Friday, 14 May 2010


The now unused fourth verse of the national anthem infamously states:
May he sedition hush,
and like a torrent rush,
Rebellious Scots to crush.

I seriously doubt the Prime Minister was thinking of these words today when he went to Scotland, a place where less than 17% of people voted Conservative last week. Mr. Cameron does not want to 'crush' the rebellious Scots, but rather have a 'fresh start' in relations between Westminster and Holyrood.

Mr. Cameron has a problem, for the last thirteen years the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have both been Scots (alright, so Tony Blair was viewed by most people as solidly middle-England, but he was born and schooled in Edinburgh). Now the Scots will have to get use to having an English Prime Minister and Chancellor of a UK government they didn't elect.

Of course this has happened before, in the 1980s and early 1990s when Scotland consistently elected Labour MPs but ended up with Conservative governments. The different between then and now is the devolved Scottish parliament and government, which could call a referendum on independence. The chances of the Scots voting for independence under a Labour PM in Downing Street would seem unlikely, but with a Conservative PM, Scots may start to seriously consider leaving the union.

So you would have thought that the First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, who claims to wants an independent Scotland more than anything, would secretly like the idea of a Conservative Prime Minister in Westminster. And yet, the First Minister tried desperately during the start of the week to keep David Cameron out of No. 10 by joining an ultimately unfeasible 'Progressive coalition' of the SNP, Labour, the Lib Dems, the SDLP, and Plaid Cymru. Then yesterday, during First Minister's questions in the Scottish Parliament, Alex Salmond seemed genuinely angry that his coalition plan had failed and as a result there was a Conservative incumbent in Downing Street. No doubt Mr. Salmond would say that a Conservative dominated government is bad for Scotland and so he is against it (whether it makes an independent Scotland more likely or not), but a more cynical person might suggest that Mr. Salmond's party might be held to blame for what he calls 'Tory cuts' at the Scottish parliamentary elections, to be held on Thursday 5 May next year.

The exact date of the next election is known because the Scottish Parliament has fixed terms. The election can be called earlier of course, but only if 67% of the MSPs agree. As part of the Conservative-Liberal Democrats coalition deal, David Cameron agreed to fixed term parliaments for Westminster as well as to give up his power as Prime Minister (through the monarch) to dissolve Parliament and call an election. Like the Scottish Parliament, the election could be called earlier if 55% of the MPs agreed.

You might think this seems reasonable, and more democratic than the Scottish parliament, but many Conservative backbenchers disagree. Conservatives point out that the 1979 election, which was narrowly won by Margaret Thatcher, only took place when it did because Prime Minister James Callaghan lost a motion of non-confidence in the Commons by just one vote. If the legislation the Mr. Cameron is now suggesting had been in place in 1979, Mrs. Thatcher might have never come to power.

It seems unlikely that Conservative MPs would try to defeat their brand new government, but they might make some noise about David Cameron's plans on fundamental constitutional reform - and the Prime Minister thought the Scots were rebellious!

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