Tag Archives: england

In defense of David Cameron

Prime minister David Cameron resigned earlier this morning. (Stefan Wermuth / Reuters)
Prime minister David Cameron resigned earlier this morning. (Stefan Wermuth / Reuters)

Normally, when a politician — especially a president or a prime minister — resigns, he or she is met with effusive praise.United Kingdom Flag Icon

There’s the defeat. Then the stepping down. Then a deluge of pieces heralding the peaks as well as the valleys of the political career that’s just ended.

Not David Cameron, who stepped out of 10 Downing Street this morning to step down as British prime minister, a day after he narrowly lost a campaign to keep the United Kingdom inside the European Union. For Cameron, today’s political obituaries, so to speak, are absolutely brutalThe Independent called him the ‘worst prime minister in a hundred years.’

And that’s perhaps fair. He is, after all, the prime minister who managed to guide his country, accidentally, out of the European Union. His country (and, indeed all of Europe) now faces a period of massive uncertainty as a result.

The man who once hectored his party to stop ‘banging on about Europe’ has now been done in over Europe — just as the last two Conservative prime ministers, Margaret Thatcher and John Major.

He’ll leave behind a Scotland that wanted to stay inside the European Union by a margin of 62% to 38% and that will now have the moral and political capital to demand a fresh independence referendum to become an independent Scotland within the European Union. First minister Nicola Sturgeon, of course, knew this all along, and she wasted no time in making clear that a second vote is now her top priority.

He’ll also leave behind an awful mess as to the status of Northern Ireland, which also voted for Remain by a narrower margin. Its borders with the Republic of Ireland are now unclear, the republican Sinn Fein now wants a border poll on Irish unification and the Good Friday agreement that ended decades of sectarian violence might have to be amended.

He’ll leave behind an angry electorate in England, sharply divided by income, race, ethnicity and culture — if the divide between England Scotland looks insurmountable, so does the divide between London and the rest of England. Despite the warning signs, and the rise of Nigel Farage’s United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), Cameron failed to provide English voters with the devolution of regional power that voters enjoyed in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and even London.

Cameron showed, unlike Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy, he was willing to accede to the wishes of Scottish nationalists and give them a say in their own self-determination. Given the corrosive nature of the eurosceptic populism within his own party and in UKIP, it wasn’t unreasonable that Cameron would force them to ‘put up or shut up’ with the first in-out vote on EU membership since 1975, when the European Union was just the European Economic Community.

On every measure, Cameron leaves behind a country more broken and more polarized than the one he inherited from Gordon Brown in May 2010. Continue reading In defense of David Cameron

British voters take to polls today for historic EU referendum vote

After years of preparation, it's now up to voters to make their choice.
After years of preparation, it’s now up to voters to make their choice.

So it’s finally here.United Kingdom Flag Icon

Polls are now open across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, where voters are deciding whether to either remain a member of the European Union or to leave the European Union. It’s home to the largest city in the European Union (London) and, with 64.9 million people, it’s the third-most populous state in the European Union, after Germany and France.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. through 10 p.m. — that means that here on the east coast of the United States, polls will be closing at 5 p.m. ET, with the first results to arrive shortly thereafter. No official exit polls are being conducted, but private hedge funds are believed to have commissioned exit polls and early financial indictors could tell us know traders believe the result will go. In any event, the final result is expected to be announced by ‘breakfast time’ on Friday morning.

The United Kingdom joined what was then the European Economic Community in 1973 under Conservative prime minister Edward Heath, after two failed attempts at membership, in each case vetoed by French president Charles de Gaulle. Continue reading British voters take to polls today for historic EU referendum vote

Brexit vote is England’s parallel to Scottish independence referendum

Boris Johnson, former mayor of London, hopes to win Thursday's referendum on the back of English nationalism. (Telegraph)
Boris Johnson, former mayor of London, hopes to win Thursday’s referendum on the back of English nationalism. (Telegraph)

Imagine yourself as a typical, middle-class voter in  Northumberland.United Kingdom Flag Iconengland_640

Two years ago, you watched as your Scottish brethren to the north held a vote to consider whether to declare independence from the United Kingdom.

When they narrowly voted against independence, you watched as prime minister David Cameron renewed not only the Conservative, but the Labour and Liberal Democratic promise to enact ‘devolution max‘ for Scotland. He also declared, within hours of the vote, that he would seek to prevent Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs from voting on local English matters in Westminster, thereby correcting the long-discussed West Lothian question. (He managed mostly to annoy Scottish voters, pushing them in even greater numbers to the Scottish National Party and its talented leader, first minister Nicola Sturgeon). As the independence threat receded, however, Cameron failed to follow up on either the Scottish or the English side of the federalism issues that the referendum brought to the fore.

Now imagine that you feel like your fraught middle-class status is threatened — by the global financial crisis of 2008-09 or by the widening scope of inequality or even by the rising tide of immigrants to your community, making it even more difficult to compete for dignified and meaningful work.

Maybe you even decided to abandon the Tories or Labour in the 2015 general election, voting instead for the eurosceptic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) as a way to send a message to Westminster about immigration or globalization. But with the first-past-the-post system, 12.7% of the vote for UKIP translated into just one seat among the 650-member House of Commons. Within England alone, UKIP won an even larger share of the vote (14.1%) than it did nationally. Again, you might have felt that your vote counted for little. Or nothing.

And so, as another referendum approaches this week on whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union, you might feel doubly disenfranchised. First, to the nameless bureaucrats in Brussels that you believe dictate too much in the way of the laws and policies that govern England. Secondly, within a national political system whose rules minimize third parties and whose leaders have devolved power to all of the regions except, of course, the region where nearly 84% of the population lives: England.

Leaders of the ‘Leave’ campaign make it none too clear that, among their goals is this: Take. Back. Control. Perhaps it’s not coincidental that the parts of the United Kingdom with the greatest amount of regional devolution — London, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — largely support the ‘Remain’ side in the Brexit referendum, according to polls. If ‘Leave’ wins on June 23, there’s a very good chance that it will do so despite the firm opposition of non-English voters.

Continue reading Brexit vote is England’s parallel to Scottish independence referendum

The race to succeed Ed Miliband begins tonight

sadedPhoto credit to Getty.

It’s been a massively disappointing night for the Labour Party.United Kingdom Flag Icon

English voters didn’t swing en masse to Ed Miliband. It certainly seems like southern voters stuck with the Conservatives and northern voters turned to the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). Leftist voters turned to the Green Party, which seems set to triple its national support.

Scottish voters abandoned Labour outright, swinging massively to the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP).

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RELATED: Live blog — UK election results

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It’s the kind of wipeout that will demand Miliband’s resignation — even before he’s delivered an address and even before the British media has declared a winner. It may not happen tonight, it may not happen tomorrow, but it will happen soon.

Labour’s top officials will wake up on May 8 trying to figure out just how in the span of 18 months, the Tories whittled down a 10-point Labour lead in polls. Despite only tepid GDP growth and five years of budget cuts, voters failed to warm to Ed Miliband’s leadership. In the span of months, Labour saw ‘fortress Scotland’ obliterated by the SNP. In the span of days, Labour saw a plausible, if narrow, lead nationally evaporate.

Plenty of Labour officials will be saying that they chose the wrong Miliband brother — and that the one who could have won the 2015 general election was instead sitting in New York City running an NGO after Ed Miliband nipped past him in the 2010 leadership race on the strength of the votes of labour unions. Continue reading The race to succeed Ed Miliband begins tonight

Farage’s future hinges on South Thanet win

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He’s one of the most charismatic characters in British politics, and it’s difficult to imagine much of a future for the eurosceptic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) with him leading it.United Kingdom Flag Icon

Nevertheless, Nigel Farage, the investment-banker-turned-beer-swilling-bloke-next-door, has pledged to stand down as UKIP’s leader if he fails to win election to the House of Commons on May 7 from the constituency of South Thanet. At best, some polls give Farage a slight lead; many other polls, however, suggest Farage is locked in a three-way fight with his Conservative and Labour challengers. The race to win South Thanet, a constituency in the southeastern corner of England in Kent, has kept the UKIP leader focused on winning his own high-stakes contest instead of zipping throughout the country to bolster the party’s chances nationally.

Farage, who is also a member of the European Parliament, is unlikely to fade away, even if he loses. He presumably remain a colorful presence in British and European politics, especially if prime minister David Cameron wins a second term and holds a referendum on the country’s membership in the European Union in 2017.

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RELATED: Why England needs a series of regional parliaments

RELATED: UKIP’s Farage is winning the British debate on Europe

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But Farage’s loss would highlight the shrinking fortunes of UKIP, just a year after it won more votes in the European parliamentary elections than any other party as British voters lodged protest votes over growing EU influence. Farage, in the afterglow of his unprecedented victory, hoped to ride a populist wave into 2015 on a platform that questions the value of the country’s membership in the European Union, restricts growing immigration to the United Kingdom, and rebalances a constitutional structure that’s left England, as a region, out of the devolution trend that’s given Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland more regional control.

It’s hard not to like Farage when he’s lined up in a room with Conservative prime minister David Cameron, Labour leader Ed Miliband and Liberal Democratic deputy prime minister Nick Clegg. He’s got swagger and charisma in droves. He’s never far from being photographed in a pub sipping on a pint of beer, and he’s one of the most talented politicians in the United Kingdom. For all the nastiness of UKIP’s fringes, a party that Cameron once dismissed as ‘fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists,’ Farage and his merry band of ‘Kippers’ make a compelling case with respect to both the European Union and English nationalism. Continue reading Farage’s future hinges on South Thanet win

Scotland could easily hold the balance of power in Britain

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A poll late last week confirmed that, if survey trends hold, it will be very difficult for the Labour Party to form a new government without the support of the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) after the United Kingdom’s May 7 general elections.scotlandUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

Presumably, that makes Labour leader Ed Miliband’s declaration this week ruling out any coalition with the SNP somewhat awkward with the reality that the SNP may win between 40 and 50 of Scotland’s 59 seats in the House of Commons, many of which are currently held by Labour MPs and which for years were reliable seats on the Labour backbenches — so reliable, in fact, that none of those 59 constituencies changed parties between the 2005 and 2010 general elections.

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No longer.

With polls showing that Labour’s narrow lead against the governing Conservative Party has vanished, the SNP earthquake means that Labour is unlikely to form a government without at least some form of SNP support and, notably, Miliband didn’t rule out an informal arrangement whereby the SNP supports a Labour minority government. Nevertheless, just six months after Scottish voters narrowly rejected independence, they are now set to determine the balance of power throughout the entire United Kingdom.

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RELATED: Scottish referendum results — winners and losers

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Post-referendum, Scottish voters are now flocking to the SNP not only in regional politics (the SNP controls a majority government in the Scottish parliament) but in national politics as well. With the SNP winning nearly half of the Scottish vote and with a lead of around 20% against Labour, it could turn Scotland almost universally yellow (the SNP’s color), wiping out Labour’s Scottish heartland and depriving the Liberal Democrats of many of their 11 seats as well, nearly 20% of the LibDem MPs in total.

It’s not entirely surprising. Scottish voters are keen to hold Westminster accountable for promises of ‘devolution max,’ a set of promises made desperately by Labour and Conservative leaders alike in the last days of the referendum. When the ‘Yes’ campaign lost the referendum, Alex Salmond stepped down both as SNP leader and as Scotland’s first minister. Though he remains a relatively beloved figure in Scotland, his replacement, Nicola Sturgeon (pictured above) is even more popular, especially among young voters, evincing a more progressive edge than Salmond’s hard-edged leftism forged in the divisive politics of the 1970s. Continue reading Scotland could easily hold the balance of power in Britain

Miliband shifts Labour’s focus from austerity to health care

miliband2014

If it wasn’t already clear, Ed Miliband’s final conference speech before next May’s general election indicated that he intends to wage his campaign on the basis of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service — and not a full-scale attack on the ‘austerity’ anti-deficit policies of David Cameron’s coalition government.United Kingdom Flag Icon

It’s hard to believe that Miliband has now been the leader of the United Kingdom’s Labour Party one year longer than former  prime minister Gordon Brown was, especially after the bravura performance that Brown delivered for the ‘Better Together’ campaign, which may have swayed enough Scottish voters to reject independence in the surprisingly close referendum.

When he won the leadership in September 2010, upsetting his opponent and brother, former foreign minister David Miliband, it was a shock. While Labour’s MPs and the party faithful narrowly preferred David, unions and other affiliated Labour groups gave Ed just enough of an edge to narrowly defeat the more seasoned Miliband, who promptly left frontline politics and moved to New York.

In the past four years, Ed Miliband has benefitted from the polling lead that Labour has consistently held against the Conservatives, who have been mired in unpopular decisions to slash the national budget after years of more permissive spending under Brown and his predecessor Tony Blair, for whom Brown served as chancellor of the exchequer.

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RELATED: Why England needs a series of regional parliaments

RELATED: What to make of Cameron’s ‘night of the long knives’

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In the first year of Tory-led government, the British economy grew by 1.7% — sluggish in absolute terms, but vigorous by what would follow. In 2012, British GDP fell to 0.3% before rebounding last year to 1.7% and a forecasted growth rate of 3.2% in 2014.

As the economy has improved, it means that it might not be enough for Miliband to attack Cameron and the current chancellor, George Osborne, for inflicting greater damage on the economy by cutting spending in a time of low economic growth. While it may be true that Osborne’s budget cuts didn’t necessarily promote growth, it’s unavoidable fact that the United Kingdom is now growing faster than the rest of the European Union, which emerged from the 2008-09 global financial crisis and the 2010-12 eurozone debt crisis to face a growing deflation threat today. Italy, which has struggled to enact reforms under its energetic new prime minister Matteo Renzi, recently entered a triple-dip recession.

Polls, meanwhile, show an increasingly tight race. Labour’s once dominant lead is shrinking, in the most recent September 18-19 YouGov/Sunday Times poll to just 4%. If the election were held today, Labour would edge out the Tories by a margin of 36% to 32%, with the eurosceptic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) winning 16% and the junior coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, just 7%. That could result in any number of outcomes, including a Labour minority government, a Conservative minority government, or the continuation of the Tory-Liberal Democratic coalition.

That goes a long way in explaining why Miliband is increasingly shifting from an anti-austerity message to a campaign that places greater funding for an increasingly burdened National Health Service (NHS) at the heart of his bid to defeat Cameron in eight months’ time. Continue reading Miliband shifts Labour’s focus from austerity to health care

Why England needs a series of regional parliaments

St George's Day - NottinghamPhoto credit to PA.

Following the historic vote on Scottish independence, British prime minister David Cameron emerged early Friday morning to deliver remarks praising Scottish voters for keeping the United Kingdom (‘our country of four nations’) together.United Kingdom Flag Icon england_640

He promised to keep a pledge to enact rapid legislation devolving further powers to the Scottish parliament (‘devo-max’), but he simultaneously promised to propose reforms addressing the role of Scottish MPs on matters that are exclusively English in nature, responding to loud grumbling from English Tories that Scottish MPs shouldn’t have a vote on English matters and who have long cried, ‘English votes for English laws.’

In tying the issue of the promised Scottish devolution to the West Lothian question, Cameron was hoping to calm his own backbenchers, who, even before voters cast ballots in the September 18 referendum, briefing against the unfairness of the ‘Barnett formula,’ whereby Scottish residents receive greater per-capita government subsidy than English residents.

But that left Downing Street scrambling after both the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) and the pro-union, center-left Labour Party attacked Cameron for trying to tie the two issues together. Alex Salmond, who announced plans on Friday to step down as first minister after losing the referendum by a 10% margin, alleged that Cameron was already backing away from his promise to the Scottish people:

Salmond said that no voters in the referendum would feel they had been “misled”, “gulled” and “tricked”. The first minister told the Sunday Politics on BBC1: “I am actually not surprised they are cavilling and reneging on commitments; I am only surprised by the speed at which they are doing it. They seem to be totally shameless in these matters. The prime minister wants to link change in Scotland to change in England. He wants to do that because he has difficulty in carrying his backbenchers on this and they are under pressure from Ukip.

“The Labour leadership of course are frightened of any changes in England which leave them without a majority in the House of Commons on English matters. I think the vow was something cooked up in desperation for the last few days of the campaign and I think everyone in Scotland now realises that.”

Cameron strongly hinted that his approach would limit the ability of Scottish (or Welsh or Northern Irish) MPs to vote on matters that apply solely to English legislation. That echoes calls from other high-profile Conservative leaders like chief whip Michael Gove.

But it would be politically controversial for at least two reasons. Continue reading Why England needs a series of regional parliaments

Scotland votes: Should it stay or should it go?

scotlandvotes

Today, residents of Scotland, a region of 5.3 million people, will vote in referendum that’s been scheduled for 19 months, and that will ask one simple question:scotlandUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

Should Scotland be an independent country?

The answer could change the economic, social and cultural outcomes of the lives of both English and Scottish residents for generations to come.

With polls set to open shortly, Suffragio looks at ten policy (and other) issues that Scots are considering as they cast their ballots, either to become an independent state or to remain part of the United Kingdom. Continue reading Scotland votes: Should it stay or should it go?

How an independent Scotland could enter the EU

Scottish referendum debate urging yes vote

One of the most vexing questions of the current campaign for Scottish independence is how easily it might be for an independent Scotland to join the European Union.scotlandUnited Kingdom Flag IconEuropean_Union

As a constituent part of the United Kingdom, Scotland has been part of the European Union and its predecessor, the European Economic Community, since 1972, the date of the first EEC enlargement, when Ireland and Denmark also joined.

As such, Scotland has been exempt from several conditions that would be required of an independent country seeking EU membership today. Scotland hasn’t had to join the eurozone or become a member of the Schengen zone, which allows all EU citizens to travel freely throughout 26 of the 28 member states (Ireland and the United Kingdom are the exceptions). It has also received some of the benefit of those rebates that Margaret Thatcher clawed back from Europe in the 1980s.

An independent Scotland might be forced to accept, at least in principle, joining either or both of the the eurozone the Schengen zone as a condition of re-accession to the European Union. The former could complicate the assurances that Scottish first minister Alex Salmond has tried to give that Scotland could continue using the British pound and, like Ireland today, share open borders with what remains of the United Kingdom. Continue reading How an independent Scotland could enter the EU

If Scotland votes for independence, will David Cameron resign?

cameronscotland

It was another Conservative prime minister, Harold Macmillian, who explained in just five short words how governments can crumble with such spectacular suddenness:scotlandUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

Events, my dear boy, events.

Today, his Tory successor, British prime minister, David Cameron faces one of the biggest events of the history of his country — the possible disintegration of the British union, as the chances of a Scottish vote in favor of independence in 10 days rise dramatically.

As polls show that the campaign has rapidly narrowed (the ‘No’ campaign had a 20-point lead just last month), and with handful of polls now showing that the ‘Yes’ campaign has taken a narrow lead just days before the September 18 referendum, Cameron now suddenly faces the prospect that he’ll be the prime minister on whose watch Great Britain simply dissolved.

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RELATED: Why would an independent Scotland
even want to keep the pound?

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It was Cameron, after all, who agreed with Scottish first minister Alex Salmond last year to hold a referendum, and it was Cameron who demanded a straight in/out vote — no third option for ‘devolution max’ or a federalized version of the United Kingdom.

So if Cameron loses Scotland, must Cameron go?

Victory for the independence camp would cause nearly as great a political earthquake in the rest of the United Kingdom as in Scotland. It would leave rest of the United Kingdom — England, Wales and Northern Ireland — to pick up the pieces of what was once a global superpower. All three major parties, including the center-left Labour Party and the junior coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, fully opposed independence. So a ‘Yes’ victory would be a repudiation, from Scotland at least, of the entire political mainstream.

Cameron’s position, in particular, would be especially vulnerable as the prime minister who allowed the great British union to fall apart.

Continue reading If Scotland votes for independence, will David Cameron resign?

Why would an independent Scotland even want to keep the pound?

scottishpound

Who cares about the pound anyway? scotlandUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

In the campaign for Scottish independence, key ‘Yes’ camp leaders consistently argue that a sovereign Scotland could retain the British pound as currency, and they’ve decried statements from British officials that Scotland wouldn’t be permitted to use the pound in the event that Scottish voters opt for independence in the September 18 referendum.

But putting aside whether, as a technical matter, Scotland would be able to adopt the pound, the greater issue is why it would actually want to do so — either in a formal currency union with the rest of the United Kingdom or by informally adopting the pound sterling as Scotland’s currency (‘Sterlingisation’).

Even though polls show the ‘Yes’ campaign narrowing the gap with the ‘No’ side, (the latest YouGov survey, taken between September 2 and 5, gave the ‘Yes’ camp its first lead of 47% to 45%, with 7% undecided), almost every poll in the last year shows more Scottish voters  opposed to independence than in favor of it.

If the ‘Yes’ side falls short, one of the key questions will be whether the decision to embrace the pound as an independent Scotland’s currency was wise as a strategic matter. But if the ‘Yes’ side carries the referendum, Scotland’s first minister Alex Salmond will have to confront what kind of independence he’s actually won for a new country yoked on Day One to monetary policy dictated by the Bank of England.

It’s odd that the campaign’s fight over the pound has become such a central debate, but it’s possibly even odder that Salmond would cling to the pound (and other indicia of the union, such as the British monarchy) in his campaign for independence.

George Osborne, chancellor of the exchequer, has attempted to maintain a united front among his own Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats and Labour that Scotland would not be able to avail itself of the pound if it becomes an independent country. But there’s plenty of skepticism that the remaining United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland would actually be able to stop Scotland from doing so. Continue reading Why would an independent Scotland even want to keep the pound?

14 in 2014: Scotland independence referendum

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12. Scotland referendum on independence from UK, September 18.United Kingdom Flag Iconscotland

Separatists from Québec to Barcelona will be watching Scotland’s historic vote on independence in the autumn, which could end over three centuries of union between Scotland and England, bringing the United Kingdom as we know it to an end.

Scottish nationalists, buoyed by the economic hopes of North Sea oil, have increasingly floated the idea of independence since the 1970s.  Scotland’s rift with Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s only alienated the country further from Westminster, and the election of Labour prime minister Tony Blair in 1997 led to the devolution of many Scottish domestic matters to a new regional parliament at Holyrood.  Since 2007, the Scottish government has been led by the Scottish National Party (SNP) and first minister Alex Salmond.  In the most recent May 2011 Scottish elections, the SNP was so popular that it won a majority government — a feat that the Scottish electoral system was specifically designed to avoid.

Salmond and his popular deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon will lead the ‘Yes’ campaign for Scottish independence following the agreement that Salmond and British prime minister David Cameron struck in March 2013 on the referendum’s date and its terms.  Proponents are likely to paint a vision of Scotland as an independent nation that has more in common with the Nordic welfare states than with Anglo-American capitalism.  Though Scotland’s 5.3 million residents comprise just around 8.4% of the total UK population, Scotland has retained a proud and distinct culture and a discrete linguistic and intellectual tradition, and it veers politically to the left of England.

Cameron, the leader of the center-right Conservative Party, will help lead the ‘No’ campaign, which has already been christened the ‘Better Together’ campaign.  But the relative unpopularity of Cameron and the Tories in Scotland means that he’ll need help from the centrist Liberal Democratic Party and the center-left Labour Party.  In particular, Alistair Darling, the former Labour chancellor of the exchequer under prime minister Gordon Brown (both of whom are Scottish) is chairing the ‘Better Together’ effort.  Although the ‘No’ campaign will try to convince Scots that they are, in fact, better off staying in the United Kingdom, it will also point to obstacles that an independent Scotland could face.  Chief among those obstacles might be Scotland’s position in the European Union — although Scots are generally more pro-EU than their English counterparts, it’s not clear whether an independent Scotland would automatically join the European Union or would be forced to apply for readmission.  Scotland would also face protracted negotiations with England (or perhaps the ‘United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland’) over splitting the current UK debt burden, as well as defense, currency, immigration, citizenship and other myriad arrangements.

Polls show that Scottish voters today oppose independence — around 40% to 55% of voters would vote ‘No,’ and just around 25% to 35% would vote ‘Yes.’  But the campaigns won’t hit top speed until later in 2014 after the UK vote to elect members to the European Parliament.

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Hey! What about gay marriage in Scotland and Northern Ireland?

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Amid the fanfare that much of the United Kingdom would now enjoy full same-sex marriage rights following the success of Conservative UK prime minister David Cameron in enacting a successful vote earlier this week in Parliament, some LGBT activists are still waiting at the altar of public policy for their respective day of celebration.United Kingdom Flag Iconscotlandnorthernireland

Under the odd devolved system within the United Kingdom of Northern Ireland and Great Britain, it’s up to the separate Northern Ireland Assembly to effect its own laws on marriage.  Even within Great Britain, the Scottish parliament, likewise, has the sole power to enact legislation related to marriage rights.

So while nearly 90% of the residents of the country will now be able to enter into same-sex marriages, Scottish and the Northern Irish will have to wait a little longer — and in the case of Northern Ireland, it seems like the wait will be lengthy. Scotland, with 5.3 million people (8.4% of the total UK population), and which will vote on independence in a referendum in September 2014, is already taking steps toward passing legislation, though Northern Ireland, with 1.8 million people (2.9% of the UK population), has already considered and rejected same-sex marriage.

The reason for the disparity within the United Kingdom goes back to former Labour prime minister Tony Blair.

Under the broad devolution process that his ‘New Labour’ government initiated upon taking power in 1997, much of the power to regulate life in Scotland was devolved from Westminster to the new parliament that met for the first time in 1999 at Holyrood.  Although a parallel Welsh Assembly exists in Cardiff for Welsh affairs, the Welsh parliament lacks the same breadth of powers that the Scottish parliament enjoys, which is why the Welsh now have same-sex marriage rights. (Take heart, Daffyd!)

Northern Ireland has a similar arrangement, with its own devolved Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont, though its powers were suspended from 2002 to 2007 when the Northern Ireland peace process fell apart, however briefly.

The disparate courses of English, Scottish and Northern Irish marriage rights are a case study in how devolution works in the United Kingdom today.

Scotland: Holyrood poised to pass an even stronger marriage equality bill in 2014

Scotland’s local government, led by Alex Salmond and the Scottish National Party, introduced a same-sex marriage bill late in June that is set to provide an even more liberal regime of marriage rights.  While the marriage bill passed earlier this week in London actually bans the Anglican Church of England from offering same-sex marriage ceremonies, the Scottish bill won’t have the same prohibitions on the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, which is seen as somewhat more relaxed about gay marriage.  Like the English legislation, however, the Scottish bill offer protections to ministers on religious grounds who do not choose to officiate same-sex marriages.

Although there’s opposition to the bill within the governing SNP as well as the Scottish Labour Party and the Scottish Liberal Democratic Party, the Conservative Party has very little influence outside England and Scotland, generally speaking, is even more socially progressive than England, which means that the legislation is widely expect to pass in the Scottish Parliament early next year, with the first same-sex marriages in Scotland to take place in 2015.

Northern Ireland: gay marriage as a football between Protestant and Catholic communities

Earlier this year, the Northern Ireland Assembly considered a same-sex marriage bill, but it was defeated in April by a vote of 53 to 42 — a similar motion was defeated in October 2012 by a similar margin. Since 2005, LGBT individuals have been able to enter into civil partnerships (with most, though not all, of the rights of marriage enjoyed by opposite-sex partners) throughout the entire United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland.

When Scotland passes its gay marriage bill next year, however, it will leave Northern Ireland as the only part of the United Kingdom without marriage equality.

Not surprisingly, given that Northern Ireland was partitioned out of the Republic of Ireland in 1921 largely on religious lines, and Protestant-Catholic violence has plagued Northern Ireland for much of the decades since, Northern Ireland is the most religious part of the United Kingdom.  A 2007 poll showed that while only 14% of the English and 18% of Scots were weekly churchgoers, fully 45% of the Northern Irish attended church weekly.

Unlike Scotland, where the mainstream UK political parties, such as the Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats, aim to compete with the Scottish Nationalists (with varying degrees of success), Northern Irish politics are entirely different, based instead on the largely Protestant ‘unionist’ community and the largely Catholic ‘nationalist’ community.  Around 41% of Northern Ireland is Roman Catholic, while around 41.5% of Northern Ireland is Protestant (mostly the Presbyterian Church and the Anglican Church of Ireland).

That helps explain why the opposition to gay marriage in Northern Ireland remains so strong, and it doesn’t help that the issue falls along the same lines as the entrenched unionist and nationalist divisions.  Given that it’s unlikely either community will come to dominate Northern Irish politics and the Assembly anytime soon, it means that proponents of same-sex marriage will have to convince at least some unionists to join forces with largely supportive nationalist parties to pass a marriage bill — and that may prove a difficult task for a five-way power-sharing government in Belfast that has enough difficulties even without gay marriage.  Continue reading Hey! What about gay marriage in Scotland and Northern Ireland?