IS a federal UK on the horizon? The answer may well rest on the result of Thursday’s Inverclyde by-election.
To see Inverclyde in the bigger picture it’s necessary to look at the events of the last few months. An “impregnable” Labour majority in the polls was not only overturned during the Scottish elections but annihilated. The response by the Unionist parties to the SNP landslide has been disorganized, haphazard, ad-hoc and scatterbrained – to put it into its best possible light.
First there were the shock and awe reactions exhibited by the commentators on the BBC on election night itself as the results came pouring in, with some at Pacific Quay almost being reduced to on-air tears. Yet this was Scotland’s voice and Scotland had spoken.
Would the Union proponents listen?
Initial reaction said Yes, as Cameron came out loudly declaring that Scotland’s referendum wishes would be respected. In reality he had no choice, for although Scotland lives under what should be an almost unbreakable international treaty, that treaty has arguably been broached enough times to be void. Scotland simply hadn’t had anyone prepared to stand up for her rights before.
But the lack of cohesiveness in the Union ranks was quickly exemplified as Michael Moor, our Irish-born Secretary of State, who announced – ludicrously – that Scotland would need two referendums before Westminster would accept the result.
Other sources at Westminster kept suspiciously quiet on these statements, though the Scottish Government certainly voiced its opinion. The UN also weighed in through precedent, namely Kosovo, re-enforcing the articles in the UN charter. Sadly, David Mundell didn’t appear to think these minor technicalities required reference as he waded in after his boss.
Since May 5 there have been arguments about what will go into a referendum ballot – all the way down to who will choose the form of the questions to be asked. These arguments mainly appear as a way to fill column inches and attempt to stave off the impending demise of the daily print media. The questions will be decided in Scotland, as will the timing.
The “Save the Union” campaign also appears to have difficulty in finding a champion. Column inches were dutifully filled – credentials were marched out, achievements were lauded, accomplishments feted…at least till Lord John Reid quietly informed the Unionist camp “thanks, but no thanks – too busy chaps”.
“Save the Union” is still in turmoil, or as its proponents want to put it “Vote [Yes] to keep Scotland in the Union” – another less than subtle attempt to hijack the wording of the referendum campaign.
With Labour still the official opposition in Scotland, although consistently declining in vote share by up to five per cent at every Holyrood Election, it was worth waiting and watching to see what direction the party of the Red Rose would take.
The first inkling of the response of the red rose came this week in the form of an official comment by Eric Joyce, MP, and his statement basically being that a need for a Federal UK was becoming apparent. Eric Joyce may be only a backbencher, but his comments have always seen reasonably wide circulation.
The next individual to be paraded before the media was Lord George Foulkes – a step up the ladder. Whereas Joyce’s view could be ignored as mere personal opinion if the responce proved hostile, it is difficult to sideline more senior voices in the Labour ranks such as Foulkes.
Is it an accident we are reading these pro-federalist announcements just before the Inverclyde by-election? Or is Labour testing the waters of a federal system as a potential way to preserve the path to the ermine? Is so Inverclyde may well prove a turning point in Scotland’s story as quietly profound as May 5th 2011.
Adopting federalism would point Labour and the Lib-Dems potentially to an alliance, especially so after Willie Rennies’ reported comments last week about the demise of the present UK being no longer just a theoretical possibility. Remember, the Lib-Dem’s have never formally abandoned the federalism of the old Liberal Party.
The media has been ignoring Inverclyde largely. In England there’s barely a mention. In Scotland, unless you live in the constituency, it’s not exactly the daily headline. It is probable that this lack of media coverage is directly due to the May 5th result. Reporting a second, very bloody nose for Labour within two months is not what Scotland’s media has been anxious to do historically.
Look for three potentialities from Inverclyde. First is a Labour win with a majority equal to, greater than, or within a very few percentage points of their UK General Election result. In this scenario, expect the federalist dialogue from Labour to be muted, perhaps to disappear. Business as usual would be the order of the day. Do not expect the media to pursue the federalist option.
The second outcome has Labour retaining Inverclyde with a substantially reduced majority. Should this happen we can expect a few more voices added to the federalist bandwagon.
The third scenario has the SNP winning the seat. This would require a highly substantial swing and will send shockwaves through all the Westminster parties – not just Labour. (A similar swing in England would be national headlines for weeks and provoke major policy reviews.) Result: Labour is forced to adopt the federal UK path.
With an SNP win in Inverclyde expect more federalist noises from very senior Labour members, possibly culminating in a vote at the next party conference. Expect it within a few short months.
One thing is clear, while the Labour party in Scotland, and Labour UK are presently leaderless, directionless, and largely clueless with respect to Scotland and her present political position, they will not always be so.
Labour is testing the waters to find the path of least resistance back to the positions of power. Inverclyde is the first, and perhaps most significant test on the road for it has the potential to force the Labour party on a federal path from which there will be no retuning for either them – or the UK.