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Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 21, May 16, 2015

Election Results in UK and the Twin Questions of Scotland and European Union

Saturday 16 May 2015

by Vivek Kumar Srivastava

David Cameron’s victory in the United Kingdom’s parliamentary elections on May 7 is surprising to many observers because opinion polls had a different opinion. Many scholars had analysed the likely outcome of the parliamentary elections and its impact on the basis of the poll forecast. Now all this has changed as a more strengthened David Cameron continues his second term.

He now faces two major challenges which may decide the future of Europe and the course of international politics in a decisive manner. The developments on the UK-Scotland and UK-EU relationships are of immense value. Although David Cameron is a more confident PM now as his rivals have been ousted with a comfortable lead for his Conservative Party. The Conser-vative Party has won 331 seats in contrast to 232 of Labour out of a total 650 of seats (comprising 533 of England, 59 of Scotland, 40 of Wales and 18 of Northern Ireland).

A significant signal is that in the UK, people are in a mood to look at the emerging problems with a new vision than the conventional ones. The message to the political parties is clear—that new problems need new approaches. The election results suggest that the issue of Scotland may reignite as the Scottish National Party (SNP) by winning 56 seats in Scotland may demand a new approach for Scotland and its future status. The role of the SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, is now crucial as the party may force her to act for the demand for a new referendum.

The issue of Scottish freedom is therefore one important area where David Cameron will have to work very hard. After the last referendum, the UK Government had taken certain proactive actions in which the establishment of the Kelvin Commission was an important step. The Commission was established on September 19, 2014 to look after the issue of more devolution to the parliament of Scotland. Lord Smith submitted the Commission’s report on November 27, 2014; thereafter the Cameron Government on January 22, 2015 brought out a ‘Command Paper containing draft clauses which aimed to take forward the Heads of Agreement contained in the Smith Commission Report’. This shows the alertness on the part of the UK Government to transfer fiscal and taxation powers in a more comprehensive manner to Scottish hands.

This is now a challenge to the new government: to halt the process of disintegration of the UK. Perhaps the Cameron Government may be keen to ensure more devolution of powers to the other parts, including Wales and Northern Ireland, too. It is likely that even after the efforts for devolution of more fiscal and other powers, the demand for the separation by Scotland may gain impetus again. The acumen of David Cameron is on test. David Cameron will never allow it to happen. He may settle for the establishment of a sort of federation as he is well aware that an independent Scotland will lower his and his party’s image which will be difficult to be compensated by any means. Hence Lord Smith of the Kelvin Commission report carries much value for maintaining the Kingdom’s unity.

Like the question of Scotland, another trouble too has global implications. There is discussion on the issue of the European Union’s reform agenda. It possesses certain important elements as it may even lead to separation of the UK from the European Union. David Cameron has since long propagated new ideas about the European Union. There is talk of reform in the European Union, which he has raised quite effectively. After the euro zone crisis, the EU has come under stress. The problems for the EU have increased in recent times, with a major stress coming from Ukraine where a confrontation with Putin has given a jolt in the realm of diplomacy at least for the present.

The David Cameron Government seems to have followed the policy of Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher on the UK’s relations with the European Union. Thatcher never subscribed to the idea of merging the British identity with the European Union; even after the introduction of euro in 1999 Great Britain did not adopt the euro and maintained the pound as its currency for exchange. It also did not follow the Schengen area concept of borderless flow of the tourists. The Schengen Area is made up of 26 countries, in which 22 are members of the EU. The UK is a member of the EU but not of the Schengen visa concept. Thus it always made efforts to maintain its identity which remained intact. The policy was aimed to maintain the independent identity, never losing British sovereignty to the EU or Germany, the economic power in the continent. In fact the UK since the last decade has visualised the EU as an institution with few successes.

In the present context David Cameron’s ideas on the relationship of the UK with the European Union can be discerned in his ‘future of the European Union’ speech, delivered at Bloomberg on January 23, 2013. This speech explicitly expounded the Conservative Party’s and his thoughts about the European Union which were not so palatable to many. He stated that “for us (the UK), the European Union is a means to an end—prosperity, stability, the anchor of freedom and democracy both within Europe and beyond her shores—not an end in itself.” He also identified three major problems for the EU. “First, the problems in the Euro zone are driving fundamental change in Europe. Second, there is a crisis of European competitiveness, as other nations across the world soar ahead. And third, there is a gap between the EU and its citizens which has grown dramatically in recent years.” He also provided answers for these troubles. He demanded that the EU must show “competitiveness, flexibility, flowing back of power to member-states, not just away from them, democratic accountability, and fairness.” The major conclusion of the speech was that the EU has not served its purpose and the UK may find a new path, one different from the EU.

This is likely to be an important development in the UK when David Cameron with his new strength takes a firm view and decision about the European Union. For him, the major question is whether the UK should remain with the EU or chart a new path, the answer to which may be well decided within a few years, as the Conservative Party in its election manifesto has promised to call for a referendum on the issue by the end of 2017. David Cameron is well known for his firm decisions and there is a section in his party which may push for a hard policy towards the European Union.

There is no gainsaying the fact that the answers to questions on the future status of Scotland and relations with the EU are crucial for every stakeholder.

Dr Vivek Kumar Srivastava is Vice-Chairman, CSSP, Kanpur.