Saturday 7 May 2011

Ruling Britannia - just say no

There was an election to Scotland's devolved (autonomous) parliament on Thursday and, though it pains me greatly to even think about it, it was won handsomely by the Scottish National Party - that's the lot that want Scotland to become fully independent of the United Kingdom which  I don't approve of.

The new political map of Scotland - SNP is yellow.
The SNP's win can legitimately be called a landslide in that they've even managed to win a majority of the seats in the Scottish Parliament (since 2007 they've been governing as a minority administration) in an electoral system designed to make it very hard for any party to gain an outright majority. They got 45% of the popular vote and 69 out of the 129 seats in Parliament, up 23 from last time.

Of course, there will now be no living with their leader, the unbearably smug Alex Salmon pictured above boarding his campaign helicopter (dubbed "Saltire One" by the media) to fly off to a presidential style victory accolade on the lawn of a hotel in Edinburgh yesterday afternoon.

There is inevitably renewed talk of a referendum on Scottish independence in the course of this parliament. (There was talk of it in the last parliament too but it was shelved due to recession etc. - very much a case of every cloud, say I.) But console yourself by recalling the SNP only won 45% of the vote on Thursday and not everyone who votes SNP believes in independence. So we're a bit away from Scotland seceding from the United Kingdom yet. I hope.

On the subject of referendums, there was one on Thursday, throughout the UK, on changing the UK electoral system. At present, it's very simple - the candidate with the most votes in a constituency (area of the country which sends a member to parliament) wins: he/she doesn't need a majority and could be elected with just, say, 20% of the vote if the next man got 19%. And what's more nobody else gets into parliament to make up for this lack of majority.. (I'm talking here about our "lower house", the House of Commons. Our other house, the House of Lords - our Senate - is not elected.)

This system tends to favour the two biggest political parties, Labour (centre left) and Conservative (centre right) who win disproportionately large numbers of seats in parliament compared to their percentage of the national vote. This is at the expense of smaller parties like the Liberal Democrats (centre centre) and Greens. And because it's effectively a two horse race, British elections usually produce a majority in parliament for one of the big two. Hence the Lib Dems, as Britain's perpetual third party, are always banging on about changing the electoral system.

So, when the 2010 election, unusually, produced no majority for Labour or Conservative, the Lib Dems made it a condition of entering the coalition with the Cons that there be a referendum on changing the voting system to something called "Alternative Vote" - God knows what it is or how it works but it's something a bit more like proportional representation and designed to match the seats won in parliament a bit more closely to the parties' shares of the national vote.

And I'm very pleased to say the result was that the British public (God bless 'em!) rejected any change by a margin of 2 to 1. This is a very satisfactory consolation prize for the SNP having won in Scotland.

Politics is a frightful enough business as it is and any move towards more coalitions, involving even more compromising and cutting deals instead of just saying "We've got a majority and this is what we're going to do and if you don't like it you can vote us out in 5 years time", is a bad thing as far as I'm concerned.

The loss of the AV referendum has left the Lib Dems and it's strangely eye-browed leader, the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg looking a right pillock to put it mildly.

There's a paradox about Lib Dem voters. A lot of them have slagged off hapless little Clegg for the compromises he made on LD policies to join the coalition with the Conservatives. This is reckoned to have cost them a lot of votes in the Scottish election with a lot of their voters having defected to the SNP. But making compromises is part and parcel of being in a coalition. It's routine in many European countries e.g. Germany which has an endless succession of coalitions and political parties' manifestoes are more in the nature of wish lists rather than pledges. We Brits are just not used to that which is the norm elsewhere. Electoral reform (= greater likelihood of coalitions and all that that implies) is a central plank of LD policy so why do their supporters have a go at Cleggy when he does what has to be done to enter into one? WTF?

Anyway, it's all academic now considering we've voted a resounding "No" to changing the system. And we know what we'll be voting in the next referendum (Scottish independence), don't we?

If the prospect of never having to see that fat smirking face again isn't enough to make you vote "No" then I don't know what is.