INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS UK by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
election: implications of Conservative victory
, May 23, 2015
The British Conservatives’ election victory – contradicting the predictions of all the opinion polls as they won more than 330 seats – has allowed the Prime Minister, David Cameron, to form government in his own right. The election was also a triumph for the Scottish nationalists, who won almost every seat in Scotland.
Following the election outcome, the leaders of the parties which expected to perform better – Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the UK Independence Party (UKIP) – all resigned, creating a vacuum in the political leadership of the opposition.
Cameron’s victory, although narrow, is the first time a government has secured an increased majority for decades. With the support of the Democratic Unionists from Northern Ireland, Mr Cameron will have a good working majority in the House of Commons.
Part of the explanation for the outcome is to be found in the first-past-the-post voting system. With 38 per cent of the popular vote, the Conservatives won more than half the seats in Parliament. Labour, with about 32 per cent, won 100 fewer seats.
The Scottish National Party (SNP), with just 5 per cent of the vote, won 56 of the 59 seats in Scotland where its vote was concentrated. The Greens got almost as many votes (4 per cent), but these are scattered across the country and the Greens will get no seats.
UKIP’s 13 per cent of the vote will net it only one seat.
The other big loser, the Liberal Democrats, saw its vote collapse from almost 20 per cent five years ago to 8 per cent, and its parliamentary representation has fallen from 56 seats to just eight, virtually wiping out the party in the Parliament.
SNP wins but loses
Apart from David Cameron, the other winner in the UK election was the SNP, which won 55 seats in Scotland, which had been Labour heartland, despite the fact that the Scots recently voted down a referendum on independence.
Labour held more than 40 Scottish seats in the previous parliament, and has suffered a huge setback with defections to the SNP. Although the main focus of the SNP is independence from Britain, it campaigned on arresting the high unemployment rate in Scotland, an issue on which both Labour and the Conservatives were vulnerable.
The SNP’s election success will undoubtedly accelerate the promised transfer of more powers to Scotland, making the Scottish Parliament more responsible for the local economy.
The Scottish nationalists’ hope of forming a coalition with Labour was dashed when the Conservatives won a clear majority in the House of Commons in their own right.
Despite the SNP’s substantial presence in the House of Commons, it will have almost no influence on the Conservative government, which it had sworn to defeat.
The nationalists’ victory will have repercussions in other parts of Western Europe.
In Spain in particular, the Basque separatists have long demanded independence from Spain, but Madrid has repeatedly refused them a referendum. There is also a powerful separatist movement in Catalonia, based around the northern city of Barcelona, and smaller movements in other parts of the country. Smaller separatist movements exist in France, Italy, Hungary and Poland, to name just a few.
The election was also a setback for UKIP, a party which is opposed to Britain’s membership of the European Union and to EU rules which allow the free movement of EU citizens throughout the union.
Despite the fact that it has almost no representation in the Parliament, UKIP won a substantial increase in its vote since the previous election, and will have a strong influence on the actions of the Conservatives regarding EU membership.
Despite being pro-EU, David Cameron has promised to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s membership of the EU, and then hold a referendum on membership of the EU before the end of 2017.
Most observers consider that the EU will offer few concessions to Cameron to keep Britain in. Following the EU’s protracted negotiations with the Syriza Government in Athens to renegotiate Greece’s debts, there is a belief that any concessions to Britain could lead to demands by other EU member states to renegotiate their terms of membership.
With many in Cameron’s own party critical of the EU, the outcome of a referendum is uncertain, although the prospects of withdrawal from the EU are far less than 50 per cent, given that both Labour and the Conservatives support continued EU membership.
The role of the Scottish nationalists could be important here. The SNP’s leadership has already indicated that it intends to apply for EU membership in its own right; but Downing Street will not support that move.
If Scotland is refused separate membership of the EU, it is uncertain whether the SNP would support the UK’s continued membership of the EU. The rising vote both Eurosceptics and separatists received will have important implications for the EU, which is still facing a financial crisis in Greece, and huge debt levels in Spain and Italy.