Whatever the result in the Scottish independence referendum, where does that leave the UK and who governs it? As the title of this post suggests, that could be one hell of a hangover.
In the short-term
If Scottish voters do back independence, in the short-term there could be growing questions about the legitimacy of the UK government north of the border. A yes vote could be seen as a striking rejection of the British government in Westminster.
So, if there was a particularly controversial decision made by the UK government that the Scottish government did not like or the Scottish public what would happen? Would a newly empowered Scottish government, emboldened by a yes vote, simply say no – and where would that leave everything?
On the flip side, questions might be increasingly asked about the legitimacy of Scottish MPs sitting in Westminster. And that draining away of legitimacy would only increase in speed as the date of the actual break-up of the current UK neared.
What business would Scottish MPs – some might argue – have for example on deciding UK-wide legislation that was being discussed before Scotland left the union, but which only came into effect after Scottish independence?
Fast forward to May 2015. This is the date when the next UK general election has been fixed.
Ed Miliband’s Labour party is the biggest party – and he is on track to become the British prime minister. (That is of course, if Mr Miliband is still leading the Labour party – see update below)
But there is a hitch.
A good number of the Labour leader’s MPs represent Scotland.
But say the date of 24 March 2016 is set for Scotland to become independent from the UK?
That’s little more than a year down the line – so what happens?
Voters in the remaining UK might be unhappy to see a prime minister who was helped to be put in Number 10 by people who won’t be part of the same country in less than 12 months.
And what if Labour did a deal with the Liberal Democrats – and some of their MPs also happened to represent Scottish seats in these circumstances?
Scottish independence: Conscious Uncoupling or messy divorce? Possible responses
1. Scottish MPs withdrawing from all debates and votes in the UK parliament apart from those relating to Scotland or UK wide issues
Such a move could see Scottish MPs, including Labour frontbenchers, limiting their functions at Westminster in the run-up to independence. But it could spark controversy about second-class MPs in the UK.
2. Delaying the UK general election until after Scottish independence
If 25 March 2016 was Scottish independence day, how about delaying the UK election by a year or so? There is the small issue of fixed parliaments and whether the UK public would agree to such a delay anyway.
3. No Scottish MPs elected to Westminster in the 2015 general election
Technically, Scotland would remain part of the UK until independence, so many would argue that it would still need representation at UK level until that date.
4. Decide the 2015 UK election on rest of the UK lines
Under this plan, the UK government would be formed on the basis of who won the most seats in the rest of the UK. This could see the Tories and David Cameron (if he is still the party’s leader – see update below) returned to power as the largest single party.
5. Hold the 2015 UK election and then hold another election after Scottish independence
Another option might be to go ahead with the 2015 general election, but for the consequent UK government to only hold office until Scotland left the UK.
At which point, another UK election would be held based on the new borders.
Who governs Britain / the remaining UK
Taking a look at the latest analysis by pollster Peter Kellner from YouGov, Labour would be the biggest party after the 2015 UK election.
Ed Miliband would have 316 seats – just 10 seats short of an overall majority. But this tally includes Scotland.
Take Scotland out of the sums and the Conservatives would be the biggest party with 278 seats with Labour down to 274 seats.
The Lib Dems would change from 27 to 18 seats, while others would go from 27 seats to 21 seats in a Westminster parliament.
There’s also the potential impact of Ukip on the UK general election and how much that could change the electoral calculations.
Some protocols may well have been drawn up in Whitehall to deal with all these potential outcomes, but they may not account for events, human emotions and sentiment,and the politics of the near future.
How about a UK caretaker government?
Given the electoral timetable and the huge issues that would need to be resolved if Scotland left the UK, would a caretaker government make sense?
So, hold the UK general election in May 2015 but then have a caretaker government in place for around a year while negotiations with the Scottish government were concluded.
Under this scenario, Scotland would then become independent and a new election for the remaining UK would then be held.
Of course, there might be worries about the caretaker government not being able to provide stability or do very much. But given the historic change that Scotland independence would involve, it might be a chance for the rest of the UK to take stock and think about its own future.
Even if Scotland votes no, there are questions. A federal UK?
(UPDATE 14.59 07/09/14) Scotland may get further devolution of powers even if it votes no. But even if that happens, the UK will have changed – and that leaves questions about the role of Scottish MPs, how the next UK government would be formed for example.
Another issue might be that of devolution for England – perhaps an English parliament or handing powers to regions/areas of England.
Could the UK look like or become more like a federal country? That’s a question to throw into the mix for another blog post.
Interesting views as well from Twitter including from top political journalist David Madddox – could a yes vote result in a Tory victory in the UK general election because of a fear of Labour being propped up by “foreign Scottish MPs”?
And would David Cameron and Ed Miliband both come under pressure to resign if they fail to “save the union”. That would add further fuel to the hangover for the UK if Scotland backs independence.
Of course, there would still be the issues of what to do with Scottish MPs and the UK general election if Scotland says yes to independence. Would it make the case for a caretaker government even stronger?