society, UK Politics

The Westminster system is halting UK political progress

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It doesn’t take the most keen of political junkies to tell that British party politics is reaching a frustrating stalemate. The Labour party, since the growth in support for – and election of – Jeremy Corbyn, has become the arena bearing witness to fierce internal strife over its position on many issues. But the current debate over Britain’s membership of the European Union has smashed the complacency of many Conservatives who believed they were safe from the epidemic of divide. A huge rift has developed between staunch supporters of David Cameron and other hard-line Eurosceptics. If anything, this is a stark message alluding to the evidently out-of-date Westminster Establishment.

The election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour party last year marked a significant turning point in Labour policy. Torn between the Blairite ‘third way’ and Corbyn’s by-the-book socialism, vast numbers of MPs are struggling to find much common ground. The Tories have proven to struggle with similar issues of their own, with a camp strongly in favour of ideas from further right, and war over the quandaries in relation to immigration and EU status.

This is worrying for a democracy like Great Britain. If parties fail to wholeheartedly unite and allow such instability to thrive, the future of British government looks bleak. The current Westminster structure is outdated and old-fashioned, unable to adapt to the specificities of modern day voting behaviour. There is simply no way that Britain can be forced to mould itself into such an uncomfortable structure which takes only a few indecisive policy options into account. Without change, governments will become ineffective, oppositions feeble, and the electorate switched off.

This issues lie with the Establishment and its pace alongside a fast-changing society.  Our main political parties of Labour and the Conservatives were once formed with the target of aggregating their respective working and middle class citizens. But nowadays, our political society cannot operate in this way. Social class is now far less important for voters than it was during the war-time and post-war periods.

Thus, the factors of gender, political personality, age, location, and simply the precise issues themselves have gained in astounding importance over the past decade. The attempts of many ‘catch-all’ parties in Britain, and further around the world, to gain the support of the average voter may be somewhat genius abroad, but is seemingly not practical in the UK. The diversity of our nation’s society today means that each person is looking for something different from politicians, and our leaders are failing to inspire each and every one of them. The Westminster parties in Britain are struggling to adapt to the new challenges of the 21st century, and aren’t succeeding in raking in the trust of all sorts. The British political system is stuck in the past in its old social class boundaries, and needs new rules.

So how can Westminster become the dynamic environment for engaging political debate that it once was? The people and the society are in place, but the institutions aren’t keeping up with the electorate’s transformation. The fact that both of the largest parties must deal with somewhat eternal internal splits, and juggle two very different pools of policy, must hint that the political framework of the UK needs to be taken a part and put back together again.

PR is the answer. Many reports have shown that if proportional representation had been used in recent elections, the share of seats in parliament would be markedly different. In 2015, the SNP in Scotland would have seen substantially less seats, UKIP would have achieved a whopping increase, and the Liberal Democrats would gain a position as fourth party in parliament with a 7% share. The key advantage with PR, is that it is a modern system designed for a modern society, which takes the growth in issue voting into account. The most important thing is, however, that PR would nurture Conservative and Labour party splits which are much needed for any form of progress. PR would not mean instant death to one of the parties’ internal camps, but would build a separate party stage allowing them to truly proclaim their message, instead of begrudgingly succumbing to their inner opposition.

Perhaps the Tories and Labour would be reluctant to split currently, eager to cling onto their inevitably greater share of power through the First Past the Post system. But in the next ten years, unless both sides unite, the crevasse will grow deeper and a parting looks inevitable. Separate parties with pacts on their similarities, giving a degree of leeway for their differences would revolutionise the Westminster system and make the party system considerably more workable.

We need a change. Through a complete overhaul of the Westminster institution via voting system, politics would become fairer and more true. Certainly, large sections of Britain would become more politically engaged, waving goodbye to the blockaded politics we have witnessed for too many months. Many societies worldwide have made the change, including Germany, New Zealand, and, of course, Scotland. It is time for Westminster to follow suit. If the London Establishment continues to trudge on in Westminster – the abyss of torment and interparty battles – Britain’s democracy will become decayed and society will grow bored of the nation’s dysfunctional decision-making.

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society, UK Politics

Nationalist and unionist feelings prevented Labour wins in Scotland

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Would you call yourself a unionist or nationalist? Did you side with Salmond or Darling in the independence referendum? Yesterday, did you give a vote to the nationalist SNP or the unionist Tories? The pivotal 2014 referendum over Scottish independence heated discussions of political identity. Few previous events had seen Scots passionately side with a political campaign so decisively. This morning’s Scottish Election results have shown that nationalist and unionist sentiment spurred by the referendum has little chances of waning in months – and inevitably years – to come. The extensive and somewhat surprising gains of Ruth Davidson’s Scottish Conservatives have proven that capitalising on the fears of independence and the growth in pro-union feeling will bring in easy seats. Similarly, whilst Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP has lost a few of its hotspots, it is clear that the heartfelt politics of many who yearn for increased decentralisation are still alive. Enhanced commitment to political identities is transforming Scottish politics and is becoming crucial in deciding the futures of our political parties.

The most profound change within the Holyrood establishment revealed this morning has to be the demise of Scottish Labour. The party, once dominating Scottish politics, has entered into a stark and likely prolonged decline. With left-wing feeling traditionally widespread across Scotland, and Scottish Labour gaining the most seats in Holyrood in 1999 and 2003, many hardcore supporters of the party would be most surprised at last night’s results. Labour prepared itself yesterday for a kick thanks to eternal issues surrounding anti-Semitism arguments, divides between Corbyn supporters and old Blairites, and the SNP’s storm in the polls. But one of the main weaknesses of the Scottish Labour party which has come to light in the wake of Ruth Davidson’s largely unforeseen triumph yesterday is that the Scottish Labour party does not have a strong political identity. Having likeable and well set out policies is undeniably paramount. But the other main parties within the Scottish parliament are taking a more decisive line over identity and nationality, as well as asserting their authority as issue-based movements.

Scottish politics has seen a well-established two party dominance emerge at Holyrood in recent years – something the AMS voting system was, in fact, designed to prevent. The rise of the SNP has seen a marked transformation from the consensus politics which prevailed in the earlier years of the Scottish parliament. The SNP has succeeded in dominating devolved decision making since its time in government from 2007, a political monopoly fostered by unquestionable leftist history throughout Scotland.

Last night’s election results in Scotland, however, further accentuated the SNP’s already strong nationalist identity. The rise of the Tories also, rebranding themselves in 2014 with heavy emphasis on the unionist element of their politics, marks a real change in direction for Scottish politics. The fundamental questions of identity, which surrounded the independence referendum two years ago, are evidently still hot on the minds of much of the electorate.

A survey carried out by What Scotland Thinks in March 2015 put Scottish nationalist sentiment amongst Scots at 62%, and British feeling on 31%. Whilst this may not exactly correlate with yesterday’s election results, the almost two-fold increase in the SNP’s gains from 2011 looks as if it may go hand-in-hand with the party’s victory this morning.

When the new Scottish parliament sits for the first time in a few days’ time, not only austerity, tax, and public services will place Sturgeon and Davidson at loggerheads. The new Conservative opposition and old timer SNP government will sit in their nationalist and unionist blocs. Whilst many believe that Labour’s demise is due to indecisiveness and leadership disputes south of the border, perhaps its lack of nationalist standpoint is really its Achilles heel.

The referendum is now over, although the SNP continue to angle for another which would take place in just a few years. It seems that the legacy of hyped patriotism and focus on national identity has largely changed the 2016 election’s course. The SNP and Conservatives are the parties for nationalists and unionists, respectively. Of course, a large majority are still issue voters. But Labour’s inability to decisively condemn or endorse another independence referendum may well have contributed to Kezia Dugdale’s fate. Those adamant about protecting the union could safely vote for a strong opposition led by Davidson, keen to protect relations with Westminster, in the same way that hardcore nationalists just know that Sturgeon’s team would never wholly backtrack on independence.

The Labour party is the odd one out when it comes to a focus national identity. The Labour party’s instability rests on its short-lived leaders, racial controversy, and a turf war between the grassroots members and the party’s elected MPs. In Scotland, however, the referendum has not at all diluted impassioned nationalist and unionist sentiment, which will, judging by yesterday’s election, continue to influence our nation’s politics. Stuck in between the fervent debate, Labour has fallen hard, failing to take a form of loyalist standpoint. It seems that the divisive referendum and its focus on identity has created clear-cut sides. The conundrum surrounding the still contentious ‘Yes or No?’ question is still alive. Whilst independence does not look imminent, there is still growing support both for and against such constitutional change. The possibilities for such a transformation are boosting identity-based politics, as well as gains for both the SNP and the Scottish Conservatives as decisive nationalist and unionist movements.

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