A much overlooked facet of the upcoming General Election is conversely one which accounts for 84% of the vote; the electorate of England.
The Tories have since rebuffed Alex Salmond’s threat of shooting down a Conservative Queen’s Speech post-election as being contrary to “the democratic will of the British people”. This is a statement to which some have retorted as the Conservative way of really meaning “the will of the English people”.
There may be some truth in this retort, but the English have arguably been left shortchanged by the voting patterns of the Scottish voters over the last decade. The Conservatives have in fact won the popular vote in England in the two elections since 2005. This 84% of the British electorate, accounting for 533 of all 650 Parliamentary seats, voted in the Conservatives’ favour at the last election by a margin of 11.4% over Labour.
To put the size of this margin into context, the last time the reverse happened and Labour held a lead greater than this over the Tories in England was in 1945. And yet in 2010, with surplus of almost two million English votes putting Cameron and his party well ahead of Gordon Brown, a Hung Parliament was produced. This is by no means the fault of anyone other than the Conservative Party itself, which failed to make inroads into Scotland in spite of more convincing efforts south of the border to woo voters in the north of England. Consequently, they retained just one Scottish seat.
However, this does go some way towards dispelling the SNP notion that the Scottish electorate have had little say in the makeup of governments in Westminster. It has been their Labour voters that have denied a Conservative overall majority in both 2005 and 2010 as desired by the English.
This has been secured by the great uniformity with which Scottish voters tend to vote for just one party across its 59 seats – hitherto Labour, and now the SNP. Owing to this pattern, one might sympathise with the Conservatives lack of success in the country in recent years, although the Liberal Democrats have shown how small political spaces can be innovated at the margins.
By way of Salmond’s threat to block what polls currently suggest will be a minority Conservative government post-election, the SNP will have significant capital over the minority Labour government that would have to be formed as a result. If this comes to pass, Scottish voters will get their way in Westminster once more, at the expense of the way England votes.
It can be suggested that this is a rather cynical view, and that England’s dominant position in our small cluster of countries means that its political preferences must occasionally be superseded by electorates of other parts of the United Kingdom. However, public cynicism is a very real and growing threat to the stability of the state which needs to be discussed, particularly as scepticism over the political structure of the Union would likely grow in England as a result of any “Salmond manoeuvre”. Not only will this be of benefit to the SNP in the short-term, it will aid the causes of nationalism on all sides of the Union.
So where does that leave us in May this year? Well, with an unsatisfactory result for the majority of voters. Here’s why:
According to the latest sub-national polling across the UK, the SNP are set to surge to victory in Scotland, Labour will retain a similar lead in Wales held since the last election, and the Conservatives will once more be in poll position in England – albeit by a reduced margin. Of somewhat less significance in this context is Northern Ireland, as none of the main parties contend seats there. This will be the first time in almost 100 years that neither the Conservatives nor Labour win the popular vote in more than one of the four countries in the UK.
Who will benefit most from this disunity? As explored here, the answer is most likely the SNP, no matter what the spin doctors say.
A final caveat – England must not be mis-characterised as being a bunch of Tories. The Lib Dems are likely to hold onto much more of their English seats than in Scotland, the winds of UK nationalism blow strongly across both England and Wales, and whilst Labour are projected to lose the popular vote in England for the third consecutive time, they have shown signs of recovery in much of London, the north and English marginals.
The point here, however, is to highlight that in terms of “the democratic will of the English people”, it seems to have been more frequently dis-served than Scottish Nationalists would have voters believe.