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From Iain Donaldson, a Manchester Liberal Democrat Learn more

Political Perspective – The Scottish Referendum

by Iain Donaldson on 7 September, 2014

Let us not fool ourselves into thinking that the politics of Britain when Scotland joined the United Kingdom of England, Wales and Ireland can in any way be reflected onto today’s politics. None of the political parties we are familiar with today had been formed back then, indeed the political revolution that led to universal suffrage and the realignment of Parliament to form the Liberal and Conservative Parties out of the old Tory and Whig alliances, and the subsequent formation of the Labour Party could not have been envisaged.

However, the political impact of Scotland leaving the UK would today be significant not least for the way in which it would make a future Labour Government in England a virtual impossibility.

People forget just how badly Labour has done in General Elections in recent years, with their vote declining every year since 1945 and the 2010 General Election providing them with their 2nd worst post war result. The seats elected were as follows:

Conservative 306
Labour 258
Lib Dem 57
Others 29

This means that Labour were 67 seats short of the winning post (325), meaning that other than a grand coalition with the Conservatives, any other coalition involving Labour would also have had to have Lib Dems, Scottish Nationalists, Welsh Nationalists one of the Irish Parties and the Green MP in it. It is unlikely that such a coalition could ever have held together and the financial crisis that was gripping the nation would still be with us today. However, things could have been a lot worse for Labour, they could have been facing a government without their Scottish MP’s. The revised UK Parliament in 2010 without the Scottish MP’s would have been:

Conservative 305
Labour 218
Lib Dem 46
Others 22

As we see, the Labour party is now 78 seats short of the winning post (296), and the Conservatives have a majority of 9.

If Scotland votes for independence, and well she might, then the Labour Party needs to win not the 67 seats that were previously required, but 78 seats. Bearing in mind that of the 57 Lib Dem Seats 11 are in Scotland, and of the remaining 46 only 6 are Labour facing, that means that Labour must win at least 72 Conservative seats to form a majority Government in 2016 (after Scotland leaves the UK). The simple truth is that Labour’s opinion poll ratings do not show them anywhere near that level of gains, indeed they would have to be 15 points clear of the Conservatives if they were to have any hope of making up that number of seats.

The real irony is that the vitriol that Labour has poured on the Liberal Democrats in the past four years could end up being the main block to Labour even having a chance of forming a coalition, because the Liberal Democrats are better placed than Labour to take many of those Conservative seats that need to be won for the Conservatives to lose the next General Election.

The curious thing about this is that the best hope of Labour clawing its way back to power now lies with the introduction of the very proportional voting system that the Labour Party rallied to block in the AV referendum. How ironic that in its blind vitriol against the Liberal Democrats the Labour Party may well have confined itself to the history books, leaving the Liberal Democrats, long term, as the only real opposition to the Conservatives with Labour occasionally acting as their prop.