Why Tory and Labour parties face an election nightmare – Ian Swanson

Scots suffering from voter fatigue are unlikely to find any relief in 2019, writes Ian Swanson.
There could be not one but two elections this year. Picture: Greg MacveanThere could be not one but two elections this year. Picture: Greg Macvean
There could be not one but two elections this year. Picture: Greg Macvean

THIS was meant to be the second year in a row when voters in Scotland would be spared any elections – but because of the chaos around Brexit we could suddenly now be faced with having to go to the polls not just once but twice.

If MPs maintain their refusal to pass Theresa May’s deal and she asks the EU for a delay to the UK’s departure beyond April 12, European leaders have already made clear agreement would be conditional on the UK taking part in the European Parliament elections.

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And as Westminster struggles to come up with any solution to the impasse over how or whether to implement Brexit, pundits say a general election is becoming ever more likely – even if it’s not clear that it would make any difference to the stalemate.

Neither election is likely to be welcomed by Scots who made a total of ten trips to the polls within seven years, starting with the general election in 2010, Holyrood in 2011, council elections in 2012, European elections and the independence referendum in 2014, another general election in 2015, Holyrood and the EU referendum in 2016 and the council and general elections in 2017.

European Parliament elections typically see very poor turnouts – in 2014, just 33.5 per cent in Scotland. But ironically, elections which usually most people barely know are happening are now about to become the source of outrage and a symbol of “betrayal” for many who say they should not be electing representatives to Brussels three years after the vote to leave the EU.

And there are fears of a backlash, with angry voters choosing extremist anti-EU candidates when the election is held on May 23.

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It’s not clear how soon any general election might be held. Thanks to the Fixed Term Parliament Act it is no longer just up to the Prime Minister to announce an election – MPs have to vote for it. It could come about either through two-thirds of MPs backing a move by Mrs May to hold an election or through a vote of no confidence in the Government – which has to be confirmed by a second vote 14 days later.

Mrs May has tried a snap election before, of course, and it did not give her the result she wanted. Arguably the hung parliament it produced and her dependence on the DUP is why we are where we are. But would another election really help to sort things out? It is difficult to believe Mrs May could lead the party into an election having indicated she will be standing down before long. Yet choosing a new Tory leader would take some time, perhaps putting an election off until the autumn.

A weekend opinion poll suggested a five-point lead for Labour – though the party would still fall short of a majority of seats. Jeremy Corbyn and his party did far better in 2017 than most people predicted but commentators point out that with the Government in such chaos Labour should really have a far bigger lead.

And there is the inescapable fact that both the Conservatives and Labour are split over Brexit. So what would the parties’ platforms be in the election? Could they possibly produce any coherent policies on Brexit and the UK’s future relations with Europe which their MPs and candidates could sign up to?

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As usual with Brexit, there seem to be lots more questions than answers.