Thursday, May 13, 2010

And then I woke up and smelt the...

A Conservative and Unionist party roars to power, with not only a proud British patriot leader but also MPs elected from every corner of the nation. The SNP, Plaid Cymru, DUP, SDLP, Sinn Fein smitten to the four winds and...and then Ms O’Neill asked me if I wanted marmalade with my toast. The Unionist utopian daydream crashed with a vengeance early last Friday morning; no Conservative and Unionist majority, a grand total of one MP returned from Scotland and Northern Ireland combined and an anti-UK nationalism, if not not exactly resurgent then most certainly not ready quite yet to receive its last rites.

Reality nearly took an even more ugly turn on Monday with rumours of a Coalition of the Losers, Nats and Nuts that, in the unlikely event of its survival, would have given the Union such a kicking that it may well have ended up in intensive care (if it was lucky) struggling for survival. It didn’t happen and for that small mercy, I guess we should be grateful.

So, what have we ended up with. A Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, consisting of MPs from three corners of the nation (unless you consider Long as Lib Dem which since she quite clearly doesn’t, you shouldn’t either), facing off a resentful, yet hopeful opposition of Labour and nationalists, not just at Westminster but in the three devolved parts of the UK. On the plus side, the governing parties do carry a clear majority of English MPs and with the Lib Dems having a reasonable presence in Scotland and the Conservatives in Wales, that means the old “democratic deficit” whinge doesn’t ring as true as it might have done. Northern Ireland, as per usual (unfortunately) is another question, which I’ll deal with in a separate post.

I reckon a reasonably Unionist-friendly government and state of affairs and following on from that, I think two questions are going to dominate this parliament from a Unionist point of view.

Firstly, how the inevitable budget cuts are going to be handled in those three parts of the UK where the government has a minority of MPs. Every part of the nation has rights and responsibilities and a part of those responsibilities is to bear its share of the bad (as well as enjoying the good) times- that is an unapologetic Unionist statement. There will be a heavy duty on Unionists in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales to counter the inevitable flood of criticism and no doubt, black propaganda that our opponents will be very soon employing. Conservatives and Unionists presently dozing in Northern Ireland and Scotland, in particular, need to wake up and give themselves a serious shake because there is one a hell of a battle ahead.

Secondly, constitutional affairs: devolution, the "English Question", PR, House of Lords, fixed terms etc etc. Unionists in and outside parliament need to be fully aware of the challenges and threats ahead. I won’t go into them now (partly because it involves a fair bit of both research and crystal ball gazing) but I’ll leave you with just one example. Prior to the election I looked at *Unionist* credentials of the Conservative and Labour manifestoes. I omitted the Lib Dems basically because I thought (probably unwisely as it turns out) that there wasn’t much chance of it ever coming to fruition and secondly because, unlike the Conservatives generally and Labour specifically in Scotland, if you had to think of 5 distinguishing features of the party, Unionism wouldn’t be one of them. They do like the thought of meddling constitutionally though; in their manifesto, they have promised to:

“address the status of England within a federal Britain, through the Constitutional Convention set up to draft a written constitution for the UK as a whole."
Not saying obviously it’s 100% going to happen, just pointing out that we, for the first time ever I believe, now have a governing party believing in a federal UK. And with that sobering thought, time for me, I think, to mangle slightly New Hampshire’s motto:

"Eternal vigilance is the price of the Union".


andrewg said...

we now have a governing party believing in a federal UK

And about time too. Federalism at least provides a solid basis for the relationship between the constituent parts and the centre. Contrast that with the idiosyncratic (and constantly changing) differences in power and status of the three devolved assemblies that we have now.

O'Neill said...

I wont disagree with you about the constitutional vandalism devolution has wrought on the UK but not a big fan of federalism either: