Brussels on the Leith

It seems that the coming election is all about clawing back to Westminster those sovereign powers that have been allowed to slip away to unaccountable foreigners. In Brussels, and in Edinburgh. After fighting to convince the Scots that they really were, and by rights ought to remain, an integral part of the UK, the Conservatives have now made the danger of pernicious Scottish influence the centrepiece of their campaign. It’s no coincidence, really, since the informal alliance between Scotland and the EU was an important issue in the independence campaign, and will certainly revive calls for independence if the Conservatives are able to follow through on their threat to withdraw Britain from the EU.

As a non-native, I have no emotional attachment to the union or to the particular nationalisms, but I do wish they would make up their minds. “English votes for English laws” is the latest Tory slogan. That would be easily accomplished by creating a devolved parliament for England, which would turn the UK into a logically structured federal state. For whatever reason, that seems to be unthinkable, or at least unspeakable. Instead, they want to keep the Scottish MPs in a combined national and English parliament, but only allow them to vote on certain bills, creating a dangerous (but perhaps convenient for some) ambiguity about which MPs can form a majority, and hence a government.

I wonder if any of the people who helped defeat the referendum a few years back on a partial move toward proportional representation has any regrets now. It used to be that the first-past-the-post system was praised for providing clear parliamentary majorities and a stable balance of two major parties, as opposed to the silly continentals with their every-shifting coalitions of splinter parties. In fact, the system rewards, up to limits, geographic concentration of support. According to the most recent polls, Labour and Conservatives are each expected to get about 33% of the votes, and about 42% of the seats. So far so good for the “stable-large-party” doctrine. But the small parties receive very unequal treatment among themselves. The Liberal Democrats are projected to garner 8% of the votes and 4% of the seats. UKIP, a new party with broad but geographically diffuse support, is projected to snag 14% of the votes, but only 3 seats, or 0.5%. The SNP, with 4% of the votes, are expected to get 8% of the seats, essentially all of the MPs representing the 8% of the population who live in Scotland. The Greens, also with 4% of the votes, will be lucky to hold on to their single MP (out of 650 total).

So I wonder if, amid all this fragmentation, people are wondering if people are reconsidering the wisdom of Britain’s indirect approach to promoting large, broad-based parties, that is no longer really accomplishing its goal, but is unintentionally promoting regional-parties.

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