It was the worst night for Scottish nationalism in over a decade — worse, perhaps, than the narrow vote against independence in 2014.
Though the Conservative Party lost its majority at the national level, thanks to a loss of 21 seats in England, it will stagger on as the largest party in the House of Commons thanks in no small part to a surge in support in Scotland, where the party picked up 13 seats, all at the expense of the pro-independence Scottish National Party.
Though the SNP still won a greater share of the vote and more seats than any other party in Scotland, it was a very bad night for the party, which lost more seats, in total, than the Conservatives nation-wide. It was the worst electoral performance for the SNP since 2010 — former SNP leader Alex Salmond lost his seat in Gordon, and deputy SNP leader Angus Robertson lost his seat in Moray. Other MPs, like Mhairi Black, the 22-year-old who is the youngest member of the House of Commons, were easily reelected.
It was a sign, perhaps, that Scottish voters are growing weary of the SNP’s focus on independence after first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s pledge to demand a second referendum on Scotland’s status after Brexit negotiations conclude in 2019. As all three national parties made gains in yesterday’s general election (including what amounts to one-third of the Liberal Democratic caucus in the House of Commons), it leaves Sturgeon and the SNP in a precarious position.
After becoming the indisputable leftist opposition to conservatism in Scotland, the SNP now faces the dual threat of a plausible Tory unionism to its right and a resurgent Labour under an equally left-wing Jeremy Corbyn.
Though Sturgeon won a fresh mandate in the Scottish parliamentary election last May (and will not face voters again until 2021), the SNP’s plurality in the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh falls two seats short of an absolute majority. While the SNP and its allies currently command a majority in favor of calling a second referendum, the 2017 general election result may force Sturgeon to rethink that approach in favor of more quotidian concerns. Moreover, she will have to reorient the SNP approach after it has held power in Scotland since 2007, first under Salmond and, since 2014, Sturgeon. Not an easy task for a party that thought it could keep amassing outsized margins solely by demanding a second referendum.
Sturgeon herself admitted that the ‘referendum-or-bust’ approach may have backfired. Since prime minister Theresa May triggered Article 50 in March, Sturgeon and the Scottish government have demanded a second referendum on independence for Scotland. The region’s voters narrowly chose in September 2014 to stay in the United Kingdom by a margin of 55.3% to 44.7%. The same voters, however, opposed Brexit in the June 2016 EU referendum by a margin of 62% to 38%, joining ‘Remain’ majorities in Northern Ireland and London.
Throughout the night, Suffragio will be live-blogging the results of the United Kingdom’s general election to elect all 650 members of the House of Commons on a constituency-by-constituency basis.
BBC Exit Poll 10:00 pm BST, 5:00 pm ET
Conservative Party — 314 (down from 330) Labour Party — 266 (up from 229) Scottish National Party — 34 (down from 54) Liberal Democrats — 14 (up from 9) UKIP — Zero seats.
If these results are true, the Tories are in for an awful night. Theresa May called a snap election to boost her majority. She’s not only lost seats, but this result would mean a hung parliament and, more likely than not, make Jeremy Corbyn the next prime minister. With this result, however, it is very unlikely that we will know anything about the composition of the next government anytime soon.
10:36 pm BST, 5:36 pm ET
Note that the UK pound has dropped from $1.29 to $1.27 upon news of the exit poll showing that the Conservatives have lost their majority. Spectacular. Feels much like Brexit.
This is all still way too close to call anything.
A 10-seat swing could mean the difference between government and opposition.
On these numbers, though, it’s possible that neither Conservatives nor Labour could gain a majority (even if it means , which means a more unstable minority government or even a fresh election later this year (and it seems unlikely that May will stick around to lead the Tories — instead, foreign secretary Boris Johnson or Brexit secretary David Davis. Of course, a second 2017 election would take place as the two-year clock continues to tick from May’s decision in March to invoke Article 50, depriving the United Kingdom of precious negotiation time vis-à-vis Brexit when it will be focused on internal domestic politics.
If you add the Labour projection to the Liberal Democratic, Green, SNP, Plaid Cymru and some of the republican MPs from Northern Ireland, it’s still difficult to see how Corbyn gets to a majority.
But it’s clear that some leading Tory figures, like home secretary Amber Rudd, could be in trouble. Though it was clear that May’s campaign stumbled, the final polls (save Survation) showed the Tories with anywhere from a 1% to 12% lead. This seems to indicate that youth turnout was higher, boosting Labour’s surge.
One question is how the Scottish National Party seems to have done so poorly — it’s set to lose 22 seats from the 56 seats it won in 2015. That’s even worse than the Tories. If that holds, I’ll be curious to see if the SNP lost to Ruth Davidson’s Conservatives or to a last-minute Labour surge. If the former, it means that Labour has done incredibly well in England.
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Newcastle upon Tyre North 11:06 pm BST, 6:06 ET
The first seat to report — and not in Sunderland! Note that this a constituency that swung to Labour in 2015, and it’s a predictably safe Labour seat in the northeast. It’s also a constituency that held wide appeal for potential UKIP voters. What’s interesting is that the UKIP (and even the Liberal Democrat and Green) vote has collapsed from two years ago. So while Labour won nearly 5,000 more votes than in 2015, the Tories have also won nearly 2,500 more votes from the last election.
Labour — 24,071 (19,301)
Conservative — 9,134 (6,628)
LibDem — 1,812 (2,218)
UKIP — 1,482 (5,214)
Green — 595 (1,724)
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Houghton and Sunderland South 11:15 pm BST, 6:15 ET
Again, a reliable Labour seat, and Bridget Phillipson will hold onto this northeastern seat. But the Tory swing here is larger than the Labour swing. Not a great sign for Labour’s hopes tonight, because it seems to show that so many of those UKIP voters, some of which might have once voted Labour, have now switched over to the Conservative Party. In this constituency two years ago, UKIP placed second. Still too murky to know what, exactly, has happened today on a national (or even England-wide) basis.
Tories are swinging up 3%, Labour is swinging up 11%. Conservative Justin Tomlinson holds the seat, but another data point in favor of a strong night for Labour. This is the first seat announced from southwestern England, so it’s perhaps more meaningful than the previous Newcastle and Sunderland results.
Washington and Sunderland West 12:10 pm BST, 7:10 ET
As in Sunderland Central and Newcastle Central, it’s a bigger swing to the Tories than to Labour. Sharon Hodgson will still hold the seat with a strong majority, though. The regional picture seems to be showing that the Tories are taking more than their fair share of northeastern UKIP voters, even as Labour is improving on its 2015 showing. This is yet another seat where UKIP finished second (above the Tories) in the last election, and it’s still held onto nearly 7% of the constituency vote in 2017.
In the center of the country, Northamptonshire, Philip Hollobone has held this seat since 2005. Hollobone is a very euroskeptic MP, and while there’s a 6% swing to the Tories, there’s an 11% swing to Labour. So far, all holds. No gains for any party — yet.
This is the first seat in the southeast, and it’s a great story for Labour (as opposed to the story in the north). The Tories, and Charles Walker, will hold this seat, but Labour will have seen a double-digit swing. UKIP came in second place here in 2015, and their collapse has helped Labour far more than Conservatives.
Well. Both the Tories and Labour are up 8%. This is a good result for the Tories, but not nearly the kind of result May needed for a landslide. UKIP, of course, is down 10%. Another seat in the North East in county Durham, and Jenny Chapman holds.
This is the first result from Wales, and Ian Lucas will hold this seat. The swing here is just as much to Labour as it was to the Tories. UKIP didn’t field a candidate, so its 5,072 votes from 2015 were up for grabs. Notably, the Welsh nationalist Plaid Cymru has lost some of its vote share from 2015, too. So that means that UKIP voters have split between the two major parties.
Labour — 17,153 (12,181)
Conservative — 15,321 (10,350)
PC — 1,753 (2,501)
LibDem — 865 (1,735)
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Rutherglen & Hamilton West 1:18 BST, 8:18 ET
This is the first seat from Scotland, and it’s also the first Labour gain! Ged Killen here will take the seat from the Scottish National Party, in line with exit polling that shows it will be a very bad night for the SNP. Notably, though, while the SNP swing is down 16%, Labour swung up just 2%, while the Tories swung up 12%. That’s good news for both of the two unionist parties, perhaps, and it shows that the SNP is not only fighting a two-way race against unionists in Ruth Davidson’s Conservatives, but a four-way race with the Liberal Democrats and Labour as well.
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Tooting 1:27 BST, 8:27 ET
Tooting is the first constituency from London, and wowza. Rosena Allin-Khan has retained the seat from the 2016 by-election that Sadiq Khan vacated when he became London’s mayor. A big swing to Labour, nonetheless, from the 2015 election in a constituency that the Tories thought they might steal at the beginning of the election. The Liberal Democrats are doing better here than in 2015, too.
Labour — 34,694 (25,263)
Conservative — 19,236 (22,421)
LibDem — 3,057 (2,107)
Green — 845 (2,201)
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Paisley & Renfrewshire South 1:32 BST, 8:32 ET
Mhairi Black, the youngest MP at just 22, will hold this seat, finally some good news for the SNP tonight.
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Vale of Clwyd 1:44 BST, 8:44 ET
Here’s the first Labour gain in Wales. Chris Ruane will take back the seat he lost to James Davies in 2015 by a health majority of nearly 2,500. Again, the Liberal Democrats are down, Plaid Cymru was down 3%, and UKIP was nonexistent (after winning 4,577 in the last election).
Labour — 19,423 (13,523)
Conservative — 17,044 (13,760)
PC — 1,551 (2,486)
LibDem — 666 (919)
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Putney 1:49 BST, 8:49 ET
Justine Greening, the sitting education secretary, has won her seat in Putney, another London seat. But whereas she won by a margin of 53.8% to 30.0% in 2015, she’ll only win by a margin of 44.1% to 40.8%. Notably, as in Tooting, the Liberal Democrats are winning more of a very reliably pro-Remain vote, and they will have nearly doubled their support from the last election. Another good data point for Labour in London. The Greens are also down sharply from 2015.
Conservative — 20,679 (23,018)
Labour — 19,125 (12,838)
LibDem — 5,448 (2,717)
Green — 1,107 (2,067)
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Moray 2:21 BST, 9:21 ET
This is a huge win for the Tories. After winning Angus, they have now won Moray from Angus Robertson, the deputy SNP leader. And it wasn’t close, a 16% swing to the Tories and a 11% swing down for the SNP. With 48% of the vote, Douglas Ross nearly won an absolute majority. A great night so far for the Tories, who have taken two seats from the SNP (and won a swing of 12% from the SNP in the third seat that Labour won).
Conservative — 22,637 (22,637)
SNP — 15,319 (24,384)
Labour — 5,208 (4,898)
LibDem — 1,078 (1,395)
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Battersea 2:21 BST, 9:21 ET
This is another London constituency, and it’s a 10% swing to Labour. Jane Ellison, who easily won in 2015, has lost to Labour’s Marsha de Cordova.
Imagine yourself as a typical, middle-class voter in Northumberland.
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.
When US president Barack Obama took the stage yesterday in London (and on the pages of The Daily Telegraph) to dismantle, with surgical precision, the arguments against the United Kingdom staying in the European Union, it didn’t feel like a rupture in international politics.
But it was a radical departure from standard operating procedure.
US presidents, to say nothing of lower officials, have never had qualms intervening in the domestic affairs of foreign countries.
Rarely does an American president so do in such a public forum.
Rarer still that an American president would weigh in on a matter that will be determined by a foreign electorate in eight weeks.
Standing beside the British prime minister, Obama was making the case against Brexit better than anyone else on the British political stage, in part because of the sheer scale of power that comes with the American presidency. Special or no, the body language of Obama and his British counterpart David Cameron spoke everything about the unequal bilateral partnership. Amazingly, Obama managed to shrink and upstage Cameron nearly as much as George W. Bush diminished Tony Blair, oft mocked as Bush’s ‘poodle,’ over the Iraq war in 2003. Continue reading Obama’s credibility now on the line with Brexit vote→
If, contrary to the United Kingdom’s new fixed parliament law, the British went to the ballot box tomorrow, most polls show that the result wouldn’t change much.
That is, a Conservative government with which Britons are less than enthusiastic.
Nearly eight months into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the opposition, center-left Labour Party, there’s no indication that the electorate has warmed to Corbyn’s hard-left policy views, nor any likelihood that Corbyn’s own critics on the back benches, populated with many of the figures who once wielded power in the ‘New Labour’ years under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, trust him as their standard-bearer.
The nearly flawless campaign of the left-wing (though not always Corbynite) Sadiq Khan, Labour’s candidate in London’s mayoral race, will give Corbyn at least one highlight in the coming May 5 regional elections. But Labour faces potential routs across England and, most damningly, failure to make any real progress against Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon, with the Scottish National Party (SNP) apparently heading to a romp in Scottish parliamentary elections, with a nearly 30% lead over the Scottish Labour Party.
All of which will put even greater pressure on Corbyn’s leadership. Though Corbyn entered the Labour race with no hope of actually winning, there’s little that the party’s Blair/Brown/Miliband/Cooper wing (which dominates the parliamentary caucus, though not the Labour grassroots) can do unless or until Corbyn loses popularity among the Labour faithful that delivered him to the leadership last summer. It’s not an outcome that appears likely to happen anytime soon.
Nevertheless, even if Labour suffers an especially poor night on May 5, Corbyn has a tailor-made opportunity to save his leadership. In the process, Corbyn might also transform his image among a British electorate that remains highly skeptical of ever giving Corbyn the keys to 10 Downing Street.
It all rides on how Corbyn wages the Labour campaign to remain within the European Union in the coming June 23 referendum. If he succeeds, politically and substantively, Corbyn could both silence critics in his own party and, for the first time, introduce himself as truly prime ministerial material.
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.
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.
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.
Labour leader Ed Miliband announced yesterday that, if elected prime minister after next year’s general election, he would not hold a referendum on the United Kingdom’s continued (now 41-year) membership on the European Union.
At first glance, it sounds like exactly the type of pledge that plenty of pro-European British constituencies, including much of the business community, would applaud — eliminating the uncertainty of the United Kingdom’s future within the European Union that features prominently in the current government’s referendum promise.
It’s hard to see what Miliband has to gain politically or strategically with his new pronouncement on a future EU referendum, a essentially in reaction to Cameron’s position from last year. It will satisfy neither pro-European nor anti-European voices, allows Cameron to bill himself as a champion of democratic choice, adds additional uncertainty (especially with the likelihood of a new Berlin-led EU treaty effort in the years ahead), and locks Miliband into what could be incredibly short-sighted policy.
12. Scotland referendum on independence from UK, September 18.
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.
The joint US and European will to respond to last Wednesday’s chemical attack on the eastern outskirts of Damascus has received a blow after the British House of Commons voted narrowly 283 to 272 against a resolution that would have provisionally authorized British military intervention in Syria — a staggeringly rare defeat for a British government on a matter of foreign policy.
The vote comes as a blow not only to UK prime minister David Cameron, who suffered defections from nearly three dozen skeptical Conservatives as well as additional Liberal Democratic members of his own governing coalition, but also interventionists in the United States who are urging US president Barack Obama to launch an aggressive attack on the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. It is very unlikely that the United States would proceed with unilateral military action without British support, which is unlikely to come anytime soon in light of Cameron pledge to respect the parliamentary decision:
I can give that assurance. Let me say, the House has not voted for either motion tonight. I strongly believe in the need for a tough response to the use of chemical weapons, but I also believe in respecting the will of this House of Commons. It is very clear tonight that, while the House has not passed a motion, it is clear to me that the British parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that and the government will act accordingly.
It’s a vote that has the potential to turn the US-UK relationship upside down, to turn Middle Eastern realpolitik upside down, to turn British politics upside down and even to turn US politics upside down. For a sitting prime minister to lose a vote like this is a huge reversal in the relationship between an ever-more powerful British executive and an ever-more feeble parliament on issues like security policy and foreign affairs.
Most immediately, it means that a U.S.-led missile strike, which seemed imminent yesterday, will now be postponed until early next week, at the earliest, when chemical weapons inspectors from the United Nations have had an opportunity to provide their initial assessment of what happened in Ghouta and eastern Damascus. The vote also comes after several news organizations reported that U.S. and allied intelligence agencies are assured that while the chemical attack came from pro-Assad forces, they are uncertain who ordered the attack amid indications that Assad and his top military brass were caught unaware. Meanwhile, French president François Hollande has backed off earlier, more urgent calls for military action.
Cameron’s massive defeat does not necessarily preclude a vote next week after the United Nations reports back as to which party — and which chemical agent — is to blame for the horrific Damascus attack. If the UN report, together with US and European intelligence, all points to Assad’s culpability, Cameron and Obama will have a much stronger case for an aggressive response, either inside or outside the United Nations Security Council.
Meanwhile, the vote is perhaps the largest political victory in Ed Miliband’s three-year tenure as leader of the Labour Party. Miliband firmly opposed the resolution even after Cameron offered to submit to a second vote before authorizing military action, making today’s resolution essentially a vote for the principle of the British government’s potential military intervention. The vote capped a tumultuous 24 hours in Westminster, with Cameron’s allies accusing Miliband of giving ‘succour’ to the Assad regime, which probably didn’t make it likelier that Labour would close ranks with the Tories over a potential Syria intervention. It was a principled stand for Miliband and, though he’s closer to British public opinion on Syria than Cameron, it was also a courageous stand for a young opposition leader to oppose a sitting government on such a crucial matter of foreign policy.
The troubling case of David Miranda, the partner of Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, who was detained by British police at Heathrow yesterday for nine hours under schedule 7 of the U.K. Terrorism Act, is now a full-blown fully international incident.
The case has implications not only for U.S. politics (Greenwald has been the chief source for the leaks about the U.S. National Security Agency’s Internet intelligence-gathering programs) and even Brazilian politics (Greenwald lives in Brazil with Miranda, a Brazilian native), but for British politics as well, where the issue of civil liberties has been contentious for the past decade and a half under both the Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and the Conservative-led government of current prime minister David Cameron.
Political strategist Ian Bremmer is already suggesting that the United States and/or the United Kingdom may be preparing an indictment against Greenwald (presumably under the U.S. Espionage Act), which would explain why Miranda’s laptop computer and other personal effects were confiscated in London. We already know that the United States, by the admission of White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest was given a heads-up by London prior to Miranda’s detention, though Earnest has denied that the United States requested or collaborated with the detention. It’s equally plausible that overeager police officials in London jumped at an opportunity to gather information they thought top U.S. and U.K. officials would appreciate — if the United States and the United Kingdom really are pursuing an international case against Greenwald, you’d think they would be careful not to commit what seems like a prima facie violation of the U.K. Terrorism Act.
With both Scotland Yard and Cameron saying little about the incident, and with U.S. officials remaining relatively mum, most of today’s discussion has been dominated by vehement critics of the detention on both sides of the Atlantic.
One of the most striking has come from Labour Party’s shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, a rising Labour star who may herself one day lead the party, who has called for an investigation into whether the detention was appropriate under the Terrorism Act:
Schedule 7, which applies only at airports, ports and border areas, controversially allows officers to stop, search, question and detain individuals. Miranda was held for nine hours, the maximum the law allows before officers must release or formally arrest the individual.
According to official figures, most examinations under schedule 7 – over 97% – last less than an hour, and only one in 2,000 people detained are kept for more than six hours. It has been widely criticised for giving police broad powers under the guise of anti-terror legislation to stop and search individuals without prior authorisation or reasonable suspicion – setting it apart from other police powers.
As we approach the annual convention period in British politics, pressure on Labour leader Ed Miliband is growing to draw a deeper contrast with the current coalition government on many issues, including civil liberties. Soon after his election as Labour leader in September 2010, Miliband criticized his party’s overreach on civil liberties, identifying in particular the Blair government’s plan to hold suspects for 90 days without trial and the broad use of anti-terrorism laws. At the time, Miliband argued that he wanted to lead Labour to reclaim the British tradition of liberty, though Miliband also indicated at the time he supported Blair’s widespread introduction of what are now over 4 million closed-circuit television surveillance cameras throughout the country.
As the parties begin to jostle for position for an election that’s now just 21 months away, Cameron certainly won’t be able to run for reelection on as vigorous a pro-liberty position as he did in 2010, though his junior coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, can point to their success in repealing Labour’s plan to introduce national ID cards and scrapping the Tories’ proposed communications data bill this year.
That leaves a key opening for Miliband to champion civil liberties, but given the durability of the British surveillance state and Labour’s role in creating the legal framework last decade for the British surveillance state, it is unclear whether Miliband will do so, though Cooper delivered a high-profile speech in July arguing for more oversight and protections in relation to the U.K. intelligence and security services. It’s likelier, however, that a future Labour government will pursue many of the same pro-security policies that each of the Blair, Brown and Cameron governments have pursued.
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.
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?→
In a static world, it’s easy to believe that UK prime minister David Cameron’s call in January 2013 for a referendum on the United Kingdom’s continued membership in the European Union will never come to pass — it depends upon the reelection of a Conservative-led in the 2015 general election, Cameron’s continued Tory leadership and a lengthy process of negotiation thereafter with EU leaders.
So when Cameron agreed with Scottish first minister Alex Salmond two months later to hold a referendum on Scottish independence in September 2014, he had every reason to believe that he had bought enough time to keep the European issue relatively calm. After all, poll after poll shows the pro-independence vote lagging far behind the anti-independence vote and, despite a relatively large number of undecided Scottish voters, many polls throughout 2012 and early 2013 showed the ‘no’ vote with over 50% support. One Ipsos poll earlier this month showed that 59% support union and just 31% support independence.
But what’s increasingly clear is that the two referenda are becoming inseparable — Scotland’s future role in the United Kingdom depends on the United Kingdom’s future role in Europe. With Westminster now increasingly turning to its toxic obsession with its union with Europe, a group of largely English parliamentarians may well be endangering the more longstanding three-century union with Scotland.
It’s easy to follow Cameron’s arithmetic here: Allow the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and the more euroskeptic members of his own party their opportunity for an anti-Europe outlet in the May 2014 European Parliament elections. Then sail through the September 2014 Scottish referendum with both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democratic Party united against Scottish independence, maybe even by promising ‘devomax,’ a form of further devolution of tax and spending powers to the Scottish parliament that came into existence in 1999. Cameron could therefore put the specter of Scottish independence behind him before looking to the next general election and, if successfully reelected, the EU negotiations that would precede the long-promised EU referendum.
UKIP’s rise hasn’t helped, and Nigel Farage’s insistence at contesting a Scottish by-election led to the somewhat humorous result of his being chased out of a pub in Edinburgh last week (pictured above). Though it’s a safe bet that Farage and UKIP won’t make many inroads in Scotland, it’s hard to see how his active presence in Scotland could do anything but make things worse for unionist supporters. His party is currently polling as much as 20% in national polls, outpacing the Liberal Democrats and, in some cases, pulling to within single digits of the Conservatives (giving Labour a sizable lead). Even if Labour wins in 2015, if UKIP wins the support of one out of every five UK voters, it will pull not only the Tories, but probably even Labour, further toward euroskepticism and eventual rupture with Europe. Continue reading A tale of two referenda: How the EU debate could poison the Scotland debate→
Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, has set September 18, 2014 as the date for the referendum on potential Scottish independence.
Polls have been relatively consistent, with support for independence at around 30% to 35% and with support for continued union with England at around 50% to 55%.
But the up-or-down vote will come in 18 months, and a lot can obviously change in 18 months, including the popularity of Salmond (pictured above) and his Scottish National Party, which won in 2011 the first majority government since devolution in the late 1990s.
Three quick things to keep an eye on:
Shetland and Orkney. Shetland and Orkney, the groups of islands to the northeast of Scotland, could well stay within the United Kingdom if Scotland leaves. That would complicate the Scottish economic rationale for independence, dependent as it is upon North Sea oil revenues. It’s no surprise then, to see Liberal Democrats encouraging Shetland and Orkney to think of themselves as a unit within the United Kingdom than as just an appendage of Scotland.
Tory incentives. As Liberal Democratic deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has sharply noted, Conservatives do not have an incredible incentive to fight hard to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom, given that they hold one seat. It’s fair to worry that Tories actually have an electoral incentive to see an independent Scotland — though, because the Scots are just 8.5% of the UK population, it’s not as much as you might think. Labour prime minister Tony Blair’s massive 12-point 1997 landslide was still a massive 10-point landslide within England proper. In the 2010 general election, Labour won 28.1% in England and 29.0% nationwide, while the Tories won 39.6% in England and just 36.1% nationwide. So it’s a boost, but not a gigantic one.
Europe. Also, there’s some dicey choreography with the European Union too, because as the United Kingdom approaches prime minister David Cameron’s promised 2017 referendum on potentially leaving the EU, the more it could have a negative effect on the Scotland effort. In fact, even with sluggish growth in the next 18 months, I think the anti-Europe tone in England is the biggest threat to the anti-independent forces in very much pro-Europe Scotland. If Nigel Farage’s United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) continues to make further gains in advance of the 2015 general election, it could well scare some of the pro-union, pro-European Scots toward the independence camp.
Despite what anyone in Brussels or Berlin or London or Edinburgh says, no one thinks that Scottish independence would leave it outside the EU for long. Given that the Scots have implemented as much of the acquis communautaire as England has, it’s certain that the Scots would align independence with simultaneous Scottish accession to the EU. That’s a non-issue.
The United Kingdom is closer to May 2015 than it is to May 2010, which is to say that it’s closer to the next general election than to the previous one.
With the announcement of the 2013 budget coming later this month, likely to be very controversial if it features, as expected, ever more aggressive expenditure cuts, what does UK prime minister David Cameron have to show for his government’s efforts?
The prevailing conventional wisdom today is that Cameron and his chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne (pictured above) have pushed blindly forward with budget cuts at the sake of economic growth by reducing government expenditures at a time when the global economic slump — and an even deeper economic malaise on continental Europe — have left the UK economy battered. If you look at British GDP growth during the Cameron years (see below — the Labour government years are red, the Cameron years blue), it’s hard to deny that it’s sputtering:
One way to look at the chart above is that following the 2008 global financial panic, the United Kingdom was recovering just fine under the leadership of Labour prime minister Gordon Brown, and that the election of the Tory-led coalition and its resulting budget cuts have taken the steam out of what was a modest, if steady, economic recovery. Those cuts have hastened further financial insecurity in the United Kingdom, critics charge, and you need look no further than Moody’s downgrade of the UK’s credit rating last month from from ‘AAA’ to ‘AA+’ for the first time since 1978.
An equally compelling response is that British revenues were always bound to fall, given the outsized effect of banking profits on the UK economy, and that meant that expenditure corrections were inevitable in order to bring the budget out from double-digit deficit. In any event, 13 years of Labour government left the budget with plenty of fat to trim from welfare spending. Despite the downgraded credit rating, the 10-year British debt features a relatively low yield of around 2% (a little lower than France’s and a bit higher than Germany’s), and we talk about the United Kingdom in the same way we talk about the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany — not the way we talk about Iceland, Ireland, Spain, Italy or Greece. Given the large role the finance plays in the British economy, it wasn’t preordained that the United Kingdom would be more like France than, say, Ireland.
Nonetheless, polls show Cameron’s Conservative Party well behind the Labour Party in advance of the next election by around 10%, making Labour under the leadership of Ed Miliband and shadow chancellor Ed Balls, a Brown protégé, implausibly more popular than at any time since before former prime minister Tony Blair’s popularity tanked over the Iraq war. Despite Cameron’s ‘modernization’ campaign, which notched its first notable triumph with the recognition of same-sex marriage in February, over the howls of some of his more old-fashioned Tory colleagues, he remains deeply unpopular.
Meanwhile, the upstart and nakedly anti-Europe United Kingdom Independence Party — Cameron famously once called them a bunch of ‘fruitcases, loonies and closet racists’ — has grown to the point that it now outpolls Cameron’s governing coalition partners, the Liberal Democratic Party. UKIP even edged out the Tories in a recent by-election in Eastleigh, and Cameron has relented to calls for the first-ever referendum on the continued UK membership in the European Union (though, targeted as it is for 2017, it assumes that Cameron will actually be in power after the next election).
Nervous Tory backbenchers, already wary of local elections in May and European elections in 2014, are already starting to sound the alarms of a leadership challenge against Cameron, though it’s nothing (yet) like the kind of constant embattlement that plagued former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown.
Former Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher faced an even more dire midterm slump in the early 1980s and still managed to win the 1983 general election handily, but if the current Labour lead settles or even widens, political gravity could well paralyze the government in 2013 and 2014 in the same way as Brown’s last years in government or former Tory prime minister John Major’s.
It’s worth pausing to note what the Cameron-led coalition government has and has not done.
Amid a flurry of parliamentary action in the United Kingdom and France, two of the largest countries in Europe and, indeed, two of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, are set to legalize gay marriage in the coming months.
The joint result gives an incredibly burst of global momentum for the idea of gay marriage and LGBT equality.
Even more striking, the gay marriage push has been pursued by two governments that couldn’t be much more different, ideologically — a right-wing, budget-cutting Conservative Party government in the United Kingdom and a leftist Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party) government in France.
Most immediately, in London yesterday, the British House of Commons voted overwhelmingly 400 to 175 to approve equal marriage rights for gay and lesbian partnerships in England and Wales. Enacting same-sax marriage rights has been at the heart of UK prime minister David Cameron’s ‘modernising’ mission for the Conservative Party — i.e., pulling it to the forefront of supporting socially liberal causes, while the government continues pursuing a very conservative economic agenda.
Nonetheless, Cameron’s efforts, historic as they may be, have not been without a cost — despite the overwhelming support of his coalition partners, the socially progressive Liberal Democratic Party and of the opposition Labour Party, only 127 of Cameron’s 303 Tory MPs supported Tuesday’s bill.
That’s frankly somewhat of an embarrassment for the prime minister, who’s facing increasing pressure from backbenchers who are worried about the government’s unpopularity nearly halfway through its five-year term — young Tory MP Adam Afriyie is already reported to be considering an upstart leadership campaign against Cameron. More worryingly than Afriyie, however, is the fact that Owen Paterson, the environmental secretary, led the Tory effort in the House of Commons against the gay marriage bill, and even Cameron’s attorney general, Dominic Grieve, abstained from the final vote.
[Gay marriage], warn the old Tory chairmen of the shires, is “shaking the very foundations of the party”. If so, they really are done for. Cameron wrongly thought this a clause IV moment to parade a modernised party. Instead, he has revealed them as a nest of bigots. Disunity is electoral poison, and so is a leader losing control of his party. Rebel MPs, like runaway horses, lose their fear of whips. Gay marriage has become a proxy for other undisciplined craziness running through their veins, from hunting to Europe, privatising the NHS to breaking up the BBC, loathing windmills, loving fracking.
Notwithstanding the perils for Cameron, the bill will now proceed to the House of Lords, where it should pass relatively easily, and Cameron hopes to mark the law’s enactment later this summer. Scotland, meanwhile, is considering its own gay marriage bill later this year — first minister Alex Salmond’s majority government, dominated by the Scottish National Party, is set to advance the issue after consultation on the bill ends in March 2013.
But France will be racing to beat Great Britain to the marriage chapel.
Over the weekend, the Assemblée nationale (National Assembly) of France approved a change in the definition of marriage from an agreement between a man and a woman to simply an agreement between two people, paving the way for the adoption of a comprehensive same-sex marriage and adoption bill later this year.
Gay marriage has also proven divisive in France, where a strong Catholic opposition to gay marriage has polarized political views on the issue. Although France’s government won its most recent vote, it did so only with the support of the ruling Socialists — lawmakers from the conservative Union pour un mouvement populaire (UMP, Union for a Popular Movement) of former president Nicolas Sarkozy and the more far-right Front national (FN, National Front) of Marine Le Pen opposed the measure.