How “United” is the UK?: Is Britain Heading for a Break-Up after Latest Scottish Elections?

Pakalert May 20, 2011 1
by:Ken Ferguson

The stunning victory in last week’s elections by the pro-independence Scottish National Party was a result which was supposed to be impossible.

Scotland, after all, ceased to be an independent country in 1707, when it was forcibly joined with England to form Great Britain.

The union took place against a background of popular riots put down by troops and has been controversial, to a greater or lesser degree, ever since.

In 1999, following years of agitation and its endorsement in a Scotland-wide referendum, the Scottish Parliament reconvened with powers over a wide range of domestic matters such a health, education, planning, etc.

The new parliament was designed with an electoral system rigged so that it would supposed be impossible for any one party to win a majority — the explicit intention being to prevent the SNP from using it as a stepping stone to independence.

The May 5th result, which gave the SNP 69 seats in the 129-seat parliament has thrown all this into the melting pot and raises the real possibility of Scotland taking the next step to becoming a full-fledged independent country.

SNP leader Alex Salmond, who master-minded the stunningly successful campaign, plans to wait until the second part of the parliament’s five-year term before putting the question of secession to an all-Scotland referendum for decision.
Scottish voters showed a surge in support for the independence party. Will they do the same in a referendum on independence?

Scottish voters showed a surge in support for the independence party. Will they do the same in a referendum on independence?

Pro-British forces in Scotlant, which include the three main UK parties — Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats — oppose independence and question whether a vote for the SNP equals a vote for independence rather than a vote of confidence in its last four years in power, when it led a coalition government.

Certainly opinion polls show support for independence lagging behind support for the SNP, but the unknown is how a having a majority SNP government might change that.

Since the election, the Scottish leaders of all three pro-union parties have resigned, indicating the magnitude of their defeat.

All this is happening in the midst of a perfect storm, with the UK government set to slash public spending on vital services—a policy path bitterly opposed by the SNP, which the party will work flat out to avoid.

Scotland is an inherently left-of-centre country—for example Scots never supported Thatcher– and its voters have at this point virtually eliminated the conservatives from the whole region, with David Cameron’s party holding just one of Scotland 59 seats in the national parliament at Westminster.

The dynamic could well become one in which the leftish SNP deliver policies not just acceptable to Scots, but which sharply contrast with the hard-right policies of the UK administration, leading to a rise in pro-independence sentiment and a possible Yes vote in a referendum.

Such a result would have far-reaching implications well beyond Scotland.

The UK’s submarine nuclear weapons are based at Faslane on the Clyde and the SNP wants them out. Replicating that high-tech base would be so ruinously expensive that it might  well spell an end to UK nuclear weapons.

Many think such an outcome would have implications for the UK membership on international bodies such as the UN Security Council.

Across the globe the role of Scots soldiers is legendary, with crack regiments such as the Black Watch prominent in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In an independent Scotland they would no longer be available to the British Army, but would serve an independent state much more reluctant to back foreign — and generally US-led — military adventures.

The next five years are potentially historic, with both the future of Scotland and the continued existence of the British state in play.

KEN FERGUSON has worked in Fleet Street, written for numerous weekly journals and currently edits the fortnightly  Glasgow-based Scottish Socialist Voice. He has offered to write occasional reports for ThisCantBeHappening from the still-at-this-point-“United” Kingdom.

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