Press Release - End of “British Party System”, say Experts

Press Release
8 May 2015 01:00–9 May 2015 00:59

Some of the UK’s leading political scholars believe that ‘British Party Politics’ has ceased to be a meaningful phrase. Speaking as the final results were coming in, experts raised concerns about how the component nations of the UK – most especially England and Scotland - would communicate politically. In part this concerns is raised by differing attitudes between the UK’s nations on issues such as an EU referendum, social policy, austerity, and more. It is further complicated by ‘asymmetric devolution’ within the UK and the lack of multilateral approach to constitutional reform. They have also placed the election results in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland within a broader political and constitutional context.

The following expert comment is provided by professors of politics and constitutional affairs based at the Centre on Constitutional Change, the Wales Governance Centre and the Institute for Research in Social Sciences.

Professor Michael Keating, Director of the Centre on Constitutional Change and Professor of Politics at the University of Aberdeen:

“There is no more British party system. This undermines one of the key features of our multinational state, the ability of political parties to tie the component parts together. The next UK government is pledged to take forward constitutional reform based on the Smith Commission’s recommendations through an inter-party process. This process will now come to look more like a negotiation between Scotland and England rather than a search for consensus. The UK government may trade off English Votes for English laws against more fiscal autonomy for Scotland in order to reach a new deal but a broad settlement for the United Kingdom as a whole looks as far off as ever.”

Professor Nicola McEwen, Professor of Territorial Politics at the University of Edinburgh and Associate Director of the Centre on Constitutional Change:

“This is an extraordinary result for the SNP. The party has achieved swings at a scale never seen before anywhere in the UK in a General Election.

“Three themes were central to the SNP campaign – an end to fiscal austerity, a block on the renewal of Trident, and a stronger voice for Scotland. They can’t deliver on the first two if confronted by a Tory majority government intent on reducing the deficit. The challenge for the SNP will be to use its much enhanced voice to good effect.

“In the campaign, the Conservatives seemed to cast doubt on the legitimacy of SNP MPs. It would be an incredibly high risk strategy for the future of the UK if they were to carry this stance into government.”

Professor Richard Wyn Jones, Director of the Wales Governance Centre and Professor of Politics at the University of Cardiff:

“This was a General Election held in the long shadow of the Scottish independence referendum.

“In Scotland itself, the pre-election opinion polls that had been hardest to credit proved to be the most accurate. Seat after seat fell to an SNP surge whose extent matched and even exceeded the most extravagant of by-election swings.  After the 18 September 2014, Scottish politics will never be the same.

“But in England too, the referendum has had a transformative effect. Standing up for England became a key election theme for both the Conservatives and UKIP. The not so subtle sub-text suggesting that the Scots are taking England for a ride. This is a perception that clearly predates September 2014 but which the referendum served to solidify and entrench. The Conservatives ability to mobilise this perception by focusing on the mendacious influence of the SNP on any future Labour government proved to be the Lynton Crosby’s most effective electoral weapon.

“Can the political gulf that has now opened as a result of these different responses to the Scottish independence referendum be bridged? This too seems hard to credit.”

Professor Ailsa Henderson, Professor of Political Science at the University of Edinburgh and Fellow of the Centre on Constitutional Change:

“The results in Scotland and the results across the rest of the UK suggest we are in for some difficult constitutional discussions in the coming years.  A Conservative government suggests a referendum on UK membership in the EU is now looming. This is an issue on which we know that Scots and English voters have diverging preferences. 

“The SNP has won an astonishing number of seats.  Even if they play no role in a coalition government SNP MPs will have a transformative effect on other aspects of political life at Westminster, not least through their overwhelming representation on the Scottish Affairs select committee.  They have won this landslide because voters believe they are best able to ensure a transfer of powers to the Scottish Parliament and best able to represent Scotland’s interests at Westminster. There were both pull and push factors at play here.  Part of the Labour losses in Scotland can be attributed to the absence of a coherent vision for the constitutional future of Scotland and the UK but the way forward is not clear.  The party long arguing for a UK-wide federal solution – the Liberal Democrats - fared particularly badly on election night. The Conservatives appear keen to address English dissatisfaction with the status quo but many of the proposed options are even less popular with voters than current arrangements.

“Within Scotland we have come to speak of the 45, but we see a very different 45% from the one following the referendum. This is not the Yes-supporting minority who have turned a referendum defeat into an astonishing victory.  This new 45% is a largely No voting minority of voters supporting a range of parties with differing policy preferences and different constitutional visions.  For the next five years they will almost all be represented by SNP MPs who are now tasked with ensuring that their preferences are also taken into account.”

Professor Cathy Gormley-Heenan, Director of the Institute for Research in Social Sciences and Professor of Politics at the University of Ulster:

“With the 8 DUP seats retained and 2 additional UUP seats to add into the mix, this means that the combined unionist ‘bloc’ has increased its total seats in Westminster to 10. Such numbers indicate Northern Ireland’s potential influence in any required confidence and supply arrangements should the Conservatives decide to not enter into any formal arrangements. Of course, the word ‘potential’ is important here because the Conservatives and the DUP would not be considered natural bedfellows on many issues, with the DUP much more socially conservative than any of the major political players across the UK. The polls indicate that Cameron may be much less reliant on these Northern Irish seats that was previously thought to be the case. Though with the almost near collapse of the Lib Dem vote and seats share, there may be no-one else to negotiate with.”



Notes to Editors:

For further information or to arrange interviews or pictures, contact:

Nick Bibby, Communications Officer, Centre on Constitutional Change: 0131 651 4735 / 07866 053359,