Party politicians on all sides should be chary about the tactics they employ in this general election over the political legitimacy of potential coalition partners – for they may have effects which are unexpected and potentially irreversible.
It is becoming less and less clear to me that the Conservatives are any longer minded to continue on with the Union in its traditional terms. The tactics first adopted on the morning of the Referendum result when the PM raised the issue of English votes for English Laws (EVEL) in a manner which only exacerbated a prevailing sense that politics of the UK Union are singularly a matter of party advantage. These are not new tactics. The main political parties have employed them one way or another ever since Parnell. As tactics today they only make political sense to a political party that has had little or no representation in Scotland for 40 years. The Conservative Party has literally lost touch with an entire nation in the Union.
This tactic has now been continued into the General Election. It may bring some near term party advantage to the Conservatives in terms of seats in England but may also bring about another Independence Referendum in Scotland. The fact they are willing to take that risk betrays much more than the need to win. to this as a party they have additionally added the potential of the EU referendum. That may also further destabilise Union parties in Scotland. Moreover, the febrile nature of the politics of devolution in NI rests on the UK and Irish governments as two equal parties. Were there to be more parties to that agreement the very rationale that has contained aspirations for a United Ireland may be quickly undermined – particularly if Sinn Fein rises in Ireland North and South much as the SNP has risen in Scotland.
The LibDems have today – or at least Mr Clegg has – set out his terms for a UK government that may exclude the entire party political interest in Scotland from participation in the Union government in Westminster. The Labour Party has not been far behind in rhetoric but somewhat less explicit. Mr Clegg has additionally offered the constitutional novelty of the notion that a party with most votes or seats – presuming no matter how small the plurality – in always entitled to be part of the government. The corollary to this is the LibDems must be present in a government to make it legitimate; whereas UKip or DUP would have an equal and opposite effect. In effect a minority Conservative government would be preferable to one composed of any number of other parties.
If as seems likely – there are no Conservative or LibDem MP’s from North of the border and at best a handful of LiS – they are by these actions only making the SNP’s case to pursue independence.
I’m not sure Union parties who can’t get MP’s elected in Scotland should be wagging their fingers at the party chosen by an entire Nation in the Union and saying – we cannot do business with you. I am at a loss how these Nationalists differ in nature to the Irish nationalists or British and Irish unionists with whom we happily did business for a century.
Personally, as an Irishman and historian I am well aware that the politics of the Unions was always about low base calculation rather than high principle. That said – that was then – the history of these Islands since 1921 has demonstrated that small independent nations particularly within the EU can prosper – and that the politics of divide and rule tends over time to make divisions ever more unbridgeable.
The parties of the Union have all failed in Scotland. That is not something for which they’re taking any responsibility but instead they’re demonising their opponent and in doing so making the whole project UK ever more unstable.
Many contemporary politicians have a very poor grasp on History. If they did they’d really not play party politics with the Union – it had never ended well in the past – in Ireland North and South and elsewhere in GB – over disestablishing the Church of wales for example – and it will end badly this time as well.
It is a cliche of every age to say we get the politicians we deserve – but honestly this time we all deserve better of them because something bigger is at stake. If we all value the UK and the Union we should all tell all our party political leaders to drop this language.