europe, Scotland, society, UK Politics, World Politics

Sturgeon has total power over UK’s fate after Brexit

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When the major blow of Yes Scotland’s defeat set in during the aftermath of 2014’s Scottish independence referendum, many believed that the SNP would become a paralysed, lost cause from then on. Few would have thought that, under the sturdy leadership of the formidable Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish National Party would regain its position in dominating Scottish decision-making. However, Britain’s surprising verdict on EU membership has proven that Sturgeon’s contingent isn’t just controlling Scottish politics.

Rated by Forbes magazine as the most powerful woman in Britain after Queen Elizabeth II, not to mention the 50th most influential in the entire world, Brexit is changing Nicola Sturgeon and her party’s fortune. Perhaps next year’s rankings will have Sturgeon placed higher. I certainly wouldn’t argue with it. But whilst Brexit is stripping the good fortune of many British politicians, such as that of the precariously placed Jeremy Corbyn, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her party has only gained a position of greater power.

Given that victory for the Leave campaign in last week’s EU referendum was largely down to English votes, protest by many passionate internationalists and keen Scottish nationalists has dominated headlines. Scotland’s intentions evidenced by last week’s vote – of more than 70% support for Remain in many areas north of the border – has clearly shown that policy should take a different direction here.

After arguing consistently that a Brexit is not in the interests of the people of Scotland, the Scottish First Minister’s gargantuan new task is to rescue Scotland from the effects of Vote Leave. But the flipside is that this gives the SNP an exceptional political advantage. Nicola Sturgeon is in total control of Scotland’s future within the EU, and that influence does not span across issues with regard only to Scotland. In the likely event that the SNP leader is unable to forge a deal granting European Union membership to Scottish citizens alone, it will be Nicola Sturgeon who is in charge of deciding whether or not the United Kingdom really is united, refuelling her independence crusade.

The volume of influence that the Scottish First Minister now brandishes places Scotland in a very strong position at the fiery EU negotiating table. The events of this week have shown that the First Minister will remain silent at her peril. The Brexit result which hoped to bring increased sovereignty for the entirety of the UK has in turn weakened ties between Westminster and its sibling Scottish parliament at Holyrood.

Since 2007, the SNP has been the major force in Scottish politics, standing as the party of traditional social democracy, and, of course, independence. However, Sturgeon’s position as a key player in international affairs has become stronger thanks to a victory for Vote Leave. The triumphs of Johnson, Gove and Farage in terms of the European Union have not translated into triumphs for the UK’s union. For a Brexit has all the more accentuated the deep political crevasses which set apart the different components of the UK.

It seems that David Cameron has made a fatal error by underestimating the challenges of keeping Britain in the European Union, not to mention the challenges of keeping Britain on side with his party’s government. A harsh split, further nursed by the Prime Minister’s Friday morning resignation, threatens the future of Conservative party politics. The Labour party is no safe haven either. Ravaged by a leader deemed unable to take it to its peak in a possibly imminent General Election, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership looks tenuous.

71669140_jpg_galleryNicola Sturgeon is no fool. Her party has seen numerous victories of late, and her ability as a skillful tactician is more obvious than ever before. The aforementioned failings highlighted by the shock of Brexit have only widened Sturgeon’s stage as an influential policymaker. In recent days, SNP support has surged, an effect similar to that achieved by the Party during the aftermath of the 2014 referendum. Inner party turmoil certainly doesn’t riddle the SNP. Sturgeon’s socially democratic force is one of the only ones avoiding a rift with its clear-cut policy, and this is one of its grandest assets.

The SNP is a decisive and strategic band, a tidal wave which now seems to dwarf the fragmented Labour and Conservative parties at Westminster. Sturgeon isn’t right-wing populism, Sturgeon isn’t scaremongering, and Sturgeon isn’t austerity. Faisal Islam of ITV remarked this morning that it is Nicola Sturgeon who has “the most thought out plan” for Brexit. In a likely snap general election, the First Minister is sure to pick up some of the votes of those who have become dismayed by the Tories’ and Labour’s endless internal strife. Her shrewdness and sharp-witted nature are her doubtless fortes which have been brought to light all thanks to Brexit. As long this adeptness does not fail, the SNP will call the shots in Scottish politics, and indeed in European relations, for many months and years to come.

With the failings of the UK Parliament parties in producing constructive political change, as well as a vote for Brexit which ignores Scottish votes, Sturgeon’s movement for independence may, too, build in strength and support. A reassessment of relations between the UK and EU has brought the question of national sovereignty back into the political arena. Aims of the Smith Commission evidently haven’t gone far enough, and in ways akin to the post-Brexit case, Scotland’s opinions are becoming drowned out. The contrast in opinions over the EU between England and Scotland serves to demonstrate exactly why Scotland is growing tired of the talking shop that is Westminster. Sturgeon has the ultimate upper hand over the future of the United Kingdom, and Sturgeon’s movements may well provoke a breakup.

More interestingly, the future of Scottish Labour looks grim. The European Union question may well change opinions of the Holyrood party whose support has plummeted over recent years. Yesterday it was widely reported that the Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale, will consider support for independence. But this is surely a political death of Sturgeon’s arguably inadvertent making. Dugdale’s extreme desperation for votes in tandem with growing support for the nationalist cause could mean that even the skeleton of Labour’s Scottish branch is no longer safe from a painful fracture. If her strategy is to support independence, Dugdale risks splitting her party between nationalists and unionists, only playing into Sturgeon’s hands.

The European Union debate has questioned not only UK sovereignty, but also the sovereignty of the separate nation states which make up the UK. Recent events have shown clearly that the politics of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are vastly different.

With Sturgeon ceasing the opportunity for using this as a vehicle for constitutional change within Scotland, it is easy to see that the Scottish First Minister’s actions over coming months will largely determine also the United Kingdom’s fate. Along with the most prominent of British and EU officials, it is the Nicola Sturgeon who will have one of the most influential seats at the Brexit negotiation table. Whilst both major political parties within Westminster are fast collapsing, diseased by pathogens of indecisiveness and disarray, it is Nicola Sturgeon’s party which remains dead set on its policy. The First Minister of Scotland only has Westminster to thank for her unprecedented leverage. After the breakthrough of devolution in 1999, along with an intense referendum discussion two years ago, few could have foreseen Scotland continuing to pose such a huge threat to the longevity of the UK.

Read more from Robert Guthrie

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human rights, society, UK Politics

Young people are being forgotten during UK election campaigns

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Over the days leading up to today’s Scottish General Election, I asked many of my fellow students whether or not they would be voting. Many responded enthusiastically, enfranchised for the first time – disregarding the Scottish referendum – as 16, 17, or 18 year-olds. But a large proportion of the answers I received were gravely worrying. Many told me that they didn’t feel educated enough, that they simply had forgotten to change to their new constituency, or that they hadn’t had time to register for a postal vote. The Electoral Commission’s social media drive and overhead billboards have failed to entice voter registration amongst citizens young and old. It seems that our system of electoral registration is failing to inspire many in society – especially students, as well as those who travel regularly.  A boost in electoral bureaucracy, spearheaded by the Tories thanks to recent reform, is making our electoral system more deceptive, and is resulting in the creation of a relaxed political culture. The principles of our nation’s democracy are under threat.

There must surely be something wrong about a society which does encourage people to vote, but makes it increasingly difficult to. Several months ago, Tory legislation removed the ability for collective voter registration, and thus made it less easy to become enfranchised. Due to these new government moves, households and organisations such as universities can no longer place large numbers of individuals on the electoral register at once. To top this, electoral participation is alarmingly low. Around a third of voters – and regularly more – failed to turn up to their local polling station last May.

The fact that such large numbers of people choose not to exercise their right to vote, or are missing – either deliberately or accidentally – from the electoral register is a serious threat to the United Kingdom’s political society. How can governments be held to account? Why should David Cameron and his party be allowed to create such a political monopoly, making it easier for the older and more geographically anchored individual to vote? It is abominable that the government is willing to sit back whilst its agencies fail to make registration an effortless exercise.

As many as 800,000 previously eligible citizens were deleted from the register several months ago. It was further revealed that the electoral register has shrunk by 1.6 million since 2012. In no way have the Tories’ electoral register changes been beneficial to the UK’s democracy. Instead of being a source of inspiration and empowerment, the Electoral Commission has become growingly bureaucratic.

The worst part of the government’s changes is the disrespect for some of the most influential groups of society. Students, many of whom will have to register to vote for the first time, are being failed. Moving between multiple addresses, the government has not provided an effortless registration process for young people. Without the participation of young adults, results of past elections would be markedly different. Voting amongst those aged between 18 and 24 saw a 20% decrease between 1990 and 2010. Perhaps the government is willfully ignoring the youth vote, knowing that their increased enfranchisement would diminish chances for Tory victories. Either way, such blatant disrespect for mass enfranchisement is a crime against democracy.

Besides the Tories’ tactical registration reform, there are other reasons why the youth vote, in particular, is becoming increasingly smothered by those above. Party efforts for encouraging student voting seems very weak. At my student flat in Glasgow during this election campaign, I received a puny supply of direct electoral information. The provision of three leaflets from the Scottish Green Party was very acceptable. However, besides this delivery, as well as one mailshot from UKIP and another from Solidarity, I received nothing else. The fact that a number of the main parties in Scotland – the SNP, Labour, the Conservatives and Lib Dems – were not interested in attracting the student vote through direct canvassing shows that more must be done to sell the pros of enfranchisement to young people. Don’t get me wrong – a large number of young adults are very politically engaged. But those who lack in political knowledge and experience are being forgotten. Surely it is the duty of our governments to promote the excitement and empowerment which comes with electoral participation.

There are several quick and effective fixes to the seemingly increasing threat to our democracy and the UK’s political culture. It is clear that the Tories’ new enfranchisement regulations are having a seriously negative impact on participation, and excluding vast populations from political engagement. Along with increased direct support from individual parties, a perhaps if universities, colleges and other institutions – as well as households – had power to enfranchise people en masse returned, our nation’s democratic foundations would be stronger than ever. On top, huge registration campaigns must become the norm. An inspiring Electoral Commission should be built up, ready to promote the benefits of participation to all. In addition, the lack of direct canvassing towards young people is shameful. An increase must be seen.

It is therefore clear that the political parties of the UK are in danger of becoming complacent. Party leaders do not seem to want to talk to young people as much as they perhaps once did. It seems that the 1920s struggles for suffrage have not ended, and will not end soon. Next year’s Scottish local elections will inevitably receive markedly less attention than this May’s general election. A new era of democratic encouragement must come into being. The Tories’ recent electoral reforms are damaging the chances for strengthened British democracy. Elections should not be made difficult to take part in. For if this is the case, Britain is simply not a democracy. Only tomorrow will we find out how exactly Britain’s young people have exercised their votes in one of the several elections taking place today. Call me a cynic, but I fear that the figures for youth turnout will not be as high as they could be. Of course, those who are politically engaged will certainly be rampant supporters of their chosen party. But without stark rejection of the government’s new registration obstacle course, we will be quietly submitting to the removal of our greatest democratic rights.

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