Joe Armitage is a Conservative activist and works for a Conservative MP.
It is becoming increasingly likely that the Scottish people will vote for independence later this month. After all, the SNP’s majority in the Scottish Parliament was not meant to be possible. The mixed member proportional representation system is designed to obviate the possibility of a majority – yet that is exactly what the SNP have. Alex Salmond’s political ability is never greater than when he’s up against the wall, the No campaign has deployed everything in its inventory, and yet we now have polls showing the two campaigns neck and neck. The Yes campaign also has almost unlimited campaigning funds, thanks largely to the wealthy EuroMillions winning couple who’ve given £3m to the cause so far. If Scotland votes to remove itself from the United Kingdom, rarely used constitutional actions might be necessary.
Eight months separate the Scottish independence referendum and the 2015 general election. During this period, the terms of Scotland’s departure – if it happens – will start to be fleshed out with a further 11 months of negotiations up until Scotland becomes legally independent at some point during the next Parliament. It is unlikely that Ed Miliband with his 41 Scottish MPs or Nick Clegg with his 11 would vote for an early removal of the 59 Scottish MPs, since this would improve the Conservative position in the Commons. Many on the benches will push for their removal – some already have. To placate the Conservative Party and satisfy all parties, an extension of the current Parliament should not be ruled out.
Extending Parliament is not unprecedented; two Parliaments were extended during the previous century for both of the World Wars. Although our nation will not be at war in these circumstances, it will be in the midst of an extensive and all encompassing shakeup. Imagine that Scotland votes for independence this September and that Labour secures a small majority in 2015, both of these are possible and indeed likely, certainly if Fraser Nelson is to be believed. Ten months into Miliband’s government 41 of his MPs – probably more if Labour takes Scottish seats from the SNP and the Lib Dems – will be gone. This will instantly give the Conservative Party a majority unless the Labour Party has a majority in excess of the seats they lose – which is unlikely.
Given, therefore, that for the 10 previous months of Miliband’s government everybody knows that they will lose their majority when the Scottish MPs’ positions are invalidated, his government will effectively be temporary caretakers whose actions will be plagued by the lack of time. This may well seriously unsettle the markets, particularly since some of Labour’s proposed measures will impact on it significantly – the splitting up of the banks, energy bill freeze, VAT reduction and income tax increase are but a few of these. Calming the markets was a big reason for the Fixed Term Parliament Act: a great amount of economic value lies in a stable government and this must be remembered.
To prevent Britain from experiencing two governments and two prime ministers in the space of ten months, an increase in the longevity of this Parliament is the only realistic option. Cross-party support will be vitally necessary to ensure no attempts to label the current government as undemocratic can be lodged. The Liberal Democrats and Labour are not going to remove their sizable number of Scottish MPs early, so the brokering of a deal to extend Parliament instead might be a viable alternative.
Both the Conservatives and Labour may feel they would benefit from an extension of this Parliament. The Conservatives can remove more of the deficit – they may even “clear the deficit in this Parliament.” Labour can have additional time to raise more desperately lacking general election campaigning funds and develop policies as well as a more coherent internal governing structure. The future carries with it many questions for our politicians but if Scotland votes for independence and Labour clinches a majority there is going to be no convention to go by.