The Disunited Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland


Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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46 Responses

  1. Avatar greginak says:

    Cameron has a lot of hard choices ahead of him. If he governs has a strong Tory that runs a serious risk of pushing the Scots out. Of course is he bows to somethings the Scots want his people will be pissed. There will be a referendum about the EU which will be really interesting

    Everything i heard about the election suggested the electorate was disaffected and unhappy. It will be interesting to see of any of the parties aside from UKIP and SNP can really fire people up.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to greginak says:

      Ugh. I apparently lost my closing, which mentions this briefly.

      Cameron may be able to kick the Scotland can down the road. “You had your referendum, you don’t get another one (for a while, until someone else is Prime Minister).”

      He can consider more complete devolution, I guess, though I think England has reached it’s breaking point wherein they will either ask for their own parliament or their own caucus for internal English matters. Not unreasonably so, in my view. Once that happens, is the UK still the UK? or is it an umbrella for four mostly autonomous countries? And is the EU then an umbrella over an umbrella?

      In any case, it’s a series of problems that Cameron will take, and that Miliband wishes he had.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Will Truman says:

        Yeah he can keep putting off the Scots. They are lost to him.Report

        • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to greginak says:

          In terms of campaign promises, he promised greater devolution if Scotland voted “no” in the referendum. He did not promise greater devolution if Scotland voted against Labour. He directly owes the Scots devolution for an earlier vote, and the near-sweep by the SNP in Scotland is evidence that voters in Dundee and Dumfries demand delivery of devolution.Report

          • Avatar greginak in reply to Burt Likko says:

            True. But the Scots don’t like Cameron and he has no electoral interest there. He has little to lose by pissing them off more. Will he fob them off, i hope not and i doubt he’ll go to hard at that. However he has to balance a lot of changes.Report

      • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Will Truman says:

        “Once that happens, is the UK still the UK? or is it an umbrella for four mostly autonomous countries? And is the EU then an umbrella over an umbrella?”

        Is there just the one (each) army, navy, and air force?Report

      • Avatar Matty in reply to Will Truman says:

        I think the nightmare scenario goes like this.

        1. Britain votes in a referendum to leave the EU but closer inspection shows that a majority in Scotland voted to stay in

        2. The SNP demand a quick referendum to take an independent Scotland back into Europe on the grounds that the Scottish people are being dragged out against their will.

        3. Cameron refuses, considering the issue of independence settled.

        What then?Report

        • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Matty says:

          My own view is that Scotland did indeed have their chance and shouldn’t get another referendum for a while… absent a change of circumstances like leaving the EU. So I’d actually be somewhat sympathetic to the Scots.

          I didn’t save the link, unfortunately, but one of the interesting things I read about it all was that joining the EU independently could end up forcing Scotland’s economic policy in an even more unfavorable direction than Cameron.Report

          • Avatar Matty in reply to Will Truman says:

            That may depend on if they join the euro, I have heard that the cuts in countries like Spain are far greater than we have seen – to say nothing of the Greek crisis.

            The other option, continuing to use the pound without official currency union much as the US dollar is used in Panama would have it’s own issues but might be easier.Report

  2. Avatar George A. Chien says:

    In paragraph four, last sentence, maybe you meant to say “Margaret Thacher may [not] have happened.”

    Also your charts and maps don’t seem to have any key. I don’t know what any of their colors mean.

    Thanks for keeping up with the UK elections. Mostly, we just hear 2016 horse-race discussions.Report

    • If you click on the year below/beside the map, it’ll show you the results. The long and short of the coloring is that red is Labour (as is light green in NI), blue is Conservative, orange is LDP, yellow is SNP, purple is UKIP, clay is DUP, deep green are Sinn Fein and Plaid.

      Thatcher thing has been fixed.Report

  3. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    This was most exceptional, Will.Report

  4. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    1. The LDP are sort of the inheritors of the old Liberal Party which used to occupy Labour’s part in government as one of the big two. The Liberals collapsed after the end of WWI and Labour became the ascendant political party. The death of the Liberal Party was long though and probably started in the late 1800s (when Keir Hardie began agitating for a voice for Labour and became the first openly socialist MP. Keir Hardie is considered one of the fathers of the Labour Party) because some Liberals began thinking at the time that welfare provisions needed to be provided by the Government. David Lloyd George was one of these Liberals. His famous speech on the matter was “The People’s Budget”.

    2. The general phrase I hear about LDP voters is that they are supposed to be “Too rich for Labour and too smart for Tory.” Thatcher was really more of an exception than a rule for how right-wing she went. The Tory platform is an interesting mix of stuff that would make Democrats swoon and also be opposed by Democrats. Though I think this is because the Tories have more or less made peace with the welfare state and understand that they can’t get rid of NHS. American Democrats are still dealing with large sections of the GOP that salivate at the prospect of privatizing social security and dismantling the rest of the New Deal and Great Society. What is it about our right-wingers that make them still opposed to the New Deal and Great Society over half a century after the programs.Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Frum at the Atlantic has an essay about the various conservative parties in Europe and how they differ from the GOP. The biggest one is they are all either okay with or for use of government to create a social safety net and perform functions like HC. The Tories want more privatization but there is a grand canyon of difference between them and the R’s. Their version of being hawkish, which the big euro conservative parties are, is quite a bit different then the GOP in practice. We have to put up the muscle and drive the interventions, which the GOP and Tories and other conservative parties are fine with.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to greginak says:

        I googled for Frum’s article. Since he is a Jewish-Canadian (and probably fairly urbane and secular), his big thing seems to be that the GOP is still beholden to the arch social conservatives from the Evangelical base. He seems to want to see a party that his socially secular. There is also the Libertarian base that seems to think the most minor concessions to social welfare programs is tyranny and evil taxation.

        Our conservatives just might be more nuts.Report

        • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          Frum’s alienation from the soc-con part of the GOP is a recent phenonomon (and may not be entirely there). His main claim to fame is his ability to put words in George W Bush’s mouth that resonated with the Right Wing Christian Evangelicals while maintaining credibility for more mainstream audiences.

          Frum is the guy who came up with “Axis of Evil” – an idea consciously echoing (and probably deliberately lifted) from Reagan’s Evil Empire speech. Reagan’s speech was delivered to an audience of Christian Evangelicals, and famously put the Cold War into eschatological terms. Frum almost certainly knew this legacy.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Saul Degraw says:


      The fact that you are puzzled about why US is more right wing than the UK puzzles me. After all, it should be, I think, a rather banal observation that the particular collection of political beliefs in any given country need not have any strong systematic relation to the truth, but merely be a product of historical accident.Report

    • 1. The LDP are more-or-less the literal inheritors of it. They’re the product of a merger between the Liberal Party and the Social Democrats, who were a breakoff from the Liberal Party. {Insert a joke here about putting two liberals in a room and getting three resolute opinions.}

      2. The Reasonable Tory Hypothesis would carry more weight if Cameron’s re-election weren’t being greated with riots. Just a couple hours ago I tweeted:

      Not that there isn’t some truth to what Frum is saying. But to some degree it’s, as Gabriel Rossman put it:


    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      European conservatism comes partly from an aristocratic tradition. Welfare state programs like NHS can be fit into that tradition because of noblesse oblige. American conservatism comes from more mercurial roots and is more concerned with the bottom line.Report

  5. Avatar Jaybird says:

    The take that made me wince a little was (paraphrased) “it looks like socialized health care and social/economic conservativism otherwise is a winning combo”.

    Which immediately made me think of Jeb.Report

  6. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    I also think it is important to realize that one thing about the Westminster system is that it lets the opposition remain firmly partisan and they have thing to do but bide their time. Also I don’t think you can talk about the riots without mentioning the UK’s much more class-conscious population. There have been changes but Tories are still seen as the party of the old aristocracy. Ed Milband attended Oxford but he is still the son of a famous Marxist academic. This is something that would damn someone politically in the United States for anything more powerful than the Mayorship of Berkeley, Madison, Burlington, etc.Report

  7. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    You close on questions facing Labour and facing the Tories, but it seems to me the toughest questions going forward face Scotland. Will their politics remain distinctly separatist, or will they seek to cash in their separatist moment for a stronger voice in British politics? Labour probably can’t coalition with a formally separatist SNP, but they can try to bring parts of a newly feisty Scotland back into the fold, if those parts will re-join. Obviously, Labour will seek to do that; they don’t really have a choice. The question is what everyone in Scotland wants to do.Report

    • The previous post was kind of Scotland-centric, so I didn’t devote as much time to it here. Like I said in the penultimate section, though, Labour is in a real bind. Too much friendliness with the SNP may cost them England. Not enough and it becomes really, really hard for them to get a majority.

      My guess (influenced by the Scot who commented on the previous thread), SNP isn’t hugely interested in joining a coalition but is open to helping put Labour over the top in forming a government (and are likely inclined to vote with Labour on legislation anyway). Custom, though, requires that Labour get a plurality for that to happen. Getting a plurality is not impossible, though more difficult than it was before, obviously.Report

  8. Avatar Kaz Dragon says:

    John Major, not Majors.

    Also, do note that “population” and “electorate” are bandied about in certain newspapers as if they are synonymous. They are not. The population of the UK is a about 64m, the electorate of the UK is around 48m. Some sinister mathematics are possible by mixing these numbers up.

    I recall reading New Scientist magazine in 2010, which is around the time of the previous General Election, when the Lib Dems were also making noise about wanting the AV voting system (for which the referendum mentioned in the post took place).

    The article reported on a recent mathematical study which had proved that, given a regional “seating” based political system of government as we have, it is *impossible* to have a “fair” system, where everyone’s vote is equal. All the system can do is have a bias towards a particular style of government.

    FPTP, for example, is biased towards majority governments. This seems to be preferred at the moment, since it gives a government that has a strong vision the clout to be able to fulfill that vision without having to pander to other parties’ potentially poisonous political whims. This means that policy changes necessary to keep up with society can be enacted swiftly. It also has the feature of rejecting outliers that are spread thinly across the population.

    AV and other similar systems tend to favour coalitions to different extents which, as we’ve seen in the UK over the last five years, comes with its own advantages and disadvantages.

    The hypocrisy of this all is that the people campaigning for “fairer” voting systems do not in general desire a fairer voting system. They simply want a voting system that favours their preferred political party (or, cynically, disfavours the Tories).Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Kaz Dragon says:

      @kaz-dragon Thanks for the correction.

      There are arguments for and against IRV (AV) versus FPTP. My own view (and the source of the “democratically inefficient” arguments) is that the latter only really works when you have two parties. Where it creates a problem for the UK and Canada is that there has been an ongoing preference for multiple parties.

      I believe you’re right that a lot of advocates for IRV are engaging in motivated reasoning, but the circumstances really seem to bear it out, in my view, despite the fact that I am ideologically more sympathetic to the Conservatives than any of the liberal parties.

      Interestingly, political scientists argue against the notion that IRV leads to coalitions and such. I don’t buy it, but I was debating the subject with Steven Taylor (a political science professor at Troy University) just a couple months ago. They have some data on their side (FPTP hasn’t prevented multiple parties in the UK, while IRV hasn’t lead to their proliferation in Australia), but I think that even if it doesn’t incentivize more parties, it does allow for them in the case of a divided electorate. There’s no doubt that proportional representation does lead to the proliferation of parties, though.

      Ultimately, though, I believe that systems should be tailored to their electorates and demonstrated and likely voting patterns. Which is to say, if you have a commitment to more than two parties, the system should accommodate that. With IRV, at least, where you’re more likely to get representative majority governments and doesn’t actively encourage more parties the way that PR does (and doesn’t dilute local representation).Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Kaz Dragon says:

      I played around with the idea of a hybrid. If the districts doubled in size, and half the seats in a 650-seat Parliament were awarded on a party list basis, the results of this election would have been something like this:

      Tory: 285
      Labour: 215
      SNP: 43
      UKIP: 41
      LD: 30
      Green: 13
      Dem Union: 6
      Sinn Fein: 4
      Plaid Cymru: 3
      SDLP: 2
      Ulster Union: 2
      Other: 1

      This would have left the conservatives with 43.9% of the seats — maybe enough to try a minority government, but safer to form a coalition with either SNP or UKIP, which would give that coalition an outright majority.

      Now, the Tories might approach the idea of forming a coalition with SNP with the same enthusiasm they’d approach eating a bug after losing a bet, and reject forming a government with UKIP out of hand. But that seems to be what a proportional system aims at them doing — reaching out to other parties to form a consensus, and a consensus agenda that incorporates Scottish devolution would be a whole lot easier for Cameron to form than a consensus that incorporates some of the signature issues of UKIP.

      Also, a hybrid system have would resulted in the LD’s not being totally squashed, but still taking a beating: definitely a message from their voters that they didn’t like the coalition with the Tories.

      Maybe something @kaz-dragon can address better than me. I use the term “Tory” or “Tories” interchangably with the Conservative Party. Is that correct? Or is there a secondary meaning to the word “Tory” that is not historically accurate?Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Burt Likko says:

        @burt-likko I think it’s actually not at all unreasonable to have a bias against coalition governments, which KD seems to have. That’s why I look more towards the IRV as a way to send a circle peg through the square hole. That allows voters to choose two parties relatively easily, but also allows those who want other options to pursue them without throwing the overall vote. But voters rejected that, preferring even these lumpy results to the possibility of coalition-based governments.

        The thing that prevents me from supporting PR here in the US doesn’t apply to the UK is that they have really, really local representation. So if they do change their mind on PR, they have a flexibility to do so that we don’t (unless we reconfigure the Senate).Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Burt Likko says:


        The original political parties in England came during the 17th century and they were The Whigs and the Tories. Both terms were insults taken on as badges of honor. The original Tories were aristocrats with strong monarchist tendencies. Their parents and grandparents were Cavaliers during the English Civil War and on the side of Charles I over Oliver Crowmwell. The Tories supported Charles the II and James the II. The Whigs were also gentry but more town than country and had quasi-Republic sentiments.

        The Tories eventually became the Conservative Party in the early 1800s but the old term still remained.

        The Whigs slowly became the Liberals and the Liberals died because of their own reforms in extending the franchise and were replaced by Labour as the dominant left-wing party. The Liberals were also doomed because of rifts between the Gladstonians who hated the welfare state and more modern members like Lloyd George who saw welfare measures as necessary.Report

      • Avatar KazDragon in reply to Burt Likko says:

        There once was an actual Tory party, back in the 1600-1800s, and its primary opposition were the Whigs (Labour was yet to have been invented). The word “tory” references that old party, and is synonymous with the Conservative party. It is not considered insulting; merely shorthand.Report

  9. Avatar Barry says:

    “And for the LDP, The Telegraph’s James Kirkuk argues that history will look more favorably on outgoing leader Nick Clegg than the voters have. Which is a small comfort for those who have lost their job, and who remain members of a party for whom the rationale of its existence is a little hard to nail down. I expect that whichever direction Labour lurches, they will look for space in the other.”

    That doesn’t mean much, IMHO – of course the Torygraph is happy that a rival party (a) supported them in coalition for five years and then (b) self-destructed, with the Tories getting most of the seats.

    It’s nice having somebody help me get what I want, and then hopping into the oven so that I can have a nice roast afterwards.Report

  10. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    Tangential on this post, but the previous “Linky Ole England” post has closed comments.

    As a member of the lunatic fringe that expects a break-up of the US within 50 years, it’s fascinating to consider that the UK has gone from the first (failed) Scottish devolution vote in 1979 to a lot of people of all different sorts casually saying that Scotland will be gone within 10 years.Report

    • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Michael Cain says:

      The difference between the British and American situations is pretty simple – how the union was formed, what happened after the union, and what people think of themselves.

      First, most of America was settled by people from other parts of America (and other parts of the world). The Scots and English have been the Scots and English for a milennia, for the most part. Second, even after the formation of the United Kingdom, large portions of the Scottish population were kept in feudal-like conditions for years upon years, with only a few people owning most of the land, with the English crowd supporting that arrangement. Also, Scottish families can say, “my ancestors were killed by English soldiers here,” and frankly, vice versa. Outside of the South, nobody in America can say that. And even the South, unlike Scotland, has been “colonized” over the past 40 years by Northern immigrants.

      I don’t think a US breakup in a non-zero possibility in 50 years, but I don’t think the Scottish situation is any evidence for it, one way or the other.Report

      • Avatar Matty in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

        Large parts of Scotland, and England are still owned by a small number of people. What changed was not so much a greater distribution of land ownership as the population moving to towns and cities. That Lord Farquhat owns half the county becomes a lot less relevant when you are no longer his tenant farmer.

        Scotland may be different on this but as an English person living in Wales I can tell you that there is a lot of ‘colonisation’, I don’t have numbers but in some places we seem to be perhaps a third of the population, and this doesn’t seem to have reduced a sense of separate identity at all. In fact, while I have never experienced any hostility or resentment I have heard about it particularly in Welsh speaking communities who feel their identity is threatened by incomers who cannot speak their language.Report

      • Every successful partition/secession will be different. Scotland is just an example of how far thinking about even the possibility can change over a period of 35 years.Report

  11. Avatar Matty says:

    I think your point about the numbers is important. The left needs to realise that we didn’t just lose the vote, we lost the argument and I don’t think anyone yet understands why. I do think it’s bigger than Milliband and not as easy to solve as moving the Labour party left or right a bit but beyond that I don’t know.Report