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:
In 2003, Carol Craig published The Scots’ Crisis of Confidence, a book that led to a lot of debate in Scotland. A mix of overgeneralisation and insight, it argued that Scots were mentally ill-equipped for the 21st century. Craig wrote that this was not down to an inhibited Scottish identity but rather from too much Scottishness. An inheritance of Calvinism, socialism and patriotism had bestowed on Scots a narrow perspective on the world and their own potential to shape it. She also criticised an overly masculine culture soaked in whisky, football and that dandy Robert Burns.
As one might expect this provoked quite the reaction, which in many instances supported the points Craig was making. Either way, her aim was a good one: to try to encourage a more vibrant, entrepreneurial, pluralistic and open Scottish society. Read more
They live in a town in the central belt, a few minutes off the M8 motorway that runs between Glasgow and Edinburgh. On the rare occasions when they talk about their national identities, they say they feel both Scottish and British; they cheer for Mo Farah and the Scottish football team. They are instinctively cynical towards politics and pay it scant attention but the referendum coverage has been unavoidable. Traditional Labour voters, they broke with the party in the Scottish elections of 2011, when she opted for the Scottish Nationalists and he stayed at home. She liked what the SNP had to say about childcare while he could not trust any pledge. Like up to one-fifth of Scots, they have yet to make up their minds about independence. Read more
Alex Salmond’s speech on Monday was billed as a response to George Osborne’s rejection last week of a formal monetary union between an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK. But this formed no more than a quarter of the first minister’s speech. Mr Salmond was keener on rejecting what Mr Osborne said in 2010 (announce cuts to public sector spending) and what David Cameron said in 2013 (promise a referendum on UK membership of the EU), than what they said in 2014. Read more
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
The Scottish National party today launched its white paper for an independent Scotland. It takes the form of a 670 page collection of FAQs, which on the face of it is more suggestive of a complicated electrical appliance than a manifesto for a new nation. Nevertheless, this is a historic and important moment in the history of Scotland. Read more
An independent Scotland would have to dramatically cut public spending or raise taxes, according to a report out today from the Institute for Fiscal Studies. As ever in the McPanglossian world of the Scottish referendum, the No side is saying this new evidence is further proof of the need for union, while the Yes camp is arguing that this is precisely why Scotland needs autonomy. Read more
In a departure from spouting errant Social Darwinist nonsense, Ernest Renan said that a nation depends for its survival on a “daily referendum”. The nineteenth century French historian meant that a country is no more and no less than an expression of collective identity. When that idea goes, so does the nation. Read more
On January 1 1993, Czechoslovakia split into Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The two new states opted to keep a monetary union. Thirty-three days later that union collapsed. Over the next five years, exports from each country to the other quickly fell as a share of total trade. Economists cite this as a dramatic example of the “border effect”, the lack of trade and capital flows between two areas due to a territorial limit. In a paper released on Tuesday, HM Treasury suggests that it also provides a warning to Scots: they will be poorer if they vote for independence and for a formal border to be established near Hadrian’s Wall. Read more