A “Yes” vote in the Scottish Independence Referendum would radically reshape politics on both sides of the British border — and it’s now looking like it might happen.
Until recently, the “No” campaign enjoyed a comfortable lead in the polls. Few people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland fully appreciated the impact that a Yes vote could have on the face of British politics. As that lead is fast evaporating, perhaps it is time they did.
If Scotland leaves Britain, it will reshape Britain completely, turning it into a country with virtually permanent Conservative Party control of the government in Westminster.
Yet another poll released Monday showed the Yes and No campaigns are neck and neck heading into the final stretch before the September 18th vote. It provides further support to findings in previous polls showing the pro-independence camp gaining momentum and will no doubt continue to weigh on financial markets, which have finally woken up to the risk of breaking up the union. The pound is already being sold off in international currency markets.
With the prospect of an independent Scotland looming ever larger left-leaning voters in Britain also have something to worry about, however. A vote to break up the union would see the Labour Party lose its 41 Scottish MPs, meaning the hurdle for the party to gain and maintain a majority could be about to get much higher.
To put this problem in perspective: Of the 11 Labour-led administrations since the 1920s, only six would have been likely without Scottish MPs. Indeed without Scotland, Labour could have been in power only once in the first half of the century.
The implications for the future balance of politics in the rest of the UK if Scotland leaves is stark. As Anatole Kaletsky makes clear in his latest column for Reuters:
Whether or not [Prime Minister David] Cameron could survive defeat in the referendum, a huge constitutional challenge would loom in May 2015, when a general election must be held in the U.K. as a whole. Scottish independence would shatter the democratic legitimacy of whatever government emerged from this election. If Labour won a majority, its victory would depend on Scottish MPs due to be expelled from Westminster at the end of the independence negotiations in 2016 or 2017. A Labour-led government elected next year would therefore have no democratic mandate.
The loss of the majority pro-European Scots would also put pressure on future Conservative governments to put Britain’s membership of the European Union to the popular vote, one that ever louder eurosceptics voices within the party would be confident of winning. Not only could this threaten Britain’s commercial interests, which would do little to improve the country’s worrying trade deficit, but it might also be taken as a signal of a broader isolationist approach to global affairs.
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