the Scottish National party has taken a big opinion poll lead over the Labour party:
“It is not about nationalism, it is about socialism.” That is the argument for Scottish independence made not only by many Scots but also by some on the English left. In Scotland, the Jimmy Reid foundation, Common Weal, the Scottish Socialist party, the Scottish Greens and some of the SNP have called for “radical independence”. This idea has attracted left-wing supporters from south of the border: Billy Bragg, John Harris, George Monbiot, Tariq Ali and other writers often found in the Guardian. They hope that Scottish independence will serve as a catalyst for England’s left. A No vote, Monbiot argues, would be an act of “self-harm” and “system justification”.
Although the formal Yes campaign has not gone as far as some of the fringe groups, its underlying argument in the final months of the campaign has been that Scotland is politically and morally different from the rest of the UK – it is crying out to be a social democracy, while the Conservative-led government in London drifts to the right. Read more
“Scotland will vote to remain in the United Kingdom, and by a decisive enough margin to settle the matter for many years to come”, wrote Peter Kellner, the president of YouGov, at the beginning of July. But after reading the results of his new poll, released on Tuesday, the pollster is less confident. The pro-independence side in the Scottish referendum is “in touching distance of victory”, he writes in the Sun.
An independent Scotland would not have to join the EU. But most Scots want Scotland to be an EU member and it is a central plank of SNP policy. There is no precedent, however, for what happens if part of a member state becomes independent and wishes to remain part of the EU. (Greenland, Germany and Czechoslovakia are all relevant but different cases.) This is one reason why both sides have been vigorously engaging in claim and counter-claim over EU law.
Not content with writing brilliantly about one wizard, JK Rowling has blogged about Alex Salmond. In a post on her website the Harry Potter author explains why she is donating £1m to the No campaign – and will be voting against Scottish independence.
I encourage anyone interested in the referendum on Scottish independence to read Ms Rowling. She expresses more clearly than most unionists the idea that patriotism is compatible with scepticism of independence. Ms Rowling may also help to explain why the Yes campaign is struggling to convince women. Hers is a proud, quiet and pragmatic defence of Scotland within the UK, one that will chime with many voters. Read more
What do the data below tell us about Britain?
The table is taken from A Portrait of Modern Britain, a report published on Tuesday by Policy Exchange, a think tank. It presents the answers of respondents from the six biggest ethnic groups in the UK to the question how would they describe their national identity given the following options: English, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish, British and Other (respondents were asked to identify what they meant by Other.)
The data, taken from the 2011 census, suggest that only about 14 per cent of whites report a “British only” identity. Respondents were allowed to list more than one identity but the figure only rises to a quarter when a dual British identity is included. Sixty-four per cent, however, say that they have an English-only identity. Read more
Like many people from Edinburgh, I once worked at Standard Life. It was the summer of 2001 and I spent an enjoyable few weeks opening, sorting and delivering mail alongside a pony-tailed Australian with a fondness for somnolent afternoons. Working for the big fund manager full-time was a popular idea among my peers; it was a running joke at my school that the careers advice office should be renamed the Standard Life recruitment department. My neighbour with the nice car worked for the company.
The point of these hokey anecdotes: Standard Life is a big employer in a city where one in ten people work in financial services. I suspect most people will know someone – or know of someone – who works there. The charts below from Edinburgh City Council show the capital’s top companies by pre-tax profits (2011) and employment (2012). The latter also includes public sector organisations; Standard Life was the sixth biggest employer and the third biggest private sector employer in Edinburgh as of 2012.
In a lecture last year, Sir Nicholas Macpherson, HM Treasury permanent secretary and perhaps the most powerful old Etonian in Britain, explained the “Origins of Treasury control”. Sir Nicholas said that Treasury’s power came from three sources: conflict, links to Parliament and being able to outwit the rest of officialdom. All three were in evidence this morning, as George Osborne cited his top official’s advice and told Scots they can have independence or the pound – but not both. Read more