Most electoral reformers were looking the other way when Scotland elected its first majority government in the devolved age and many haven’t taken on board the importance of this shift. We were busy trying to change the electoral system on the same day. But this change could actually be one of the main catalysts for the parties south of the border to revisit the way we do business at Westminster.
The Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, Greens and UKIP are committed to electoral reform but the Labour Party, whether before or during the AV referendum, has been almost equally split on the issue. But, with the possibility of the electoral mathematics being different in post-independence Britain could the combination of principle and self-interest move the Labour Party into a position where they see the benefits of electoral reform more clearly.
Although Labour has dominated Scottish politics since the mid-1960s (the last time the party did not win in terms of seats in Scotland was 1955) it has regularly failed to turn this pre-eminence north of the border into government at Westminster. However, with the Conservatives now so weak in Scotland the Labour Party have returned between 40 and 50 seats since the mid-1980s and the Liberal Democrats have also returned about 10 MPs from Scotland. Although the boundary changes at present being discussed makes the mathematics against an overall UK Labour majority worse they slightly improve if Scotland leaves the union but nonetheless this is a slightly marginal impact.
Losing 40 Labour MPs would have delivered a Conservative majority in Parliament in 2010
and the results would have looked like: Con 306 (307), Lab 217 (258), LD 46 (57) – with a Parliament of 591 seats – a Conservative overall majority of 21. So the decision Scotland makes on independence is important to England, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as Scotland, as we would now have a different government if Scotland was independent.
So this major shift away from the Labour Party makes the prospect of Conservative government more of the time more likely. Does this sort of major shift in the nature of the country make it more likely that Labour sees the importance of its future policy on electoral reform? Well maybe, but the question is have our political class quite worked out that there is a genuine chance of Scotland being independent within the next five years? And this is where I believe there is a genuine level of self-denial amongst Westminster, and for that matter Holyrood, politicians. Scotland could well be on the verge of it’s the most significant constitutional change since 1707. With Alec Salmond running a popular, anti-Westminster government in Edinburgh there is a chance, without credible arguments and strong campaigning against independence, for it happen.
With this change will English and Welsh politicians come together to deliver a better way of electing Westminster as well as what Scotland decides for its own future?