An independent Scotland’s political parties could be very different – Helen Martin

Would the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour keep their UK party titles if Scotland became an independent country or come up with new names and principles, wonders Helen Martin.

By Helen Martin
Monday, 7th September 2020, 7:30 am
Nicola Sturgeon can be aggressive when answering MSPs’ questions, but at least she delivers full answers (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire)
Nicola Sturgeon can be aggressive when answering MSPs’ questions, but at least she delivers full answers (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire)

IT was 1834 when Great Britain’s Conservative party was formed, hugely involved with the running of the British Empire. A quarter of a century after that, the Liberal Party emerged in 1859 and became its main opposition. And it was 1900 when Labour was constructed from the trades union movements and a few socialist parties. The Empire didn’t start to significantly break down until after World War II.

Today the world is a different place, almost a different planet. But are these parties still locked in history, still with their first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system?

Watching the question times of the Prime Minister and the First Minister, from a rather more modern party and in a parliament with a modern EU-type election process, shows how differently they operate.

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Our Scottish d’Hondt election system with List members makes a vast majority, ruling government almost impossible. Negotiation and support is necessary, right now from the Greens. But when Nicola Sturgeon is asked a question even from her opposition parties – she can growl and return aggression if necessary, but she delivers full answers, sometimes agrees with their point, and explains if and how she is dealing with the issue. That’s modern politics.

The UK PM has such a huge majority with the ancient FPTP system, he can just insult and dismiss a question, unless it’s from his own party.

If the SNP and independence polls keep rising and win in May, and we leave the UK within the next couple of years, it’s fascinating to consider, even superficially, how our government and MSPs will change the way they work.

Will Tory, Labour and Lib Dem MSPs still stand as candidates for an independent government? I assume so. There would, of course, while heading back into the EU, be debates about how, in the single market, we would also be negotiating our trade with rUK regarding our and their products, and working hard to set up a good neighbour relationship. But unionism would be gone, obliterated. So current “unionist” parties would then have to become genuinely Scottish and a part of the European Union.

They’d have to develop a new identity, but what would that be? From the old days (generalisation, of course) Conservatives represented the comfortably off and rich, Labour stood for the poor and lower-grade workers, and Liberals took the middle ground.

Now Tories, Labour and Lib Dems still have right-wing, left-wing and “middling” principles, but feel they can represent everyone, like the SNP.

However, as MSPs they spend most of their time in the current Scottish Government campaigning for the UK’s superiority, obeying Westminster bosses and on a mission to oppose independence.

Could they keep those UK party titles? Would they each come up with a new party name, new policies and principles? Will they discover some “purpose” to oppose each other and the SNP so that each party is defined with followers? Or would they (surely not) just go on campaigning for the UK and Brexit again.

Is it possible they would all stand down as unionists, and refuse to stand for a seat in independent Holyrood? That would be really foolish, ditching their careers.

Besides, playing their cards right is crucial because if independence is achieved, even the SNP know they won’t remain with the highest vote for ever. Other Scottish parties can eventually lead the government, deal with the EU, boost the economy and run the country.

All this is guess-work, questions and imagination. Is there a political fortune teller out there? Or wouldn’t it be interesting if Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems shared their plans for political careers in an independent Scotland?

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