Caledonia rising

Almost exactly a year after the UK General Election, voters across Britain have returned to the polls, to elect local councils in England and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and to vote in the nation-wide referendum on the Alternative Vote.

To no one’s great surprise the Liberal Democrats have been given a good kicking. The Conservative vote held up pretty well, even increasing in the south of England, showing that their plan to make Nick Clegg the fall guy for their unpopular policies has worked to perfection. What did the Lib Dems get in return for taking on the role of national hate-figures? A vote on AV, which they didn’t really want since it isn’t a proportional system, and which was bound to be rejected by the electorate anyway, since it was closely associated with Clegg, whom nobody trusts now.

In England and Wales the main beneficiaries of the Lib Dem collapse have been Labour, but the real excitement has been up here in Scotland, where there has been a political realignment of the type seen only once in a generation.

The Scottish National Party swept to an impressive victory, hoovering up all the votes of disaffected Lib Dem supporters, but also making massive inroads in areas once thought to be solidly Labour, and becoming the first party in the Parliament’s history to win an outright majority of seats.

This result can be partly explained by Labour’s horribly misjudged campaign strategy – they concentrated their fire on the Tories, and explicitly stated that they saw the Scottish elections merely as a stepping-stone to regaining power in London – but it is also an endorsement of the competence of the previous SNP administration, and a sign that the Scottish electorate may be warming to the idea of independence. SNP leader Alex Salmond has promised a referendum on the issue within the lifetime of this parliament, probably in three or four years’ time, which would represent the biggest challenge to the integrity of the British State in three centuries.

I have no great love for nationalism per se, nor for the SNP, who are pro-capitalist social democrats rather than socialists, but Scottish independence would be a political shake-up on a scale that would provide a great opportunity for the left.

Interesting times ahead…

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