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Question Time
May 4, 2007 2:07 AM   Subscribe

So, how is that whole Iraq thing working out for you, Tony? What's going on with Scotland? Is the rise of the SNP your party's fault? Are they laying the groundwork for Scottish independence?
posted by chuckdarwin (81 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Independence is the primary goad of the SNP. However, whilst it seems they are about to form the largest party in the Scottish parliament, there appears to be no sign of a majority in favour of actual independence. People seem to be voting SNP to give Labour a kicking. In Scotland the SNP are the only real alternative to Labour as the Tories have virtually no support.
posted by bap98189 at 2:55 AM on May 4, 2007


Oops, that should be primary goal.
posted by bap98189 at 2:56 AM on May 4, 2007


It's better as goad.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:21 AM on May 4, 2007


because Scottish independence would definitely be someone's fault.
posted by johnny novak at 3:27 AM on May 4, 2007


Utter electoral chaos: three electoral systems on the same day, switched ballot paper layouts, and software failures (sound familiar?).

The socialists may have been wiped out, but at least there's a couple of Greens to argue for progressive politics.
posted by imperium at 4:21 AM on May 4, 2007


Independent or no, I sure do like their beverages. Dalwhinnie is a personal favorite.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:40 AM on May 4, 2007


Thanks, flapjax. I'll make sure to add my American micro-brew preferences to the next US electoral fraud discussion.

Sorry, I'm not primarily bitter about you.
posted by imperium at 5:09 AM on May 4, 2007 [5 favorites]


Well, it finally looks like the UK is abandoning the "Never Tory Again" stance. This is good, because it means Labour, if it ever wants to win an election again, will actually need to listen to the people. Current numbers that I saw are Con-47, Lab-27, LD-26. Despite The Gruaniad's best spin, that's a disaster for Labour. The only saving grace is the UK Parliament won't have an election for quite a while.

Much of the chaos in Scotland is because Scottish Parliament elections are first-past-the-post (mark the X) but the council elections have switched to Single Transferable Voting.
posted by eriko at 5:17 AM on May 4, 2007


The 'ballot paper chaos' thing is a bit of a farce. They were labelled with clear, large-print instructions about how to vote, and it really isn't that difficult.

Actually, eriko, the Scottish Parliament elections use the Additional Member System where there are two parallel first-past-the-post votes, one for constituency and one for region.

The numbers are bad for Labour, but not necessarily as bad as they look — I think Labour can still win a general election outright with a lower share of the vote than the Tories because of the constituency system.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 5:34 AM on May 4, 2007


I've heard surprisingly little about Tony quitting recently. Is he hoping we've all forgotten?
posted by cillit bang at 5:43 AM on May 4, 2007


electoral fraud ? - probably.

I don't think people should just sit back and wait for some 'independent' commision to hold an inquiry either.
posted by sgt.serenity at 5:53 AM on May 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


You've clearly been distracted by that large orange UFO in the sky, CB.

Tony Blair has said he expects "in all probability" that Chancellor Gordon Brown will succeed him as prime minister "in the next few weeks".

But to get back to what's really important for Flapjax, Yuengling isn't horrible.
posted by Mr Bismarck at 5:54 AM on May 4, 2007


electoral fraud ? - probably.

By whom? And what do you propose as an alternative to an independent commission? A coup?
posted by Aloysius Bear at 5:59 AM on May 4, 2007


A lot of Scots like the idea of independence, but a lot of other Scots like the idea of getting free money from England. And I think it's a little premature to talk about the next general election, which could be in 2010. 3 years is a long time for David Cameron to keep spinning in opposition, and Gordon Brown may yet redeem New Labour's popularity from the catastrophe of Iraq, which many seem to blame personally on Blair.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 6:24 AM on May 4, 2007


Electoral fraud? Maybe a little. There have been reports of party activists 'helping' the vulnerable with their postal votes, which are being widely used this election.

There is also anecdotal evidence of a large number of deliberately spoiled (or left blank) papers. This time around, most constituencies do not have any declared candidates for the smaller parties in the first-past-the-post section. The smaller guys are standing in the regional lists only. Many people have refrained from voting for any of the big four in the constituency list, which I believe is counted as a 'rejected paper'

On preview - hoverboards I have to take issue with your a lot of other Scots like the idea of getting free money from England canard. If Scotland is such a drain on English resources, why does every government do it's utmost to maintain the union? The country as a whole, and much of Western Europe and the US is running at a fiscal deficit, so Scotland is just the same as everyone else.
posted by Jakey at 6:30 AM on May 4, 2007


No , i'm not suggesting anything like a coup - civil disobedience is fine by me.

I would propose that we do something other than sit back and sweep everything under the carpet.

I'm reading elsewhere that former labour party leader Neil Kinnock is a director of the company that held the vote count - it's not looking anything other than murky.

I expect people opposed to idea of Scottish independence to throw out the usual stuff about Scots being ignorant, uneducated etc
posted by sgt.serenity at 6:37 AM on May 4, 2007


Jakey, government maintains the union because it's popular, not because it's fiscally responsible. (That explains about 80% of what government does, in fact). It's not quite the same as deficit spending either, because at least when government borrows and spends, the money is spent on services for everyone. Scotland's subsidy is about £7bn, which is money that the UK government is spending on Scots alone, at the expense of the English.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 6:41 AM on May 4, 2007


If Scotland were to gain independence would that mean that England could no longer lay claim to the North Sea oil revenue?
posted by zeoslap at 6:47 AM on May 4, 2007


If Scotland were to gain independence would that mean that England could no longer lay claim to the North Sea oil revenue?

It's a possibility, as is removing the nuclear weapons which are stationed here.
posted by sgt.serenity at 6:54 AM on May 4, 2007


What north sea oil revenue? There isn't much left, the number of oil rigs is decreasing and the UK is now a net importer of oil and gas.
posted by bap98189 at 6:55 AM on May 4, 2007


government maintains the union because it's popular

Not only because it's popular - because it's the government of the United Kingdom, as constituted in 1707, and thus maintaining Scotland in the Union is grounded in its primary concern - self-preservation. Scottish independence would require (well, should require) and new constitutional settlement affecting the whole caboodle, that is a new settlement between England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Government is naturally disinclined to want that - if there's one thing our present consititutional makeup strives to maintain, it's continutity above everything else. Blair's "supreme court" innovations aside ...
posted by WPW at 6:58 AM on May 4, 2007


Yes, zeoslap. At the moment, I think the consensus is that the oil revenue more or less balances the increased public spending that Scotland gets (through the much-altered "Barnett formula"). If Scotland were to go independent, it could either continue funding a large public sector with the oil revenue, or build a Norway-style fund to help prepare Scotland for when the oil runs out. The SNP appear to assume that the oil revenue could fund both the public sector and build a petroleum fund, which is nonsense.

That said, there are some ways in which public spending could be cut with independence, the most obvious point being that the armed forces could be mostly scrapped, and Scotland could rely on England and NATO for defence.

bap98189, the Treasury gets a vast amount of money from taxing the North Sea oil companies.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 7:00 AM on May 4, 2007


zeoslap, yes, pretty much. England could still legitimately claim a small portion of the North Sea revenue, but even allocating it all to Scotland leaves Scotland's net borrowing at the £7bn I mentioned above (it's £11bn without considering oil). [Figures].
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 7:00 AM on May 4, 2007


The BBC's Evan Davis has a good blog post here explaining the fiscal consequences of independence. He concludes that the Scottish deficit is in proportion to that of the UK as a whole. I think he doesn't emphasise enough the fact that oil is guaranteed to run out, and fairly soon, too. Oil would account a fifth of national income.

He's also more optimistic than I am about the "kick up the arse" factor of independence — there's far too much resentment of success ("Ah kent his faither" etc) and unreconstructed socialism for that to be convincing.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 7:23 AM on May 4, 2007


hoverboards, I see from your comments that you're well versed in the fiscal arguments of the union, so I guess that you know that all of those figures are widely disputed. Much of it hinges on whether the oil revenues revert to Scotland or not.

on preview, the figures that you point to include a 'non-identifiable' expenditure of 5.7billion. Historically, this has been dominated by defence, which would largely disappear in an independent Scotland. Also, there's plenty of dispute about how Scotland's share of the UK tax take is allocated. I'm perfectly willing to concede that there is a lack of clarity in the figures, but I think it's pretty plain that over the years central government have erred on the side of deficit in their reports as a means to promote the union.

Also, can I also point out that the last link in the FPP suggests that union is not that popular.
posted by Jakey at 7:29 AM on May 4, 2007


One trusts we can hound the Scots out of parliament if they do decide to feck off. Labour's ranks will be decimated.
posted by vbfg at 7:44 AM on May 4, 2007


vbfg

which is why the Conservative and Unionist party stuggles a little with this issue.
posted by johnny novak at 8:07 AM on May 4, 2007


Perhaps Scotland will be able to completely demilitarize (a very big perhaps) and cut £5.7bn of defence expenditure, but it's still a cut in spending that would be forced upon them in order to balance the books. If you want to disregard the government statistics completely (I guess I'm on your side here :) ) and speak in general terms, I can't see Scotland carrying on the way it is. Oil revenues are declining, public spending is increasing, and I'm with Aloysius regarding the kick up the arse: a Scotland free to indulge in as much socialism as it likes would seize up.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 8:08 AM on May 4, 2007


I'm often baffled by secessionist-type movements. Some of them make sense, such as the case of the creation of the post-Soviet countries like Armenia. Although I'm still not clear what Slovakia gained by bolting away from the Czech Republic.

So, sure, Texas for instance could try to secede from the United States to reconstitute the Lone Star Republic, but why? In the case of Scotland, what horrible oppression are the Scots attempting to escape? What common Scottish principles and beliefs have been suppressed? What national goals have been left unexpressed? I'm not being snarky...I really am a bit unclear on why the Scottish would be gung-ho to break out of the UK.
posted by Midnight Creeper at 8:10 AM on May 4, 2007


Midnight Creeper, as Jakey and the FPP's last link point out, it's as much the English who want to get rid of the Scots as the Scots wanting to escape. Also, in general, I think people enjoy ruling themselves rather than being ruled by what is perceived as Somewhere Else, even when they mostly agree with the rulers' policies.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 8:21 AM on May 4, 2007


Midnight Creeper - There are a few major themes in the secessionist feeling in Scotland. One is that the foreign policy goals of the UK (interventionist and subservient to the US) are very much at odds with Scottish sentiment. (Although it might be argued that this is becoming more the case in England as well). I think that there is also a feeling that Scottish interests are not adequately addressed by the UK government on the world stage (particularly with respect to the EU).

Another is the issue of representation. From '79-'97, Scotland was subject to a Conservative UK government that had at various times zero or almost zero Scottish MPs. This government was extremely unpopular in Scotland, leading to feeling of oppression. Now the shoe's on the other foot, the English have started to complain that Labour are only in power because of their large Scottish majority, and grumblings are afoot that this is somehow unfair. Obviously, after the Tory years, this kind of sentiment breeds resentment among Scots.

Finally, I think that devolution has had something to do with it, too. After delivering the devolved parliament, Labour has since devoted a lot of energy to promoting the union, principally by scare tactics. People are starting to react in the manner of saying 'Who says we couldn't exist as a viable country?' This is playing into the hands of those who are of a more independent bent, and have had the words of Parnell at heart since devolution "No man has a right to fix the boundary of the march of a nation; no man has a right to say to his country, Thus far shalt thou go and no further"

This has gotten a little longer than I intended, but I hope it has answered some of your questions.

On preview, hoverboards summed a lot of this up quite nicely.
posted by Jakey at 8:28 AM on May 4, 2007


Midnight Creeper, I think the English who want rid of the Scots are primarily motivated not by any particular animosity to Scots, but rather by the West Lothian question and the perception of a "Scottish Raj". The West Lothian question is the term for the current situation where Scottish MPs at Westminster can vote on issues that affect only England and Wales but devolution means English MPs have no say over Scottish issues. Various unpopular policies have been imposed on England, such as topup fees for universities, purely because Scottish Labour MPs voted for them. There isn't really an obvious, workable, constitutional solution to this problem at the moment.

There's also a perception that England is 'ruled' by Scots — Blair is somewhat Scottish and Brown is very Scottish, as are Mingis Campbell and John Reid. Unlike the West Lothian question, it seems to me to be unreasonable to get het up about this. There's no inherent bias toward Scots, there just happen to be a clump of them at the moment in positions of power.

As for Scots' secessionist tendencies, the Declaration of Arbroath (of 1320) is widely known:
...for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.

Given Scotland's long history, it's not entirely unreasonable to see independence as Scotland's natural state, and the union as a comparatively recent innovation.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 8:38 AM on May 4, 2007


So, sure, Texas for instance could try to secede from the United States to reconstitute the Lone Star Republic, but why?

i'd say no more presidents from texas would be a good enough reason
posted by pyramid termite at 8:45 AM on May 4, 2007


i'd say no more presidents from texas would be a good enough reason

What do you have against Dwight Eisenhower or Lyndon Johnson? W. is from Connecticut.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:03 AM on May 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think that there is also a feeling that Scottish interests are not adequately addressed by the UK government on the world stage (particularly with respect to the EU).

I'm curious what Scotland's interests regarding the EU actually are. If Scotland were to secede, I'm assuming that it will not just get a free pass into the EU and would have to renegotiate/ reapply, (or whatever), if EU membership is indeed desirable.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:05 AM on May 4, 2007


as are Mingis Campbell
Err, I either meant Ming or Menzies.

posted by Aloysius Bear at 9:05 AM on May 4, 2007


Now the shoe's on the other foot, the English have started to complain that Labour are only in power because of their large Scottish majority, and grumblings are afoot that this is somehow unfair.

Not up on UK/Scot politics, but this sentence sounds very familiar to me. We often hear losing Republicans in the US claim that the Dems would not have won such and such an election if not for their large african-american base... which always sounds to me as though the person is saying that feels african-americans shouldn't be interfering in grown-up business like politics at all.

Marcusson was right... People are alike all over.

(Or maybe I'm just reading too much into things. )
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 9:05 AM on May 4, 2007


oneirodynia, you raise a good point. There is some dubiety about whether an independent Scotland would automatically retain EU membership. Personally, I'm not sure it's that desirable any more, anyway. The European Commission is becoming more and more powerful at the expense of the European and National parliaments. As this is an appointed body, it's clearly anti-democratic.

I'm more in favour of the kind of arrangement that Norway and Switzerland have with the EU. There is freedom of movement and freedom of trade between those countries and the EU, but they retain all of their own fiscal, domestic and foreign policy powers. That seems to me like they get a lot of the benefits of being in the EU without many of the drawbacks.
posted by Jakey at 9:16 AM on May 4, 2007


oneirodynia, I expect Scotland would renegotiate rather than re-applying. Compared to the drawn-out applications of Poland/Turkey etc, I imagine it would be a relatively easy process.

Thatcher negotiated a sizeable unique rebate for the UK in the 1980s to compensate for the fact that Britain pays a fortune into the EU to prop up things like the Common Agricultural Policy which don't benefit us very much. That was a bit of a coup for Thatcher, and I can't see Scotland having the negotiating clout to renew the rebate.

Financially, though, I think EU membership, and a more positive attitude to Europe than the UK's, would benefit Scotland. Small countries can sometimes exert a disproportionate amount of power in the EU, and things like the Structural Fund would probably make a big contribution to Scottish public finances. Ireland is a good example of this: they've received billions more of EU money than they've contributed. Scots are likely, I think, to be more open to EU participation than the English for a variety of historical reasons. The EU already provides quite a lot of funding to Scotland in particular, compared to the rest of Britain. In the Highlands, you see little EU logos by the side of lots of new roads.

It would certainly be a disaster to end up with Scotland outside the EU's free trade bloc. Currency is an interesting issue. I suspect membership of the eurozone would be a bad idea (it implies adopting the Euro, relinquishing independent monetary policy and complying with the farcical Stability and Growth Pact). The vast majority of Scottish trade would surely be with England, so keeping the pound would appear to make sense from the point of view of minimising exchange and menu costs.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 9:26 AM on May 4, 2007


Ha ha ha ha, fuyck you Blair! ...oh wait, Tories...
posted by Artw at 9:46 AM on May 4, 2007


Jakey and Aloysius Bear: Thanks. Interesting difference of opinion.

The vast majority of Scottish trade would surely be with England, so keeping the pound would appear to make sense from the point of view of minimising exchange and menu costs.

I see what you mean, though it seems adopting the Euro would make it easier for Scotland to trade on a global scale.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:25 AM on May 4, 2007


On another note: Can someone please take Northern Ireland. Or possbly just tow it out to the middle of the Atlantic and sink it.
posted by Artw at 10:35 AM on May 4, 2007


There's also a perception that England is 'ruled' by Scots

There's also this curious perception that it was the other way around for centuries...
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:50 AM on May 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


From what I've read in the Economist, one of the major concerns abou this issue would be: yes, but what effect will it have on football in the UK?
posted by Midnight Creeper at 10:53 AM on May 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


My biggest concern would be whether booze-cruise style border hops to buy cheap whiskey would be an economic reality and if not why not?
posted by Artw at 11:21 AM on May 4, 2007


Well, you'd have to nip over to Ireland to get whiskey. Whisky on the other hand...
/pedant
posted by Aloysius Bear at 11:41 AM on May 4, 2007


The ballot paper was confusing and (as a direct result) there was a huge number of (accidentally) spoiled papers.

The war in Iraq was the biggest factors in Labour's demise in Scotland. The SNP are led by a charismatic socialist (Alex Salmond) who attracted many left-wing votes.

Once the dust settles on the vote, if Salmond forms a government he has pledged to hold an independence referendum no later than 2010.
posted by bobbyelliott at 11:43 AM on May 4, 2007


Scotland should go independent and then join the EU, i think.
posted by amberglow at 12:57 PM on May 4, 2007


After independence, England would have to negotiate rejoining the EU too.
posted by the cuban at 1:18 PM on May 4, 2007


I was hoping Caledonian comrades would be up for a cross-island anarcho-syndicalist federation of communes, eschewing petty nationalism, but you might fuck off and leave us to an eternal Tory nightmare after all. Only ourselves to blame if you do.
Perhaps my gingerism will allow me to sneak past the border and pass as a local so long as I keep my gob shut, if it comes to independence.
Am I missing something with the Economist/footy thing? Separate leagues and national sides already. Will an independent Scotland sue for the repatriation of all the red-nosed gruff fellas from former pit villages that seem to be the only type of British-born managers who can lead sides to success?
posted by Abiezer at 2:45 PM on May 4, 2007


After independence, England would have to negotiate rejoining the EU too.

That depends. It's unlikely, to be frank. And it's not as if we would hav any trouble being readmitted - English memebership is great for the EU.

Also, it's worth pointing out again that the UK is more than just Scotland and England - Wales and Northern Ireland should be remembered.
posted by WPW at 3:03 PM on May 4, 2007


Wales and Northern Ireland should be remembered.

Alternately the UK could be regorganised into "London" and "Other".
posted by Artw at 3:11 PM on May 4, 2007


To make a serious point, the post-election horse-trading will be interesting. If a coalition can succeed, it might hasten the day for PR to be tried in other UK elections.
posted by Abiezer at 3:16 PM on May 4, 2007


Alternately the UK could be regorganised into "London" and "Other".

I would be OK with that. "London" and "United Misc".

London actually has a political and cultutral tradition of separateness that renders it something of a state within a state. A many points in the history of this complicated little island, it has been close to independent. The City of London retains some quite unique feudal privileges - it's almost a self-governing republic-within-a-monarchy. We could opt out and the British capital could revert to Winchester ...

(I love the word "regorganised", by the way.)
posted by WPW at 3:25 PM on May 4, 2007


How sad and delusional is Blair?

...Labour, losing more than 460 seats, denied the result was a drubbing, and put it down to mid-term blues in a third term. In Wales Labour recorded its worst ever share of the vote of 32%, but lost only three seats, forcing the Labour Welsh leader, Rhodri Morgan, to seek a coalition pact with the Liberal Democrats.

Tony Blair, due to resign as party leader on Thursday, described his last electoral test as a perfectly good springboard to go on and win the next general election. ...

posted by amberglow at 5:41 PM on May 4, 2007


Well, amberglow, he didn't mean it's a springboard for him to win the next election, he meant for Brown. It's certainly not a good result for Labour, but it's less bad than some were predicting. We don't even know when the next election will be, and it's impossible to predict how well Labour will fare under Brown, so I would hold off before predicting Labour's election defeat.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 5:52 PM on May 4, 2007


I thought that Alex Salmond's remarks failed to make the most of his victory:

"There may be Labour governments and first ministers in decades still to come, never again will the Labour Party think it has a divine right to government."

He's now able to form a historic SNP government - if all he thinks the SNP is capable of is depriving Labour of the certain knowledge of near-absolute power, he's being quite modest.
posted by WPW at 6:05 PM on May 4, 2007


Weellll, sort of.

Ecstatic as I am that the SNP's "won" the election, the fact remains that Alec's eighteen votes short of a majority, and neither the Lib Dems nor the Tories are likely to talk to him, and neither has eighteen anyway.

If I'm betting money, it looks more like the new government will be the status quo ante with added Conservatives.

Unless the Lib Dems drop their rather offensive no-independence-referendum-ever stance, that is, in which case we get the lefty dream ticket of a SNP-LD-Green coalition with a working majority of 2 votes.

But if it's money I'm betting? Forces-of-Unionism FC.

Which would lead to a complete collapse in Liberal Democrat support down south and/or civil war in that party, but I digress.
posted by genghis at 7:17 PM on May 4, 2007


Genghis,

I agree a Labour and Conservative coalition is quite possible, but so is, in my opinion, the previously unthinkable Conservative SNP coalition.

Cameron who love to do it, though the fact that the Conervatives were formed at the beginning of last century to specifically defend the union, might be too much of a hurdle.

As Abiezer points out this would result in eternal Tory rule in the south.

The Tory SNP coalition probably won't happen, but either way, Brown will be forced to take some serious measures to
strengthen the Union, or the Labour party would be finished as a serious electoral force if independence does happen. Maybe Tony Blair shouldn't have been so quick to dismiss the Jenkin's Committee?

Also Salmond is wise in not being triumpalist as there are deals to be done. If he does form a coalition expect the tone of the rhetoric to change.
posted by johnny novak at 11:47 PM on May 4, 2007


But nothing's going to start happening with independence til 2010 or later and even that's iffy, no? Why won't the LibDems join? They could use the chance at power.

Blair already announced his resignation -- doesn't the general election have to be soon?
posted by amberglow at 1:23 PM on May 5, 2007


Blair already announced his resignation -- doesn't the general election have to be soon?

Nope, it just has to be held before June 2010. Brown is likely to be PM for a few years before the next general election. It's not like the American presidential system; there's no constitutional requirement for an election to be called if the Prime Minister resigns. In fact, the Prime Minister is appointed by Royal Prerogative — it's merely by convention that the leader of the majority party is always chosen as PM by the Queen. There's no constitutional problem with Blair resigning and Brown being elected as leader of the Labour party and becoming PM without an election.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 1:48 PM on May 5, 2007


oh, i didn't realize. It that kosher tho? Appointing instead of electing? Doesn't that just make people unhappier about Labor? (It's going over their heads, after all)
posted by amberglow at 2:15 PM on May 5, 2007


Yes, there's absolutely nothing wrong with it from a constitutional perspective. Chamberlain resigned in May 1940 and was replaced by Churchill without an election, and I'm sure there are numerous other examples. I think the convention in this situation is that the resigning PM recommends a successor to the monarch. As a constitutional monarch, the Queen should then appoint the outgoing PM's recommendation as the new PM. What's new about Blair's resignation is that it was known long in advance that he would go, without serving his full term.

As to whether it will damage Labour's credibility, I think it depends on Brown. Assuming he has a competent start to his premiership, I don't think there will be much of a problem.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 2:38 PM on May 5, 2007


Will a new election come soon, or will Labor stall it so they can build up support for Brown? They know how damaged they are, no?
posted by amberglow at 3:27 PM on May 5, 2007


Putting a new face on the same old thing is not really a help, is it?
posted by amberglow at 3:28 PM on May 5, 2007


As long as Labour have a majority in the House of Commons they get to choose the Prime Minister. Since the current house has an electoral mandate for another three years, there's no problem there. Blair wasn't elected either.
posted by cillit bang at 3:57 PM on May 5, 2007


People always talk about Britain as a 'constitutional' monarchy... but where's the constitution?
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:00 PM on May 5, 2007


Will a new election come soon, or will Labor stall it so they can build up support for Brown? They know how damaged they are, no?

There was speculation about Brown calling a snap election soon after his appointment. I doubt that will happen, especially after Labour's performance at the council elections, but anything is possible. The thing is, Brown is perceived quite differently from Blair. He's not nearly as associated with Bush and Iraq, and America in general, as Blair was. He's seen as less "New Labour" and slightly more left-wing. His image is serious, generally competent, and somewhat dour and un-stylish (not necessarily in a bad way); very unlike Blair and David Cameron.

Labour have some justification in regarding their current low popularity as a reflection on people's views of Blair rather than Labour as a whole. I, along with everyone else, have no idea what he has planned for his 'first hundred days' — he probably has a thing or two up his sleeve, like he did in 1997 when he granted the Bank of England independence on monetary policy (a huge decision which took everyone by surprise). I don't think it's impossible for Brown to avoid holding an election for a year or two, and then win it.

I suppose it rather depends on the opposition, though. The Lib Dems look set to descend into another bout of infighting soonish (or if not, stick with an uninspiring geriatric leader), which won't improve their electability. The Tories seem to have more or less got their act together, at least on the PR front, but I don't think anyone can predict with any certainty whether they, under Cameron, can beat Brown.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 4:05 PM on May 5, 2007


anotherpanacea, Britain doesn't have a written constitution like the USA, but it has conventions, which are notoriously tricky to pin down, and are a kind of glue that holds together the process of government. There are also written documents of constitutional character, such as the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights 1689, the Act of Settlement 1701, the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949, and even books by private legal theorists such as Dicey and Bagehot. The constitution is exceedingly opaque compared to the US Constitution, which is arguably bad, but at least there aren't as many arguments over its wording.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 5:38 AM on May 6, 2007


hoverboards- yeah, I know, I just think it's funny: we share a language but a lot of the words in that language mean drastically different things. The actual content of the constitution is especially difficult to pin down in situations where the executive wants to do something at odds with 'convention,' but is otherwise popular. Take habeas corpus: for Brits, it's just another statute, though old. For the US, it's woven into the warp and woof of state authority. That's why Thatcher made a more convincing totalitarian than Reagan, and why Bush is such an anomaly: his claims are literally absurd. The unitary executive theory is his 2 + 2 = 5.

/end ranting derail

Sorry about that. Anyway, I hope Scotland doesn't secede, but y'all sure do make some interesting points vis a vis the role of autonomy in the EU....
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:32 AM on May 6, 2007


thanks--is it only up to Brown to choose when the election is? It's weird to me that the people in power get to choose that (it's in their interest to time it well for them alone, no? or to delay when things are bad, or to propose legislation/programs timed to help them, etc)
posted by amberglow at 3:53 PM on May 7, 2007


is it only up to Brown to choose when the election is?

Yep! The last two general elections have been called a year early, but few seem to complain, and I guess in theory it could be a good thing that the electorate get to express their opinion more often than usual.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 3:42 AM on May 8, 2007


Parliament sits at the Queen's pleasure (or something like that), so she will always have the power to dissolve it at any time, and by constitutional convention she delegates such decisions to the Prime Minister. Each parliament has a maximum term of 5 years, so the only power the Prime Minister has is to dissolve it early, putting his job on the line. There's not much scope for abuse there.
posted by cillit bang at 8:58 AM on May 8, 2007


Has this Queen ever done that tho? I can't imagine she would.

If you had our GOP, this would have been abused all the time.
posted by amberglow at 11:34 AM on May 8, 2007


Doesn't allowing the majority to hold elections at their convenience prevent the opposition party from prepping correctly? In a sense that's a good policy decision, since it means Britain is spared the two year long presidential election cycle we've got in the US, but if I were in the minority, I think I might feel a bit thrown off target a lot of the time: elections called always when we were off balance, etc. in the same way, the majority could easily wait for scandals to blow over or for a particularly good news cycle to make them look good.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:49 AM on May 8, 2007


if I were in the minority, I think I might feel a bit thrown off target a lot of the time: elections called always when we were off balance, etc. in the same way, the majority could easily wait for scandals to blow over or for a particularly good news cycle to make them look good.

Yup. And their shorter election cycle makes it easier to ride good news for you or bad news for the opposition.
posted by amberglow at 12:07 PM on May 8, 2007


Has this Queen ever done that tho? I can't imagine she would.

She does it every time a general election is called. OTOH, if she did it without the Prime Minister asking, she'd likely be beheaded.

Elections are generally predictable a long time in advance and there's usually at least a month or two between the announcement and polling day, so it's pretty hard to surprise anyone. Also remember that the opposition chooses their candidate immediately after losing the last election (when the losing leader usually resigns), so they have all the time in the world to prepare.
posted by cillit bang at 12:39 PM on May 8, 2007


Elections don't really take anyone by surprise, given that they are likely to be called in the fifth year of government and very unlikely to be called in the winter months (there have only been two winter elections since 1945, both in February, and both were lost by the incumbent party). At the last election, there was about a month between the announcement and polling day, but everyone had known long beforehand the approximate date.

As for the government's ability to call an election when it wants, of course the ruling party exploits this as far as possible to its own benefit, but in the whole scheme of things it's not a big deal. It's probable that it slightly increases the ruling party's chances (though this has to be balanced against the natural unpopularity of the government after five years), but a bit of stability and continuity is not necessarily a bad thing.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 2:50 PM on May 8, 2007


I don't know--was Major helped by the timing of the election called then? It is more common to have continuity of party power or change? (i'm thinking how it went Thatcher to Major, and now they want it to go Blair to Brown)
posted by amberglow at 1:33 PM on May 9, 2007


I don't know about Major being helped by timing the 1992 election. As I said, it's an effect that is very slight. By all accounts, it's a miracle he won it, and it has to be said that Labour lost it rather than the Tories winning it.

If you look at the Wikipedia list you can see the succession of PMs and the extent of continuity and change. The situation with Blair/Brown isn't really the same as Thatcher/Major. Firstly, Brown is probably the second most well-known politician in the country, whereas John Major was pretty anonymous prior to (and perhaps, even after) his appointment as PM. Second, I don't think the government in general is as unpopular today as Thatcher's was in the early 90s. People may be pretty sick of Blair, and pretty angry about Iraq, but compared to the Tories in the 80's, I think people are far less angry with the government about domestic issues. The economy is in the longest period of growth ever, Northern Ireland is in a better state than ever before, unemployment is low, there aren't any strikes, there isn't a poll tax etc etc. Obviously things aren't perfect, but I think the situation is quite different now from how it was in the early 90s.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 2:52 PM on May 9, 2007


That chart is interesting--it does show continuity for the most part. Thanks!

We'll see i guess...
posted by amberglow at 7:32 PM on May 9, 2007


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