British General Election

Continuity and Change: the rise of the SNP new order and the day after

The general election result of May 7th took by storm politicians and pundits alike. In the early hours of the closing of polls when the first exit poll was made public, nobody could and did not want to believe the impending result.

Such was the surprise for both winners and losers that their statements showed a great deal of disbelief. Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of the SNP, did predict a good result for her party but she was extremely cautious about exit poll findings predicting that the SNP would win all but one seat in Scotland (SNP won all but three seats). On a more amusing note Paddy Ashdown the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, stated live on BBC that if the exit poll which predicted his party’s wipe-out all over the country was right he would ‘publicly eat my hat on your programme’. A few hours later the exit poll was confirmed and Paddy Ashdown was given a chocolate hat to eat!

Are there real winners and losers in this election? At the moment, there is only one outright winner; the Scottish National Party (SNP) that won a historic landslide victory in Scotland. Though in actual numbers the SNP MPs cannot make a significance difference, as they only comprise 9% of the seats in Parliament, their ‘descend’ to London has already signified the turn of a new leaf in the British political order. From ‘Clappinggate’[1] to suggestions for the introduction of federal options for government, the new SNP MPs are already making their presence felt in the House of Commons. But what exactly has changed and what are the significant changes that are anticipated in the next five years?

First, SNP is now the third largest party in the UK having won 50% of the votes across Scotland. The nationalist party ended Labour’s centenary domination in Scotland and changed the balance of power in British politics. It is widely acknowledged that if SNP cement its electoral power in Scotland in the years to come, then it will be getting harder and harder for the Labour party to win a majority of seats in the Commons.

Second, the Westminster government is left with no other option but to hasten the process of devolving more and greater powers to Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland. The Prime Minister has already met with the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon to discuss the devolution of more powers to the Scottish parliament while the Queen’s Speech confirmed the government’s plans to also devolve more powers to Wales and Northern Ireland. On election night some commentators went as far as to argue that the rise of the SNP would lead to the breakdown of the Union. This might seem like a stretched scenario but the reality is that the British model of government, the Westminster model of government, will never be the same again; Britain has already started the move away from the unitary model and the 2015 election could possible speed up the process of federalization.

Britain’s EU membership is the third area upon which the impact of the SNP’s electoral success will become significant. On May 27th, the Queen formally announced that Britain will hold an in/out referendum (on its EU membership) before 2017. The English euroscepticism and the Conservatives’ hostility towards the country’s European Union membership are not shared north of the border. SNP officials have made clear that the interests of Scotland are within the EU and recently they suggested that each of the four UK nations should have a veto over UK’s EU membership referendum result. A suggestion that the Prime Minister refused but which nonetheless denotes a change in thinking especially as the role and impact of the other nations on decision-making is increasing.

British politics is changing in ways that could not have been anticipated even a few years ago. The 2015 general election produced the most diverse parliament in almost a century. And though we are yet to see what the future of this government will be, it is the changing composition of parliament with the largest number of nationalist, women and ethnic minority MPs that will give a new perspective to the way politics are conducted in the UK.

Chrysa Lamprinakou

This article originally appeared on greeklish.info.

[1] SNP MPs ignored suggestions that it is unparliamentary to clap in the Commons Chamber, and exacerbated the Speaker John Bercow.


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