Where now for this weary union? After the general election triumphs of the Scottish National party and the Conservatives, voices in both parties are calling for the UK government to find a new constitutional settlement. But what might this mean?
I think there are four possible – but not equally possible – options for what might happen in the short-term, roughly taken to mean the next year, before the 2016 elections to the Scottish parliament in Holyrood. They are not necessarily exclusive. Read more
Okay, the US vice-president hasn’t directly commented on the Scottish National party. But in any analysis of public policy it is important to keep his words in mind:
‘Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.’
At the 2007 Holyrood elections, the Scottish National party campaigned to “dump the debt” accrued by students at Scottish universities. It promised to service the existing loan debt for Scottish graduates “by meeting their annual loan repayments, re-introduce grants instead of loans and scrap the graduate endowment fee”.
A look at its record shows that most of this didn’t happen. In England, the Liberal Democrats were punished for their broken pledges on tuition fees, but in Scotland, the SNP has been able to use its policies as “evidence” of its progressive credentials. Read more
Beyond the immediate political battles being fought by the Labour party against the Scottish National party, and the Conservatives against both of them, there is a more fundamental tension north of the border. It is between politics and economics.
The pro-independence SNP has the political momentum. Not only is it set to win the vast majority of Scottish Westminster seats, its rise has provoked the sort of reaction among senior Conservatives such as Sir John Major that serves its cause. The more the SNP playing a role in Westminster is seen as somehow illegitimate (a ridiculous notion), the more it fosters the belief that Scotland and England are drifting apart. Read more
If the SNP achieves anything like the victory polls suggest, we will discover quite how committed unionists really are towards the union. There will be a great temptation to respond violently to the good jock – bad jock tactics of Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond. There will also be a growing enthusiasm – especially among Conservatives – to exchange home rule in Scotland for English votes on English laws. Of course, this is what the SNP wants them to think : that the only way to destroy nationalism is to destroy the union.
Given the Scottish National party’s imperious poll ratings it easy to conclude that, despite the Yes side’s defeat in last year’s referendum, independence is inevitable.
But the release on Wednesday of annual fiscal figures from the Scottish Government suggest that, at least when it comes to the economic case for independence, 2014 was an unusually good year for nationalists, one that may not repeat itself anytime soon. Read more
The dust has settled on the Scottish independence referendum. Where does the 55 per cent No vote leave our panel? Are they still speaking to friends and family?
Jill, a staunch No voter, laments the divisions the referendum have left within families and the overall fabric of Scottish society. She would like to put the whole issue behind her and move on. Read more
With only days to go until the vote, our panelists have all made up their minds. Of our three undecided voters two have gone over to the Yes camp, and one is planning to vote No, albeit with a heavy heart.
Our panel don’t believe the vote will be as close as polls currently suggest. But if it is, there are some fears about reprisals and the prospect of a ‘neverendum’ with the Yes campaign unwilling to stop pushing for another vote. Read more
Alex Salmond’s impassioned plea for Scottish independence may have won over unsure voters, say our Scottish reader panel. As a snap poll by Guardian/ICM found Mr Salmond to have won Monday night’s television debate by a margin of 71 per cent to 29 per cent, even our panellists in the No camp had to admit that Scotland’s first minister had been the better speaker.
He has been criticised in the past for offending women, gays and the Irish. Now Tony Abbott, Australia’s prime minister, stands accused of insulting the people of Scotland and interfering in the country’s independence referendum on September 18, writes Jamie Smyth. Read more
Is the referendum debate causing a rift in Scottish society? The Church of Scotland is worried enough about this to propose a service of reconciliation following the vote in September. We put the question to our panelists – were their personal relationships strained? Were they worried about life after September 18?
Most of them said no – Scots are grown up enough to have the debate without lasting damage. But interestingly, our pro-Union panelists were the ones most clearly voicing fears about a divide. Read more
We revealed in this morning’s FT that the Treasury is making it clear to investors in UK debt that if Scotland goes independent, the rest of the UK will still be liable for the debt that it has issued.
In other words, however the debt is carved up, if an independent Scotland defaults on one of its repayments, it will be English, Welsh and Northern Irish taxpayers who will have to pay up.
In one sense, this seems to give Alex Salmond a much stronger hand in any negotiation with the rest of the UK (again, if Scotland becomes independent) about how assets and liabilities should be carved up. After all, if the UK is guaranteeing Scotland’s debts, Salmond could turn round and insist his government will only keep up with repayments in return for another of his demands – for example, being allowed to use sterling. Read more
It has been assumed in Westminster for several months now that the Scots will get an independence referendum, and it will happen in 2014. But mutterings are beginning to emerge that this may not happen at all - and here is why.
After David Cameron signalled he was willing to give way on his preferred date of 2013, the only things left to work out were supposed to be who got to vote and what the question would be.
The first of those points of tension looks close to being settled. Number 10 this morning all but admitted it was willing to let 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in the referendum if the SNP insisted on it. When asked if allowing this to happen would set a precedent for general elections, a Downing Street spokesman said:
These are two different things. One is a referendum on the independence of a nation which is an irreversible decision. The other is an election for the government, which can be reversed after five years.
After four days of heated argument about the complex process of holding a referendum on Scottish independence, unionists are finally starting to get the debate they have been wanting to have for a while: about the substance of what independence means.
At first, Westminster politicians seemed to have been outmanoeuvred (again) by Alex Salmond, getting drawn into a row over the timing of a referendum and what questions would be asked – allowing the Scottish leader to depict them as interfering in Scottish politics.
Now, they are beginning to put him on the spot, asking the kinds of difficult questions they think will guarantee that the Scottish people will not vote for independence when they eventually get the chance to do so. Read more
Michael Moore, the Scottish secretary, will address MPs at 4.30pm today to explain why the Westminster government is offering Alex Salmond the chance to hold a legally-binding referendum on Scottish independence.
Ostensibly, the answer is that government legal advice says that any “consultative” referendum could be open to challenge in the courts. But there is another, political reason. If Westminster offers the power to have a referendum, it can also tie in certain conditions.
The two things unionists want to stop are:
- Salmond delaying the referendum until 2014 or later, by which time the first minister might have built up a sense of unstoppable momentum and;
- A third option appearing on the ballot, dubbed “devolution max”, which might appeal to those nervous about full independence.
The proposals for reducing the number of Scottish MPs in Westminster by seven seats, put out to consultation today by the Scottish Boundary Commission, does the Government no favours.
The FT’s initial analysis of the Boundary Commission for Scotland proposal (which can also be seen on our interactive map) suggests both Coalition parties are likely to lose out, with the only Scottish Tory and three of the 11 current Scottish Liberal Democrat MPs likely to lose their seats as a result of the boundary changes.
Among the Lib Dems, this could provoke a tussle between party grandees Charles Kennedy and Danny Alexander, whose adjacent constituencies could be merged into a new “Inverness and Skye” constituency. Alternatively Kennedy, Alexander and John Thurso could all compete for the new seat of “Caithness, Sutherland, Ross and Cromarty”, which has boundaries cutting across all three MPs’ existing constituencies. Read more
Picture editors always struggle to illustrate stories about Whitehall.
The Times did a decent job this morning with this shot of some bureaucratic types strolling past a Whitehall street-sign. The caption says “thousands of civil servants” may be losing their jobs. Read more
An interesting chart from the Institute of Government. Note the Lib Dem cabinet positions control less than 10 per cent of departmental spending (excluding the all powerful David Laws, of course).
Not sure whether this is a blessing. Axing 25 per cent of spending from transport or the police is never a career enhancing move in politics. But Vince Cable and Danny Alexander face some particularly tough choices on Scotland and student fees, which have the potential to backfire horribly on the Lib Dems. Read more