There may be a positive to a Scottish Yes vote for the rest of the UK. Photo: Getty
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If Scotland votes Yes, will there be a silver lining for the rest of the UK?

 Scottish independence negotiations could give the rest of the UK something like the civic conversation that Scotland is currently enjoying.

Responding to polls showing gains for the Yes campaign in Scotland, some MPs have suggested postponing the general election to 2016 in the event of a vote for Scottish independence. In reality, there is much more scope for change – and the mischief of suggesting change – than just extending the life of this parliament by a year.

The first issue that the UK government will face, if the result is Yes, is whether to assert that it is, in terms of public international law, the “continuator state”. As such, it would retain its current international status and institutions. This is by far the most likely outcome and it is, for example, what Russia did on the break-up of the Soviet Union.

However, a large number of backbench MPs aren’t that enamoured of some of the UK’s international obligations, whether as a member state of the EU or as a signatory to the European Convention of Human Rights. Theoretically, it would be possible for the UK to throw all of these up in the air by declaring that it is going to become a new state on the secession of Scotland. It’s Brexit by the back door, shedding the influence of the Strasbourg human rights court at a stroke.

Obviously this would be an act of momentous chutzpah and it’s laden with risk – for example, the new UK might be unlikely to regain a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. In the meantime, UK financial markets will probably crash. However, it’s not inconceivable that some MPs will suggest the idea in the excitement following a Yes vote.

More seriously, there is a big question about the role of the UK government and parliament in relation to Scotland during negotiations over independence. Alistair Carmichael, the Secretary of State for Scotland, has suggested that the UK government would no longer seek to act on behalf of the Scottish people immediately following a vote for independence. The logic of this is obvious: it is hard to see how the UK government would feel legitimate making any significant decision about Scotland when independence is merely months away.

To avoid decisions for Scotland resting in limbo, one possibility, recommended by the House of Lords select committee on the constitution, is that the UK parliament quickly passes legislation to transfer further powers to Scotland. This in turn begs a further question. If all significant decisions about Scotland, other than, say, defence, are effectively devolved by the end of this year, then why should Scottish MPs still have the right to vote at Westminster? There may be an agreement that they recuse themselves from all votes and that may clear the way for the Conservatives to govern alone for the rest of this Parliament. After all, without Scottish MPs voting, they would have a majority, albeit a tiny one, even without the Liberal Democrats. Sensing that prospect, the clamour for a May 2016 general election on the Conservative benches may grow.

More than that partisan interest there is a broader argument to be made that the outcome of a negotiation with Scotland should receive some form of popular mandate from the remaining UK. All in all the more formality around the negotiation process the better. The Lords Constitution Committee has recommended that the negotiating team is set up with a mandate from the UK parliament and that it is cross-party – and perhaps even broader – in its composition. A negotiation conducted only by representatives from the UK government is not appropriate to the task in hand, the outcomes of which will echo through the ages.

Putting those to a vote in a general election might even give the rest of the UK something like the civic conversation that Scotland is enjoying during the referendum campaign. Certainly it would prompt wider questions about the distribution of political and economic power across the rest of the UK. Delaying the general election to 2016 will look like putting off an electoral reckoning for the coalition; but it might also give us something very exciting to vote on.

Emran Mian is the director of Social Market Foundation

Emran Mian is director of the Social Market Foundation

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The Tory-DUP deal has left Scotland and Wales seething

It is quite something to threaten the Northern Irish peace process and set the various nations of the UK at loggerheads with merely one act.

Politics in the UK is rarely quite this crude, or this blatant. The deal agreed between the Conservatives and Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party has – finally – been delivered. But both the deal and much of the opposition to it come with barely even the pretence of principled behaviour.

The Conservatives are looking to shore up their parliamentary and broader political position after a nightmare month. The DUP deal gives the Tories some parliamentary security, and some political breathing space. It is not yet clear what they as a party will do with this – whether, for instance, there will be an attempt to seek new leadership for the party now that the immediate parliamentary position has been secured.

But while some stability has been achieved, the deal does not provide the Tories with much additional strength. Indeed, the DUP deal emphasises their weakness. To finalise the agreement the government has had to throw money at Northern Ireland and align with a deeply socially conservative political force. At a stroke, the last of what remained of the entire Cameron project – the Conservative’s rebuilt reputation as the better party for the economy and fiscal stability, and their development as a much more socially inclusive and liberal party – has been thrown overboard.

Read more: Theresa May's magic money tree is growing in Northern Ireland

For the DUP, the reasoning behind the deal is as obvious as it is for the Conservatives. The DUP has maximised the leverage that the parliamentary arithmetic gives it. As a socially conservative and unionist party, it has absolutely no wish to see Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street. But it has kept the Conservatives waiting, and used the current position to get as good a deal as possible. Why should we expect it to do anything else? Still, it is hardly seemly for votes to be bought quite so blatantly.

The politics behind much of the criticism of the deal has been equally obvious. Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones – representing not only the Labour party, but also a nation whose relative needs are at least as great as those of the six counties – abandoned his normally restrained tone to describe the deal as a "bung" for Northern Ireland. Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was also sharply critical of the deal’s lack of concern for financial fairness across the UK. In doing so, she rather blithely ignored the fact that the Barnett Formula, out of which Scotland has long done rather well, never had much to do with fairness anyway. But we could hardly expect the Scottish National Party First Minister to do anything but criticise both the Conservatives and the current functioning of the UK.

Beyond the depressingly predictable short-term politics, the long-term consequences of the Tory-DUP deal are much less foreseeable. It is quite something to threaten the integrity of the Northern Irish peace process and set the various nations of the UK at loggerheads with merely one act. Perhaps everything will work out OK. But it is concerning that, for the current government, short-term political survival appears all-important, even at potential cost to the long-term stability and integrity of the state.

But one thing is clear. The political unity of the UK is breaking down. British party politics is in retreat, possibly even existential decay. This not to say that political parties as a whole are in decline. But the political ties that bind across the UK are.

The DUP deal comes after the second general election in a row where four different parties have come first in the four nations of the UK, something which had never happened before 2015. But perhaps even more significantly, the 2017 election was one where the campaigns across the four nations were perhaps less connected than ever before.

Of course, Northern Ireland’s party and electoral politics have long been largely separate from those on the mainland. But Ulster Unionist MPs long took the Tory whip at Westminster. Even after that practice ceased in the 1970s, some vestigial links between the parties remained, while there were also loose ties between the Social Democratic and Labour Party and Labour. But in 2017, both these Northern Irish parties had their last Commons representation eliminated.

In Scotland, 2017 saw the SNP lose some ground; the main unionist parties are, it seems, back in the game. But even to stage their partial comeback, the unionist parties had to fight – albeit with some success – on the SNP’s turf, focusing the general election campaign in Scotland heavily around the issue of a potential second independence referendum.

Even in Wales, Labour’s 26th successive general election victory was achieved in a very different way to the previous 25. The party campaigned almost exclusively as Welsh Labour. The main face and voice of the campaign was Carwyn Jones, with Jeremy Corbyn almost invisible in official campaign materials. Immediately post-election, Conservatives responded to their failure by calling for the creation of a clear Welsh Conservative leader.

Read more: Did Carwyn Jones win Wales for Labour  - or Jeremy Corbyn?

Yet these four increasingly separate political arenas still exist within one state. The UK was always an odd entity: what James Mitchell astutely termed a "state of unions", with the minority nations grafted on in distinct and even contradictory ways to the English core. The politics of the four nations are drifting apart, yet circumstances will still sometimes mean that they have to intersect. In the current instance, the parliamentary arithmetic means the Tories having to work with a party that celebrates a form of "Britishness" viewed increasingly with baffled incomprehension, if not outright revulsion, by the majority of Conservatives, even, on the British mainland. In turn, the Tories and other parties, as well as the news-media, are having to deal with sudden relevance of a party whose concerns and traditions they understand very little of.

Expect more of this incomprehension, not less, in the post-2017 general election world. 

Roger Scully is Professor of Political Science in the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University.

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