Saturday, 9 May 2015

Thoughts on the General Election

A map showing the outcome of the 2015 UK general election.
Thursday 7th May 2015 was a significant day for the United Kingdom. After five years of government by a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, the British people had the opportunity to decide who would govern the nation for the next five years. It was a tense campaign; the major parties, the Conservatives and Labour, were neck and neck right up to the last minute, and all involved predicted that we would once again end up with a hung parliament- meaning another coalition government. The Conservatives sternly warned of the dangers of a Labour government propped up by the left-wing separatist Scottish National Party, whilst on the other side of the fence the Left flagged up the possibility of a Conservative-led government backed by the United Kingdom Independence Party and the Democratic Unionist Party, both well to the right of the UK's political spectrum. So everyone was shocked when exit polls predicted that the Conservatives would do much better than previously expected. What completely blew commentators out of the water was that the Conservatives actually did even better than the exit polls suggested, winning, against all odds, a majority of the Commons- albeit a small one.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg
resigned after his party's annihilation
at the polls on Thursday
And so the next day, David Cameron was able to walk into Buckingham Palace with a swagger in his step, and inform Her Majesty the Queen he was ready to form a new government. Labour's leader, Ed Miliband, soon announced his resignation, Labour HQ having admitted during the night that everyone had already accepted that he had no other choice. The real losers, however, were the Liberal Democrats- having alienated their core voters by allying with the Tories and abandoning their core pledge to vote against any rise in tuition fees, they were reduced to a measly 8 seats, with a lower proportion of the overall vote than UKIP. Despite holding his own seat, LibDem leader Nick Clegg also resigned. Despite massive gains for his party, UKIP's Nigel Farage, too, resigned as party leader, as he promised he would should he fail to win the South Thanet constituency where he was running against Conservative Craig Mackinlay, ironically a former UKIP member himself. Farage did, however, suggest he might "throw his hat in" for re-election as UKIP's leader, showing he's not prepared to give up the reigns of power just yet. At any rate, despite receiving 12.6% of the vote- coming third after the Tories and Labour- UKIP ended up with only one seat as a consequence of the UK's first past the post electoral system.

Nicola Sturgeon replaced
Alex Salmond as SNP leader
 after the nationalists
lost the 2014 referendum
on independence.
Scotland, meanwhile, was swept by the SNP. Despite receiving only 4.7% of the national (UK-wide) vote, they won 58 seats, taking virtually the whole of Scotland. For unionists hoping that they had cut the head off the beast in the 2014 referendum, the result is depressing. On Friday morning, former SNP leader Alex Salmond was quoted as saying that "the Scottish lion has roared this morning across the country." With England and much of Wales a sea of Tory blue with a handful of islands of Labour red, and Scotland turned the SNP's bright yellow, it's easy to fear for the future of the United Kingdom; the political divide north and south of the border seems greater than ever. Today Salmond declared he would see Scottish independence in his lifetime, despite the 2014 referendum being trumpeted as a "once in a generation opportunity." But Salmond may be talking too soon. The SNP may have swept Scotland's seats, but they won only around 50% of Scotland's vote; a spectacular triumph, true, but hardly overwhelming evidence that Scots have changed their mind on independence. Nicola Sturgeon remains tight-lipped on the possibility of another referendum. One more referendum may be around the corner, however- one on the UK's continued membership of the European Union, one of the Tories' flagship promises in their manifesto, and a commitment reiterated by David Cameron in his victory speech yesterday.

Ultimately, it is clear this election will be remembered as a significant event in British political history; the best ever result for a separatist party in British politics, a totally unexpected majority for the Conservatives, and quite possibly the beginning of the run-up to the UK's first referendum on our role in Europe since 1975. The latter is all the more significant because euroscepticism is so much weaker north of the border. There are fears that, if the UK as a whole voted in favour of leaving the EU, the stridently pro-European SNP would seek to take Scotland out of Europe in order to remain an EU member state. But if we look at the actual results from this last general election, it becomes clear the SNP's gains aren't so significant as they appear. There remains hope for unionists that our United Kingdom can be saved, and it now falls to David Cameron to keep the promises made to the Scottish people after the 2014 referendum. If Cameron fails to keep his word, it may spell the end of Great Britain as a nation. But if Westminster fulfills its promises, there might yet be a chance that the nationalist hydra can be slain for once and for all.

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