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UKIP isn't interested in rational policy decisions. It's using the EU (and immigration) as scapegoats for all the ills of the modern world. It's trying to tap into public insecurity and disgust with politics as usual. There are gigantic differences between UKIP and the SNP, but they both rage against the "Westminster establishment", and offer "independence" as the universal solution to all sorts of problems. The SNP are a vastly more competent, rational, and plausible outfit than UKIP. They didn't convince a majority to back Scottish independence in last year's referendum. On the other hand, they came closer than anyone expected. The polls narrowed drastically in the final weeks of the campaign. What had been a steady lead of 20+ points for No (to independence) shrank to only 10 points on polling day. I still think (and as a UK resident, devoutly hope) there will be a No vote to Brexit. But I also think it may be a lot closer than the polls currently indicate.
@JH: Labour have a long-term problem with their talent pipeline in Scotland. It's my (subjective) impression that ever since the Scottish Parliament was set up in 1999, they've been less successful than the SNP in attracting bright young recruits, and now it's starting to bite them. To the extent that Labour has any talent left in Scotland, their first priority will be the Holyrood elections in 2016. The SNP is likely to retain its overall majority, so Labour will be struggling to win enough seats to be seen as relevant. It's really too early to say what their strategy will be for the 2020 Westminster election and beyond.
@Noel: For a start, you're assuming Labour are rational actors. It's difficult to overstate how much they and the SNP loathe each other. Also, Scotland occupies an important place in the Labour's psyche. It got its start there, and until last week there were seats it had held since the 1930s. They won't give up on Scotland in the foreseeable future. Also, even if there's not much policy difference, a Labour PM would greatly prefer a reliable cadre of Scottish MPs from his own party, as opposed to an obstreperous SNP who could torpedo his government at any time. Last but not least, you are correct that the Conservatives did their best to demonise the concept of a deal with the SNP. It probably helped put them over the top in marginal English seats. Arguably, the SNP is already too toxic for any but the loosest possible arrangement with Labour. As for internal Labour party organisation... it's not my field of specialty, but AIUI they have historically been on a pretty tight leash from London. Jim Murphy has tried to create a little more distance, which caused significant friction with the UK leadership. And yes, Charlie's absolutely right that the brightest Labour stars have preferred to seek cabinet positions in London. It's been seriously suggested that Labour might split into separate but allied parties north and south of the border. (The same has been said for the Conservatives, ever since their own Scottish wipe-out in 1997.) The result would be similar to the CDU/CSU split in Germany. So far it hasn't happened but it might be of some help. Two weeks ago, Labour were cautiously optimistic about forming the next government. Now, they are severely traumatised in Scotland, and only slightly less so on a UK level. All the likely candidates for a new leader are English, and may not regard Scotland as a very high priority. But it's hard to really predict Labour's reaction, we'll have to wait and see.
BTW, as for "throwing resources": Scotland receives a generous share of UK public expenditure but that's not specifically a Labour party policy. Since the 1970s, Scottish funding from Westminster has been determined by the so-called Barnett formula. That has been maintained under both Conservative and Labour governments, and most recently under the Con-LD coalition. Barnett isn't very satisfactory to either side -- the English and Welsh are displeased with high per capita funding for Scotland, while the Scots (and specifically the SNP) are unhappy because it is opaque, inflexible and controlled by the Westminster parliament. There is a consensus that Scotland should have more control of its own taxation and spending. Some of this will be implemented in the Smith Commission proposals made after the independence vote. In time it is likely to go further, but that will depend on negotiations between the SNP and other parties.
Thanks for fixing the spelling. :-) Scotland is in uncharted territory right now. The SNP has just gone from 6 MPs to 56. As Charles Stross pointed out on his blog, it's also had a massive increase in party membership, quadrupling in less than a year. What this means for the SNP's direction in the long term is anyone's guess. It's true that in policy terms, SNP and Labour are fairly similar. Obviously, they differ strongly on the question of Scottish independence. This might become the dividing line in Scottish politics, like the Unionist/Nationalist divide in Northern Ireland -- but without the violence, or so I expect and hope. A key rule in politics is that you can't please all of the people all of the time. For the moment, the SNP has effectively tapped into dissatisfaction with business as usual at Westminster, and with our modern economy and society more generally. It's made them extremely popular, but sooner or later they will have to deliver. There is a rough parallel with the Bloc Québecois in Canada. In the early 1990s, it had spectacular success in pushing the established Liberal and Conservative parties out of Québec. It later declined, allowing a partial comeback by Liberals and Conservatives, and another spectacular rise by the left-wing New Democratic Party. If the SNP achieve Scottish independence, there's no knowing what the Scottish party system will look like 10 years down the line, or what the knock-on effects will be for the rest of the UK. If they don't, at some point voters will start looking for alternatives. That might be an established party such as Labour, or someone else -- perhaps the Scottish Greens or a revitalised Liberal Democrat party, or some other force which isn't on anyone's radar yet.
Point of terminology: They're "Scottish Nationalists", "the Scottish National Party", or "the SNP", not "Scottish Nationals" (which to British ears sounds like some sort of Caledonian sporting contest). Also, "Labour" is the proper name of a political party, so I'd argue the British spelling should be used. Mea culpa: As commenters on Charlie Stross' blog pointed out, North/Central Wales may be better understood as Labour vs Plaid Cymru, or perhaps should be split into North Wales (safe Labour) and Central Wales (fragmented between Labour, PC and Conservative). But that doesn't alter my overall conclusions. the lesser of two evils mentality means that even if you hate the Scottish Nationals and still like Labor, you will hold your nose and vote for the Nationals because your failure to do so would thrust the Conservatives into power. In the UK, this is known as "tactical voting". It's been a feature of British politics since (at least) 1997, when there was an informal alliance between non-Conservative voters to force the Conservatives out. It's very hard to model in opinion polls, which is one reason why they were so badly wrong this time. I disagree on the "upshot". There is nothing shameful or hidden about being, say, a Labour supporter in Cornwall (where tactical voting supported LibDems to keep Conservatives out). The Labour party simply doesn't devote many resources to seats where it is a distant third place (or worse). Scottish Conservatives do keep a low profile, but that's for reasons specific to Scotland (eg. visceral hatred of Maggie Thatcher). I wonder if a big part of what is now going on in the election post mortem are different interests and the parties themselves trying to control the message and recover or shift expectations If I've understood correctly, you are concerned with a shift in voter understanding as to which are the "top two" parties in any given seat. I'd agree this is an important feature. As I've said, the key events were the rise of the SNP in urban Scotland, and collapse of the LibDems everywhere. In the former case, we might see a one-party state with the SNP instead of Labour, but the Scottish Labour Party (debased though it now is) has deep roots in the region. I think an emerging SNP/Labour duopoly is more likely. (Unless Scotland declares independence, in which case all bets are off.) In England, the replacement of the LibDems will vary according to region. In the urban north, it could be UKIP (which came second in many safe Labour seats), or it could become a Labour monopoly. Some of the more prosperous (and less viscerally anti-Conservative) cities such as Manchester and Leeds might even provide openings for the Conservative party. The southwest has relatively low UKIP support. It might have space for Labour, particularly in cities such as Bristol, but I think a minor LibDem comeback is more likely. PS Yes, the original BBC series was called House of Cards. If you want more UK news and analysis, BBC News (general), Guardian (left-wing), Telegraph (right-wing), and Herald (Scotland) are useful resources.
UK voter and blogger here. Duverger's Law isn't wrong, but you're drastically oversimplifying the political geography of the UK. A more accurate (but still simplified) breakdown into regional monopolies and duopolies, following the 2010 election, would be: 1) Safe Con: Most of rural England. The "Home Counties" surrounding London. 2) Safe Lab: Urban "central belt" of Scotland. Southern Wales. 3) Con vs Plaid Cymru: North Wales. 4) SNP vs LD: Highlands and islands of Scotland. 5) Lab vs LD: Urban northern England. 6) Con vs LD: South-west England. 7) Lab vs Con: London and central England. 8) Unionists vs Nationalists: Northern Ireland Regions 1, 3, and 8 are basically unchanged, as is southern Wales. Conservatives did better than expected in the Con-Lab battlegrounds of London and central England (the "Midlands" around Birmingham and Nottingham). The LibDems collapsed, to the benefit of their principal opponents in regions 4, 5 and 6. Most spectacularly, the SNP demolished Labour one-party rule in urban Scotland, capturing seats which had been Labour since the 1930s. The dust has not yet begun to settle from the LD implosion and SNP takeover, and it remains to be seen what new rivalries will emerge. UKIP and the Greens above are essentially protest parties without a significant base of seats. The single MP held by each is better understood as a local independent, rather than than a manifestation of the national party. Maybe one/both of them will expand to fill the gap left by the LibDems, but this would take a long while (probably well beyond the 2020 election). It took the LibDems 40 years to grow from a handful of MPs in the 1970s to the 57 seats they won in 2010.
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Oct 28, 2014