UK-wide political parties and proportional representation

snp westminster photo
Photo by Ninian Reid

Northern Ireland developed their own political parties a long time ago, and Scotland is now going down the same route – for the past three years, the majority of Scottish MPS have been from a party that is limited to Scotland.

In a federal country using proportional representation, that wouldn’t be a problem. It would be normal to form coalitions including non-federal parties, not least because it would be rare for one party to gain a majority of its own. For instance, in Germany the Bavarian CSU routinely forms part of CDU-led governments.

In the UK, however, the first-past-the-post system used for Westminster elections means that coalitions are the exceptions rather than the rule. As a result, there is a tendency not to listen to the other parties, and there’s a resistance to working out compromises. This is why the Lib Dems suffered so badly electorally as a result of their coalition with the Tories – they were basically seen by most voters as a human shield protecting the Conservatives, and who in their right mind would vote for that?

The dominance of one-party governments means that UK politics is to a large extent focused on consensus-building and deal-making within parties rather than between them. In other countries, parties tend to split if the internal differences get too big, but in the UK it’s seen as near-certain political suicide, and so most people remain within a party and try to change it from within.

The result, however, is that Northern Irish and now increasingly Scottish viewpoints are getting ignored. It’s simply much easier for English and Welsh politicians to ignore the two other constituent parts of the UK if their MPs mainly belong to other parties; if they had been their fellow party members, they would have had to take their views into account from time to time.

To make matters worse, the remaining Unionist MPs from Scotland are now more British than they’re Scottish, and they’re really afraid to fight Scotland’s corner in case they get accused of not being Unionist enough. It’s not like the old days (before the Scottish Parliament was created), when Scottish politicians from the main UK parties were very happy to threaten with voting for independence if they didn’t get their own way.

We see the consequences every day. Scotland is routinely getting ignored, and nobody seems to care.

In theory the SNP could disband and collectively join one or more of the Unionist parties, trying to go back to the times when Scottish politicians were central figures at Westminster. I’m not sure it would work, though, due to the EVEL rules that to a large extent have demoted Scottish MPs. We could then abolish the Scottish Parliament, too, but that would be disastrous in so many other ways.

Fortunately there’s a much simpler and better solution: Scottish (and perhaps Welsh) independence (and Irish reunification). In that case Westminster could concentrate on doing what it does best: being the Parliament of England.

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