107 thoughts on “Let the fun begin, UK 2015 edition

  1. Fun indeed!
    A few thoughts. First, on representation: having just cast my vote I was reminded, once again, of the advantage of dual citizenship for democratic representation here in the UK and the enduring superiority of the Commonwealth over the EU in the eyes of the UK’s (unwritten) constitution . As an EU citizen (born in France) but a resident and taxpayer in the UK for the past 26 years I (like other EU citizens living and working in the UK) have no right to vote for Westminster elections (only for local and European Parliament elections). Hence, taxation without representation! Luckily, I married a Canadian and acquired Canadian citizenship. Hence, as a national of a Commonwealth country I have the right to vote for Westminster elections. This aspect of ‘democratic deficit’ applies in most other EU countries. An EU Citizens’ Initiative was launched a few years ago to redress this but it failed to get sufficient support. Actually, I am double-lucky because my French citizenship now gives me the right to vote for French parliamentary elections as well. There are so many of us French nationals living in London (400,000) that at the last French parliamentary election in 2012 a constituency was created to represent us in the National Assembly. As French ‘expats’ living in the UK we already have the right to vote for French presidential elections. You can never vote too often!

    Second, readers with access to UK TV coverage of Election Night might want to check out Rod Liddle’s fun guide published in the last Sunday Times ‘Election Night Starts Here’ (pp.18-19, probably behind paywall).

    Third, there is so much uncertainty about the 2015 election outcome that experts don’t want to stick their neck out and make predictions about which party might finish first and which coalition government might form (hence, I have scheduled my media interviews for tomorrow in the hope of more clarity by morning. Fat chance?) Moreover, experts are divided about what happens if no one can form a government under the Fixed Term Parliament Act passed by the Conservative-Lib Dems setting the date for the next general election in May 2020. On Tues evening at an event I asked constitutional expert Philip (Lord) Norton to clarify this. His response basically confirms the information published on the BBC Election 2015 website (scroll down to the part ‘Is there anyway round this?).

    By the way, my School (Politics and International Relations) at Queen Mary University of London launched an App a few weeks ago matching voters with parties ‘WhoGetsMyVotes’ available here http://www.qmul.ac.uk/ Have a go. You might enjoy it even if you have no right to vote!


  2. How well will Political Science do at the UK General Election?

    Two weeks ago 11 separate election forecasting teams presented their predictions at a conference at the LSE: see –
    http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/generalelection/a-distribution-of-general-election-forecasts/ – for a summary.

    No team forecast a majority for any party.
    Predictions of seat totals for the Conservatives ranged from a low of 233 to a high of 296 (average of 278).
    For Labour a low of 261, high 312 (average 283)
    Liberal Democrats: low of 10, high of 36 (average 23).
    SNP: low of 9 (!) high of 55 (average 41)

  3. Exit polls project Con 316, Lab 239, SNP 58, LIb Dems down to 10. 2 for UKIP.

    I’m guessing that means a late swing from Lib Dem to Con. But the exit polls have been wrong in the UK before.

    • The exit polls were extremely good in 2005 and 2010. This one is so far off the consensus of the various forecasts that one has to wonder.

      Either the many forecasters or the exit pollsters are going to be wearing some egg.

    • The 3 seats declared appear to be very safe Labor seats, and it seems strange the Tories are supposed to take seats fromLabor in England and the declared seats are not showing any sign of a big Tory swing. I am used to safe seats swinging more dramatically against a losing party than marginal seats.

  4. 2 for the Greens as well, according to this poll. If the road to a working majority for D. Cameron relies on the unionist parties in Northern Ireland, then the results from beneath the “dreary steeples” of Fermanagh and Tyrone may end up being crucial (in that specific case, Sinn Féin won, but of course did not occupy, the seat with a one vote majority)

  5. There’s a YouGov Exit Poll: CON – 284 LAB – 263 SNP – 48 LDEM – 31 UKIP – 2 GRN – 1

    Who know’s what is going on?

    • YouGov clarified that this was not an exit poll. They simply recontacted their online panel today, and saw no reason to change their pre-election forecast. But still, way off the BBC/ITV exit poll.

  6. I saw the exit poll Chris referenced. This is the full quote from the BBC:

    “The survey taken at polling stations across the UK suggests the Tories will get 316 MPs to Labour’s 239 when all the results have been counted.

    It suggests the Lib Dems will get 10 MPs, the SNP 58, Plaid Cymru 4, UKIP 2 and the Greens two.”

    The exit polls were famously incorrect once before, in 1992, when they failed to predict the Tory majority, but have been fairly accurate in other elections.

    However, these are considerably off from the last pre-election polls and the consensus of analyst predictions. The most glaring example is that there are 58 seats in Scotland. The exit poll is predicting that the SNP will win every single seat in Scotland, including Orkney and Shetland where the islanders don’t really view themselves as Scottish (culturally its closer to Norway). Its possible for Plaid Cymru to win more than three Welsh seats, but difficult since their support is so identified with the Welsh language and there just isn’t enough majority Welsh speaking constituencies. No one had the Lib Dems this low, had Labour losing seats (quite a few of them), and I have no idea where the second Green seat is supposed to come from.

    This would result in a minority Tory government with DUP support, but its not a very plausible result. And it would be interpreted as the last minute Tory scare tactics over Scotland succeeding, probably resulting in the medium term in the end of the union.

  7. 16 seats have been declared so far, all holds for the incumbents. Nuneaton was a seat which, according to the exit poll, should have swung to Labour, but instead there was a 2% swing to the Conservatives. BBC is suggesting that the exit poll may have underestimated the Conservatives and they may have won a majority.

    All of the evidence is that the SNP have won all or nearly all of Scotland’s 59 seats, though none have yet been declared.

  8. There has been a lot of talk about the DUP as important in government, but they have just lost South Antrim to the UUP, and their vote share has dropped in most of their seats.

  9. Assuming that the exit poll proves accurate, there are no longer any Union-wide parties. I tend to agree with Ed’s prognosis that the Union cannot continue in its current form. The Conservatives are effectively an English national party and Labour, depending on what happens to their Welsh seats, is not far behind.

    Springing English votes for English laws on the Scots immediately after the independence referendum may not have been such a brilliant idea. It was clearly a response to UKIP pressure on Conservative seats in England and had very little to do with the Union as a whole.

    Cameron is committed to an EU referendum. The EU is popular in Scotland and it’s going to be hard to argue for an EU referendum without another Scots referendum.

      • Orkney and Shetland does not really identify with Scotland and would probably be happy to be freed from the Scottish yoke. A Union where the only Union-wide party holds 10 seats is not necessarily a Union with a happy future.

      • Quite right, Alan. The likely appointment of a non-Scot as Secretary of State for Scotland won’t help with that, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea for Cameron to try and keep Alistair Carmichael (the MP for Orkney and Shetland, and incumbent Secretary of State for Scotland) in the cabinet.

      • In fairness the Tories hold 3 Welsh seats and Labour hold 21Welsh seats. Neither of the Unionist/English/major parties hold seats outside England and Wales.

        And while the 20-year old MP from Scotland is impressive, consider the interesting position of Stephen Kinnock, Labour MP for Aberavon, who is married to the prime minister of Denmark.

  10. Labour haven’t been completely wiped out in Scotland. Edinburgh South has stayed in Labour hands, with a small swing towards Labour candidate Ian Murray, a former city councillor.

  11. It looks like the exit poll was implausible but accurate but this means the union is effectively doomed, this should be at least an interesting five years for political scientists/

    • A lot of people are saying that, but I think it’s a huge exaggeration, at the very least it’s far too soon to tell. Canada, in my mind one of the most similar cases, has survived following election results bearing strong similarities, most importantly a hugely successful separatist party and successive federal governments with almost no representation in Quebec. In Britain, the Conservatives seem willing to deepen devolution and to resolve the West Lothian question – the words ‘federal structure’ have been abundantly repeated by Tory candidates tonight. The Union is now much less at risk than it would have been had the result tended towards the radically hung parliament predicted by most of the pre-election polling.

      • I think I agree on the Conservatives’ capacity to set up a federal structure. A number of BBC talking heads commented that Cameron is aware of the problems and is capable of thinking deeply about it, although you would never know from his election campaign. No prime minister wants to be David the Last.

        It’s not insignificant that Boris Johnson is newly elected to the house of commons, called for a federals structure a number of times on election night, has headed an autonomous community, and is one of Cameron’s likely successors.

        At the same time I don’t know that Canada is necessarily all that reassuring. For Canada to be a close fit to the UK, Ontario would need to be more than 3 times its actual population.

        I maintain the view that the process could go wrong and result in the end of the Union, by as JD has noted (for example) establishing a single English parliament.

  12. The Guardian is reporting that the Conservatives may have an actual majority of seats in the House of Commons, which is beyond what the exit polls or the pre-election polls predicted, but this night it is frustratingly difficult to get actual results out of the BBC or the major British newspapers. I don’t remember this with previous elections. Its very strange.

    Apparently the Lib/ Dems did hold Orkney and Shetland, which would make sense, but the SNP swept nearly everything else in Scotland.

    • 5 seat majority can be erroded through defections, deaths, resignations, and by-elections. Such a very slender majority. Will there be a snap election to get a bigger majority? Is the fixed term election law iron cladded?

      What would the result had been if the Alternative Vote been used?

      • I’m not sure what would have happened under AV. Labour would have done better in Scotland off preferences from the other unionist parties, but that might have been balanced out by UKIP preferences flowing to the Conservatives in England. The Lib Dems would be slightly less stuffed, but they would still be very weak.

      • The Fixed Term Parliament Act will prevent exactly that: a PM calling a snap election because it suits him. Of course, this parliament could attempt to repeal the law. The House of Lords probably would stop them from doing so, however.

  13. It is now just after 11 in the morning GMT, only 12 seats left to declare and the BBC is indeed projecting a Conservative majority – effectively, they have already reached 324, which is an effective majority when excluding Sinn Fein and the Speaker. Labour is currently on 228 declared seats, the Lib Dems on just 8. SNP has also surpassed all expectations by winning 56, three short of the total number of Scottish seats. UKIP has only won a single seat, not Farage’s Thanet South but Clacton. The Greens have also remained at 1 seat only.

  14. Looking at the damage this morning, and trying to ignore my partisan preferences, I don’t view the result as good for democracy. Leaving aside the whole problem of Scotland, which probably will wind up literally being the end of the UK as we have known it, he Conservatives got a majority with 36.9% of the vote (according to what is posted on Wikipedia, I find it hard to get popular vote percentages elsewhere), the second lowest popular vote percentage in the history of UK elections for a party winning a majority, and just above the 35.2% for Labour in 2005, which still has the record. There seems to have actually been a 0.3% swing from the Conservatives to Labour, but the Conservatives gained seats at the expense of Labour, who like the Lib Dems lost some high profile incumbents. The government was re-elected despite the combined percentages for the two governing parties dropping from nearly 60% to around 45%. The third place party in the popular vote (UKIP, not the LDP, got one seat on 12.6% of the vote, due to the re-election of an incumbent MP that just defected from the Tories.

    • Would it have been equally as bad for democracy if the Conservatives had fallen short, and Labour and the SNP had entered into a deal, despite Miliband telling the electorate that no such deal would happen?

      • It is not possible to justify winning a majority seats on 36.9%, any more than it is possible to justify winning all but 3 Scottish seats on just over half the popular vote in Scotland. The confected majorities in both England and Scotland just do not reflect the popular will. I agree with Ed that the result is likely to destroy the Union I’m fairly short order.

        I thought the Miliband promise was absurd, It was frankly weird that Miliband used the words ‘under any government I lead’ about excluding SNP ministers that Julia Gillard used of the carbon tax.

      • Actually I think, and have posted this before, on other venues if not on this site, that the likeliest result of no majority for either Labour or the Tories, with the SNP MPs holding the balance of power, would have been a “National” government of the Conservatives and Labour. Apparently no one else thinks this. But institutionally, since the SNP is the main Labour rival in Scotland, Labour has a strong incentive not to cooperate with the SNP. A deal between the SNP and the Conservatives is actually more likely, since Scotland having a strong influence within the UK is not in the Tory interest.

        I sort of accept that using single member districts will result in parties getting majorities with less than a majority of the popular vote, but I really would prefer no overall majority if no party can even break 40%. You don’t get a right wing popular vote majority by adding up the Conservatives and UKIP, or a pro-government majority by adding up the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in the popular vote, so I think this was a democratic mis-result. Plus you had the Conservatives gaining seats and Labour losing seats on a Conservative to Labour popular vote swing. I don’t see how the end of the Union can be avoided, after the Scots just voted to stay in the Union.

      • “I don’t see how the end of the Union can be avoided, after the Scots just voted to stay in the Union.” I’m not sure what you’re trying to say here. Personally I don’t see how the end of the Union could happen anytime soon, after the Scots just voted to stay in the Union.

      • I don’t think the SNP could have entered into a deal with Cameron outside constitutional issues. Sturgeon explicitly campaigned on a left-wing platform, and to back a right-wing government would be seriously unpopular. The collapse of the Lib Dems might give Sturgeon a clue about what happens to the smaller coalition partner.

      • Also, a ‘national government’ might be possible in wartime, but it is hard to imagine such a deal today without one (if not both) parties splitting.

      • The UK had a national government, or grand coalition, from 24 August 1931 to 3 September 1939 when Chamberlain formed a war ministry. In 1931 the National Ministry won 554 seats. They were re-ekected in 1935. Interestingly they had 3 prime ministers, 1 from Labour (subsequently National Labour) and 2 Conservatives.

        The UK also had a national government comprising Conservatives and Lloyd George Liberals from 1918 to 1922.

    • “but the Conservatives gained seats at the expense of Labour”

      I think that Conservatives gained seats more at the expense of LibDems (I am nor sure, but I have the idea that Labour win more previous Conservative seats than the opposite).

      The apparent global efect “Conservative up, Labour down” is the result of Labour losing seats for the SNP and LibDems losing seats for the Conservatives, not of Labour losing seats to Conservatives.

      • Correct.

        “Labour won 10 seats from Tories but lost 6 to them, making a net again of just 4. The other 11 came from the Lib Dems, 27 of the 35 seats they picked up came from the Liberal Democrats. Once you offset their 10 losses to Labour it is clear that the Conservative majority came entirely from the Liberal Democrats.” (Stephen Fisher at Elections Etc.)

  15. The Conservatives have a majority of four, and should be able to get the support of the ten Unionist MPs from Northern Ireland. However they are obviously not going to be able to get the backing of the eight Liberal Democratic MPs in this Parliament on any terms.

    That means that if by-elections and defections cause the Conservative majority to disappear over the course of the Parliament, which is a reasonable assumption, the new Conservative leader (Cameron has said he will step down in this Parliament, similar to what Blair said in the 2005 campaign) would either have to get the new Labour leader to agree to new elections, or deal with the SNP. But their position would be easier if Scotland were independent and the 56 SNP (and one Labour, one Tory, and one Lib Dem) MPs from Scotland were removed from the equation entirely.

    • There’s a certain irony in the fact that Cameron’s margin of safety will be 10 MPs from a devolved region. I wonder will he hesitate to ask for their suppot to pass English legislation (though the Conservatives do have a bigger majority of English-only MPs, maybe in an English votes for English Laws situation the problem won’t arise?)

      One encouraging result the number of women in the Commons, though still not all that high, has increased quite substantially since 2010.

      • I am not completely sure a small group of Irish MPs with a potential veto on government policy is going to be eager to pass English gerrymanders for Conservative laws and surrender their veto. The experience of the Liberals in the same situation in the nineteenth century is instructive.

        Equally, the Conservatives are not proposing there be an English prime minister responsible to the English configuration of the house and a UK prime minister responsible to the UK configuration of the house.

      • The ‘English votes for English laws’ proposal may be an abominable way to deal with the WLQ, but it has nothing to do with gerrymandering. It is also dealing with a real fairness problem. No matter how large or powerful England is, it makes no sense for Scottish, Welsh and NI MPs to have a vote on matters not affecting their constituents while English MPs have no equivalent power as the other constituent countries as they have their own assemblies deciding on those matters. the exact same would be the case if Victoria and NSW didn’t have their own parliaments, instead being legislated for and run from Canberra.

      • The solution to that problem would be to establish parliaments in Victoria and NSW. It is a fairly basic principle that each elector’s vote have the same value across the whole of the voting area. An obvious consequence of the principle of equality is that the representatives chosen by the electors should have the same voting power.

        Proposed solutions to the real problem of one omnicompetent legislature dealing with 3 (sometimes 4) countries have included reducing the quota in the devolved countries so that electors would no longer be equal and the EVEL proposal which introduces inequality of representatives rather than inequality of electors.

        The UK suffers from considerable electoral malapportionment. That is a product of an archaic registration system, boundary commissions being required to apply conflicting rules in redistribution. and extraordinarily slow process of redistribution. A particular problem is that boundary commissions are required to work with the electoral roll as it existed at the start of the process. That would be much of less of a problem if boundary reviews were not so glacial.The Sixth Boundaries Review was aborted in 2013 and parliament then amended the legislation so that the next boundaries review will begin in 2018. It is unlikely to be completed by the next general election and the current boundaries will almost certainly apply. The 2020-25 parliament would then be based on the electoral roll as it existed a generation before that election.

        There is almost always some degree of bias from this source because boundary reviews are conducted every 8 to 12 years, and often take many years to conduct. Hence the current boundaries, which began to be used in 2010, are based on the electorates in the year 2000, so will already be 15 years out of date when the 2015 election is held. The previous boundaries were based on the electorate in 1991, so were 6 years, 10 years and 14 years old at the three elections they were used for.

        It is hard to think of a greater bias than enacting inequality of representatives as yet another layer of chaotic bias on an already chaotic system. I probably should not have used ‘gerrymander’. I suspect the real problem is our old friend the attitude that ‘We haz the most wonderfullest constitution ever, like seriously’.

      • Alan, I agree with you that EVEL is a terrible solution, as I already indicated. By the number of times I heard ‘federal structure’ and other expressions as opposed to ‘EVEL’ during election night, I have a feeling we haven’t heard the last word on Conservative constitutional proposals for dealing with WLQ.

        My understanding was that there is already a new apportionment map ready, in the form of 600 constituencies, almost all of them conforming to a max. 10% deviation norm (apart from the handful of island constituencies). It was scuppered at the last minute by the Lib Dems in retaliation for the backbench rebellion on Lords reform. The reason I am led to believe the map was completed by the fact that projections were made as to the 2010 result had it been held using the proposed boundaries. Perhaps the new government will try to pass it, although there will be more public criticism as the pro-Labour bias is now far less evident and the Tories managed to win a majority despite that bias. An Australian-style reapportionment system would certainly be nice.

      • A map ( actually 4 maps) was at least partially prepared by the Sixth Boundaries Review. New maps have to be affirmed by both houses.

        The LibDems abandoned the review in reaction to the Conservatives abandoning House of Lords reform. I do not think the maps, which provided for 600 seats, were ever completed or formally laid before parliament (I suspect not) but legislation was passed to postpone the review until 2018 and the boundaries commissions (one for each country in the 4 country configuration of the UK) discontinued the review.

        The 2018 review will recommence de novo. I am unclear whether the 2018 review will be working on 600 seats or 650 seats. I would guess the new Conservative majority may revisit the existing legislation now that they no longer need LibDem support in the commons. Bear in mind that reviews take years once they start.

        One of the more shambolic features of UK election practice is that there is no single statute governing elections and the legal provisions are scattered across literally dozens of statutes and subordinate regulations. That is made worse because there is excessive reliance on subordinate legislation.

  16. As I mentioned it, is there a chance for a planting on English Votes for English Laws? Its a fascinatingly baroque way of solving the West Lothian question. Is ther any other system which practices this sort of two tier approach? (the other would of course be for England to give enough of a majority to a particular party so that it needs no support in the commons from Welsh, SCottishor nOrthern Irish MPs, but one cannot guarantee this…)

    • The Flemish parliament does a version of that, with Flemish Brussels MPs voting on language community issues but not on regional matters, for which Brussels has its own parliament.

    • I don’t think the Ulster MPs are a viable option.

      Relying on their support would endanger the peace process within Ireland and might even endanger the relationship with the Irish republic. The dangers in England itself are equally great. One of Cameron’s masterstrokes was a fear campaign that a Labour government would depend on the SNP. He cannot now turn round and depend on Ulster Unionist MPs without incurring significant dangers to his own position.

      Equally Cameron cannot push through English votes for English laws, a major change to the UK constitution, on a majority of 6. He can probably get an EU referendum, but only at the risk of a second Scottish referendum and I would not like to be campaigning for Scotland to remain in the UK if either or both of EU withdrawal or English votes for English laws was in play.

      Strangely enough.one direction Cameron could go is federalism, and he would probably draw support from the SNP to achieve that. However it would certainly require further referendums that he would have no guarantee of passing.

      There were 21 by-elections in the last House of Commons. I am still hunting for an election pendulum from yesterday’s result but my impression is that a number of Conservative wins were on very narrow margins indeed. I would not want to be defending Conservative seats in by-elections right now.

      Winning a narrow majority of seats on 36.9% of the vote is fine. Dealing with the interlocking constitutional issues on such a narrow majority is going to be a nightmare. A major mistake on one of these issues could see the breakup of the UK.

      Lastly, English votes on English laws is a slogan. England dominates the union in terms of wealth, power and population. England has larger share of the population of the union than Prussia had in the German empire and the Weimar republic.

      When dominant groups suddenly decide they are actually victims of discrimination then politics becomes, to say the least, somewhat complex. Moreover, most ‘English” laws also apply in Wales and the Welsh Assembly has significantly smaller legislative competencies than the Scottish parliament. I notice there is campaign for English and Welsh votes English and Welsh laws but only English votes on English laws and only Welsh votes on Welsh laws.

      There are parliaments that incorporate some form of minority veto. I know of no parliament with a constitution that is largely uncodified and unentrenched where a minority veto, let alone a majority veto, applies. How are the four separate domains of union law, English and Welsh law, English law, and Welsh law going to be defined? And what institution si going to enforce the boundaries to those domains?

      It is impossible to imagine such a scheme working (if it were to work at all) without a written constitution and judicial review and you can’t enact a written constitution on a majority of 6 in a country where the political class makes a fetish of an unwritten constitution.

      • Should read: ‘I notice there is no campaign for English and Welsh votes on English and Welsh laws but only English votes on English laws and only Welsh votes on Welsh laws.

      • The English seem to feel in the main that they already have a parliament and its based in Westminister, and it should do what they want it to. One reason why the idea of a devolved English Parliament has never taken off, presumably.

        Perhaps it should be given back to them, and an “Imperial Parliament” set up to deal with common affairs, as suggested by Timothy Garton Ash at the Guardian


      • If there is something that would spell the end of the Union, it would be an English parliament. England is simply far too large a part of the UK not to undermine the federal Westminster. The attention of the English public would shift to that parliament, and the moment there’s a major disagreement between an English government and a different Westminster government, it will start calling for English independence. Despite institutional and other differences, a similar story happened in the USSR and Yugoslavia. The best solution would be to devolve (well, ideally it would go past devolution and into a federal constitution) powers to local authorities.

    • I agree completely about a single English parliament.

      There could be a case for the Spanish model of autonomous communities in addition to devolution.

      The British could do worse than adopt something like Title VIII of the Spanish constitution which allows for provinces to group themselves into autonomous communities and can accommodate 1 autonomous cities 2 exceptional cases like the autonomous community of Madrid which is only a single province and Ceuta and Melilla which are autonomous cities. The existing autonomous communities, including London, could simply be recognised as such in a new Act of Union.

      The autonomy framework includes different competencies for different regions. As far as I know there is no movement for an equivalent to EVEL although the Cortes Generales has less power in relation to provinces that are part of autonomous communities. Cornwall and Orkney and Shetland would be excellent cases for autonomous districts.

      • I think some people misunderstand this issue. There already is an English Parliament. Its the UK Parliament in Westminster. Just expel the Scottish and Irish MPs and you have your English Parliament (and if you are wondering, Wales was incorporated into England by seven centuries ago and is part of it for most administrative purposes).

        The simplest way to get an English Parliament would be for the English MPs to constitute themselves and English Parliament and vote to leave the UK, maybe after the Scots vote for independence in a referendum, which among other things would stick the Scots with the Northern Irish problem. The less elegant way would be something like devo-max for Scotland and Northern Ireland, putting both into a constitutional position similar to the Irish Free State.

      • Wales was conquered in 1283. The country was merged into the English crown in 1542.

        That medieval history is perhaps less relevant than the narrow majority of 50.3% for devolution in 1997 and the considerably greater majority of 63.49% in 2011. The Welsh would seem to disagree with Henry VIII and I suspect they may be a tad more persuasive. The political logic of amputating Scotland and Northern Ireland while trying to retain Wales is not immediately obvious.

        The Act of Union 1707 merged the English and Scottish parliaments and created a new body known as the Parliament of Great Britain. A subset of the House of Commons is not the Parliament of Great Britain.

        It is true that Irish MPs declared independence in this way in 1919, but as far as the United Kingdom was concerned that declaration was null and void and independence was only granted when the Parliament of Great Britain passed the Irish Free State Constitution Act 1922 which enacted the provisions on the Anglo-Irish Treaty into law.

        Unilateral English secession is not going to happen. It would almost certainly be political suicide for the party that attempted it. Moreover, the UK has a recent constitutional convention that major changes are not made except by referendum. Unilateral secession by act of a subset of the House of Commons would be an insane procedure.

        An Act of Parliament must be passed by both houses and signed by the Queen. The House of Lords and the Crown might reasonably ask if the bill had passed the House of Commons and if not why not. At minimum it would be ignored by the House of Lords and the courts and quite possibly by the Crown as well. The most likely outcome for such an unlikely manoeuvre would be for the Queen to send for either or both of the opposition leader and the men in white coats.

      • “The British could do worse than adopt something like Title VIII of the Spanish constitution ” My thoughts precisely. The Spanish model would be perfect for Britain, particularly with the bottom-up approach to consolidation of local authorities.

  17. I am impressed that both the dignified and the efficient parts of the British Constitution managed to add new names in the same week.

  18. The convention in Britain is that majorities are calculated by subtracting the numbers of the opposition from those of the government. Counting all elected MPs yields a majority of 331-319 = 12. Counting only those participating and with a vote yields the Conservatives 331-314 = 17.

    • Its been pointed out that the present Conservative majority is actually smaller than that of John Major after the 1992 election, another surprise victory over a Labour Party whose leader voters had something of an allergic reaction to. A majority which tore itself to pieces in the space of a few years over Europe and paved the way for a much more centrist Labour party to sweep intopower for three terms. It should also be remembered that there was no equivalent of UKIP on the right then either, and while their seat tally in Westminister was derisory in 2015, they don’t seem to be going away any time soon.

      A different time of course, with the Tories suffering from fatigue after so long in power, and the residual bitterness over the end of the Thatcher era.

      • This is a good point, or at least my thoughts exactly, though Cameron’s majority is bigger than I thought it was at first.

        I’ve seen commentators on the right try to argue that the right wing vote (Tory + UKIP, why not thrown in the BNP and DUP as well?) came close to a majority, but it seems like pleading to disguise the fact that this is the second lowest popular vote percentage for a government with a majority in UK electoral history (the lowest was in 2005, which should have been regarded as more of a travesty than it was). But especially with the UKIP leader failing to win a seat in Parliament, the Tories will want to try to absorb those voters. But I think the top leadership at least wants to stay in the EU. I will have to admit that it would be an amazing political feat if they could do both.

        By the way, I think Labour panicked after 1992, and if you are going to lose an election, this one was a good one to lose.

      • I assume it was not a typo, but a joke. There were various remarks on election night about so-and-so not wanting to get out his seat because the SNP might take it.

  19. “It is also dealing with a real fairness problem. No matter how large or powerful England is, it makes no sense for Scottish, Welsh and NI MPs to have a vote on matters not affecting their constituents while English MPs have no equivalent power as the other constituent countries as they have their own assemblies deciding on those matters.”

    There is a huge difference between the English not having an impact on the laws of Scotland and vice versa. Scotland is around 9% of the Union. The decisions of the Scottish Parliament are unlikely to have a huge impact on life in the rest of the UK. On the other hand, changes in English law can have a tremendous effect on life in Wales and Scotland even if the change in law does not apply in those places.

    An analogy can be seen in the outsize impact that Texas has on textbooks in the United States. If Utah were to change its curriculum to insist that history books offer, in addition to the Bering hypothesis, the theory that indigenous Americans came in boats from Israel, most publishers would completely ignore that because Utah is such a small market. However, if Texas were to put something so stupid in its curriculum (and trust me, our state board of education has come close), textbook publishers are often forced to include the ridiculous changes in national editions because they cannot afford either to lose Texas’ business or to publish separate editions for small states. Those small states simply are forced to accept the changes, as ridiculous as they may be.

    • Very true. It is in fact more than faintly ridiculous to watch 533 English MPs leap on the table and scream at the appalling outrages that 59 Scottish MPs will inflict at any moment.

    • California is the opposite of Texas and balances it out. Why don’t schools stop buying Textbooks from publishers and just have open source text books?

      Scotland and England want to have a divorce, and it may happen someday in the future with the EU referendum looming. Scotland wants to stay in the EU, and the English are opposed. What would the result be, and could Scotland’s vote be enough to keep the UK in the EU?

      • California is not the “opposite” of Texas, and their status actually helps further the example. They tend to require a great deal of California-centric content in their textbooks. They’re a big enough market (12% of the population) that most textbook manufacturers produce “California editions” which include the additional content that California demands. On the other hand, Texas is at 8% of the population. That’s a big enough market that publishers can’t afford to ignore it, while not really being big enough that the costs of having a separate “Texas edition” in addition to the “national edition” would be profitable. Because of this, at present Texas’ curricular demands, as right-wing as they may be, end up getting integrated into books’ “national editions.”

        Other states then have a choice of buying a “California edition” which includes a great deal of content which is not relevant to their students, or to taking a “national edition” which presents a right-leaning view of history/science/literature (some how they haven’t–yet–figured out how to make mathematics more conservative). At present, most states choose the “national editions”; some simply teach them as they’re written, while other states try to ignore the right-wing additions to the curricula. Either way, the small states’ requests don’t change the curriculum in the big states, while the big states’ demands can make a huge difference on the curriculum of the small states.

        This has gone a bit away from the original point the metaphor was trying to prove (though the political dynamics of Texas’ partisan-elected State Board of Education, which sets school curricula, are worth study), but overall I stand by my point that it is not “unfair” that England has no impact on the development of laws in the rest of the UK (ROUK) while the reverse is not true, because ROUK laws have little impact on England while English laws can have massive repercussions on the ROUK.

    • I gather that the Commons’ January 2004 imposition of university fees on students in England but not Scotland – a policy passed only on the votes of Scottish MPs, with a majority of English MPs voting against http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuition_fees_in_the_United_Kingdom#Scottish_MP_vote_controversy – has long been a bone of contention, as it’s a perfect storm of resentment for both the Left (university fees!) and the Right (rent-seeking secessionists!) in England.
      Apart from the two James Stuarts, it’s hard to think of many other cases where the Scottish 8% of the UK has wagged the dog of the English 80%. But the fees example seems to really weigh upon Sassenach minds.
      By definition it would almost never happen for a Conservative government these days, because the Tories don’t depend on Scottish MPs for their majority. For three decades or so before 2015 it could well have happened to a Labour Government, but after Thursday that possibility seems more remote.
      I can’t see any justification for electing a separate set of MPs for England, unless it was to make the English Assembly smaller than the Commons delegation from England (eg, grouping 5-6 Commons constituencies together to give the new Anglemoot about 100 single-member districts). This would be unusual, but not wholly unprecedented. [*]
      [* Until the early 1980s, Brisbane City Council (then and now the most populous bottom-tier local council in the world, I believe) elected its (then) Aldermen from its State electoral districts, there being about 28 in both cases. Then the State National Party government decided to screw over their Labor opponents, who then dominated the BCC (25-3 or thereabouts), by legislating to reduce the Council to 21 seats, in the hope that Labor candidates would destroy each other in preselection bloodletting. The BCC has gradually climbed up now to 27 seats, roughly the same number as it has State MLAs, but now that the zonal system has been abolished, and local government boundaries are not mandatory for the redistribution commissioners to follow, it’s not always to say exactly how many MLAs represent “Brisbane” in a legal sense.
      The BCC’s other claim to fame is that it has possibly the only conservative parliamentarian in Australia, or even the world, named “K Marx”: http://www.kimmarx.com.au/%5D

    • That’s a good argument for not creating a new State/ Province/ Region that is going to substantially dominate the others in wealth and population. If you do push through mergers, try to make sure that North-Rhine-Westphalia or Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vereeniging don’t get too massive.
      Harder though what to do with an existing State/ Province/ Region that has grown to be rather large. Maybe a case for either a voter petition, a specified proportion of local governments, or the national legislature to call a referendum to break it up, even over the opposition of the State/ Province/ Region’s own government, provided that each new fragment emerging from the mitosis has some minimum population, say 500,000 or 5% of the national total, whichever is less.
      For England, what Alan said. Give the English regions their own assemblies, then let them informally confederate or even federate together for common purposes, along Spanish lines.
      One of the paradoxes of federalism/ regionalism is that too much decentralisation can actually lead to greater centralisation, Suppose the USA was divided into three hundred States with only an average of a million people each. Many would be too small to handle a lot of functions that are currently covered by a single State with a population averaging six to seven million. By default, only the national government would be able to handle these functions. Interposing regions of adequate size – or having mechanisms by which adjoining regions can cooperate and work out a Coasean-efficient solution by mutual consent – avoids the need for everything to be “kicked upstairs” to the national legislature.

      • It would be interesting to see what kind of support regional assemblies get. Remember, the last attempt to introduce a regional assembly for the North East failed dismally (78% voted No), mostly because the powers proposed for the new legislature were too vague and it seemed unnecessary. Will the (very persuasive in the past) refrain of ‘no more politicians’ be effective? For that matter, does it make sense to devolve income taxation and tuition fees to areas that you can cross by train in an hour?

      • @Tom

        If you’re going to have self-demarcating federal units it might be good to set an upper limit beyond which a unit cannot grow by absorbing new areas. You do not want a Prussia or a Russia that dominates the federation so the limit would have to be less than 50% but I have no idea what it would be below that. Canada and Australia have the advantage of 2 big units that counterbalance each other in Ontario/Quebec and NSW/Victoria.

        An hour-by-train rule would lead to the abolition of Malta, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and a number of other nations.

        Spain lays down how to create autonomous communities and how to run them. The transferred functions are all negotiated between the central government and the individual communities. You may get a different result where the structure is known in advance, and the community is a local/regional initiative rather than a bright idea by the centre.

        You’re even more likely to get a different result if people can say something along the lines of ‘Hey, it works in Manchester. Or Northumbria. Or Wessex. Or wherever.’

      • On the other hand, London voted for the London Assembly by 72%. I’d think a regional assembly for the whole of the North may have done better than cramming three regions into that area. It is rather typical of English governance that the only autonomous community in the country is the largest, richest and most powerful region.

      • The main problem of the proposed North-East assembly was that it was a top-down proposal, with a rather artificial region that was dictated from Whitehall rather than be based on more organic units of government. A lot like the unpopularity of the 1970’s redrawing of local authorities around the UK and especially in England, or the unpopularity of the repeated attempts of the Dutch government to merge together different provinces. Start with existing local authorities, and if a council will find it is not exactly economically viable as a community (either before or after the process starts) they will almost certainly seek to work together and even merge with other councils. Whereas if you start with a map of bigger units and present it as a final blueprint, it will not be popular. A bit of bottom-up spontaneous order should do the trick (under a bit of supervision and co-ordination from Westminster, sure). So don’t start with Wessex or Northumbria, instead start with something along the lines of the Spanish case, offering devolution to any council or group of councils that is willing to sign on. Before you know it you should see the map filling up with new autonomous communities, some of them smaller, as in the case of Cornwall of Kent, but undoubtedly there will be places where new regions will form out of counties and urban conurbations.

        The other problem of vague powers should be solved by simply offering something that already exists elsewhere and not being half-hearted about it. Though a little flexibility in what powers are devolved could be useful, I do feel assymetric federalism could get out of hand – after all it would be the continuation of WLQ on a smaller scale. So when next offering devolution, offer a uniform ‘basic package’ (say, for the sake of the argument, as in Wales), with further powers up to the Scottish level offered specifically to larger and more viable groups of councils willing to form a new autonomous community and to ones going it alone that prove themselves to be viable. As to the lack of popular perception of a need for it…. I think that’s gone by now.

        I realise I’m sketching out some very specific ideas here, perhaps not all of them completely realistic or workable. I just wanted to give a more detailed sense of my vision on how it might work best.

    • I don’t doubt that’s true (though Scotland has its own education system and textbooks, and I would be surprised if that particular example applied in the UK) and you didn’t even mention the difference arising purely from the fact England is a huge majority. Nonetheless, I stand by my point that it is unfair, relatively minor though the unfairness may be. I think Tom Round’s example on tuition fees amply illustrates my case.

  20. On the federalism question, the particular problem with federal solutions with the UK is that the English themselves have a strong antipathy to federalism, for cultural reasons that frankly I don’t understand. Federalism or “home rule all around” had been proposed as the solution to the Irish Problem, and again as the solution to Scottish Problem, and technically would have worked fine, but never went anywhere because of this. To a lesser extent, this torpedoed the various Imperial federation proposals. And it turns out that the English have historically hated local government consolidation programs to, so schemes for example to consolidate the counties north of Yorkshire until a county of “Northumbria” and give the county council more power won’t work either.

    So you are essentially left with devolution to the non-English parts of the UK, and eventually independence if English nationalists object to that.

    On Alan’s comment on Wales, there are lots of reasons for a London based government to prioritize keeping Wales over keeping Scotland and Ireland, and historically the Medieval English Kings did in fact prioritize the conquest of Wales over that of the other two nations, and it was Wales and not Scotland and Ireland that was administratively absorbed into England. Even the Romans made sure to conquer Wales (and it wasn’t easy) but gave up on conquering Scotland and never even tried with Ireland. Wales is closer to London and other centers of English population, has a longer land frontier with England, and historically there has been a lot of English immigration to Wales and vice versa.

    • As I mentioned before, I’ve heard the words ‘federal structure’ named as the impending solution to WLQ on the lips of so many Tories (also, see articles like these: conservativehome.com/platform/2015/04/peter-duncan-its-a-federal-britain-or-bust.html) that I doubt this is still an issue.

    • I wouldn’t take the result of the Northeast Assembly referendum as an argument for an English animus against federalism. The London Assembly referendum is one answer. The other is the influence of partisan advantage on the Northeast referendum.

      Initially there was to be devolution all round in England.The Blair government then decided there would be separate staggered regional referendums and just happened to start with the Northeast, one of their regional strongholds. Strangely enough the second proposed referendum was to be in the Northwest, another Labour stronghold. It was abandoned after the decisive rejection in the Northeast. The proposal was rushed, partisan, and the assembly’s powers and structures would have been extremely ill-defined. In particular the Northeast Assembly would have imposed a reorganisation of local government on a region where the local governments had been repeatedly reorganised by Westminster from 1974 onwards.

      I suspect a devolution all round proposal would have more success, especially if the regions defined themselves from the bottom up rather than from the top down and if a regionalisation proposal did not entail yet more local government reorganisation.. A devolution all round proposal would look a lot like the Spanish model.

  21. I agree that there should be upper and lower limits on the size of states/ provinces. Actually I think Sao Paulo and California are too big in population relative to the size of Brazil and the United States, but it would be practically difficult to break them up and as has been pointed out they don’t dominate their respective federations, in part due to the presence of other large states.

    • I hit the “reply” button prematurely before finishing that last comment. I also meant to point out that in many federal systems, political parties get additional influence at the federal level just for the fact of dominating a state. In the case of the US, probably the most extreme example, you get two Senators regardless of the state’s population, two Electoral College votes for the President, the Electoral College votes based on the size of the House delegation in situations where your party would dominate the fragment but not the amalgamation and vice versa, and of course you can gerrymander the House delegation to your heart’s content as well. I’ve noticed that most of the proposals to break up California seem to be advanced by red state types, and would have the effect of adding more Republican Senators and electoral votes.

      This makes consolidating states that are too small, and breaking up those that have gotten too large, very complicated. It will be interesting to see how India manages to do it. Its a good reason to get rid of or avoid things like the US Senate, Electoral College, or gerrymandering and other political advances for just controlling states in your federation.

      • Is India a federal state or a unitary state? It seems like in India, new states are created as if it were a unitary state. It seems as if there are Constitution Contradictions in India’s Constitution. India is not like the U.S where I am a citizen of the Federation (U.S) and of the State (California) that I belong to.

    • The problem is the UK is a country without a codified entrenched written constitution, no law is unconstitutional, and parliament is supreme. It is a unitary state masquerading as pseudo federalism. Federalism without a codified entrenched written constitution is impossible because the parliament in London can abolish Home Rule at any time.

      • I have said elsewhere in this thread why I think a Little England amputation scheme would fail.

        I seriously doubt unilateral abolition of home rule would succeed for much the same reasons.

        In any case, the degree of legislative supremacy in the UK is often overstated. The new UK supreme court is slowly moving towards a doctrine of constitutional statutes that take priority over ordinal law. The UK certainly has a constitutional convention that major changes are not made without a referendum.

        A new Act of Union could not mandate a referendum, but it could certainly provide that the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 did not apply to the new act or to bills that attempted to repeal the exception. The effect would be to give the house of lords an absolute veto or possibly an absolute veto unless a referendum was held.

      • Specifically, the idea of the English MPs reconstituting an English parliament and amputating Scotland and Northern Ireland. The expression ‘Little England’ is used in contrast to Great Britain. You could say the Conservatives ran a very Little England campaign.

      • No, that was Canada. Australia had an amending formula from the very start, the only link remaining was appeals to the Privy Council.

      • The Statute of Westminster 1931 provided that the Parliament of the United Kingdom could not legislate on the dominions (Australia, Canada, Newfoundland, New Zealand, and South Africa) except on the request and consent of the dominion concerned.

        In theory the UK could repeal the Statute of Westminster and then legislate to repeal the constitution of any dominion but it would be ignored. In theory the UK can repeal the legislation which ratified the Treaty of Paris but I’m not completely sure the USA would respond by putting Elizabeth II onto its postage stamps.

        In 1933 the people of Western Australia voted by a large majority to secede from the Commonwealth of Australia and sent a petition to the UK Parliament asking for an Imperial Act to make them a separate dominion. The UK cited the Statute of Westminster and refused. Australia and South Africa always had power to alter their own constitutions from Federation and Union respectively. Canada, Newfoundland and New Zealand initially relied on request and consent acts passed by the Imperial Parliament.

        The Australia Acts 1986 were about the Australian states, which had never been dominions and the limited right of appeal to the Privy Council that still existed in the 1980s. New Zealand did not abolish Privy Council appeals until 2003.

        There is a whole lot of fan fiction about the powers of the UK parliament.

    • That is very interesting about the Greens in the council election, given that Lucas (the MP from the party) increased her margin by around ten percentage points.

      Well before the election, there had been speculation that voter discontent with the Green-led council could undermine Lucas. However, obviously voters proved able to distinguish levels of government.

    • Weirdly enough, returning officers are precluded from issuing a progressive count. I think that’s very bad practice because it makes verifying results so much harder. It must be savage for the candidates.

      The ballots are collected in one place before they are counted, which also means you don’t necessarily get any breakdown by polling booth.

      On the other hand, it’s a tremendous piece of theatre.

    • Yes, but candidates do get told the results before they get up on stage, and I presume that one could see (based on the height of the piles) if they were toast or not.

  22. It’s my understanding that candidates are told the results before the announcement, at least when the margin is close enough that one or more candidates may ask for a recount. This is because as far as I’m aware, the result declared by the deputy returning officer is final, and cannot be overturned except in court. As far as close counts go, the British system is one of the quickest in the world–it’s quite unusual for a result to not be known beyond the next day. Compare that to Alberta, where the final result for Calgary-Glenmore has not been announced ten days after the election, though the Calgary Herald reported yesterday that the NDP candidate has won by six votes.

    I think the lack of progressive counts make things somewhat interesting–you get a lot of rumors that the media are willing to report that they wouldn’t report in other countries. You also don’t have any chance of the media “calling” an election only to have to reverse their call–the media don’t add the seat to their tallies until it’s declared.

    Plus, it’s not like the candidates are flying completely blind until the announcement–they have teams of scrutineers who are counting the votes as they’re counted by the staff.

    • Candidates are restricted to 1 agent and 1 counting agent, I am unclear if that is statutory or merely guidance issued by the electoral commission. It is considerably less than the number of scrutineers even a minor party would appoint to a single polling booth in Australia. These people have to deal with an entire district.

      Calgary-Glenmore is in a judicial recount because of a tie. The UK provides for a random draw in that case. There is no immediately obvious reason to think that UK judicial recounts, if they were to exist, would be faster than Albertan judicial recounts, which do exist. Judicial processes that must deal with individual votes are invariably slow.

      There just cannot be an argument that restricting the ability to verify an election (which is what the system does) is justified by quickness.

    • I think the quick speed of UK counts is due mostly to the stricter deadlines for non-booth votes. That was one of the No2AV campaign’s errors; they assumed that the slow speed of Australian counts comes from AV, when it actually comes from big electorates and long deadlines for postal votes.

      • ‘Assumed’ doesn’t cut it, they were willing to tell whatever lie they could find to help defeat AV. Anthony Green, an expert on Australia’s electoral system if there ever was one, sent them a letter clarifying how counting works in Australia and that no, counting machines are not used there, it’s counted by hand just as in the UK. They replied, saying it’s regrettable Mr. Green is so misinformed, and that he should get his facts straight on AV.

      • Now the Conservatives are having their electoral campaigns masterminded by Lynton Crosby, who helped John Howard win four successive victories under Alternative Vote.
        You have to remember this is a country that took two centuries to adopt the Gregorian calendar and still hasn’t fully adopted the metric system.
        What was especially galling is the various “open letters” signed by prominent “Oxford historians” claiming that “one person, one vote is a British tradition” (err, up to a point, Lord Cranbourne…) and that FPTP, and only FPTP, upholds this principle (utter bulldust). Meanwhile another wing of the NO2AV campaign pointed out that Australian voters have to wait a whopping 0.264% of a Parliamentary term to know the official electoral result, compared to the mere 0.0547% of a Parliamentary term for which British voters are kept in this torment of uncertainty (true), and that the result was inherent in AV (again, utter bulldust – in fact, the result is largely because Australian electoral laws expend far more due diligence in “counting every vote” than the archaic British models do.
        I mean, really, what’s the value in having an official result on election night (as opposed an “all over but the shouting at every election bar one in 75 years” unofficial result on the night, and an official result a week later, given that defeated Australian Prime Minister resign on election night anyway, without fail) when that result is, so far as the actual views of a majority of the adult populace are concerned, only marginally more accurate than trial by ordeal as a method of selecting leaders?

      • “Now the Conservatives are having their electoral campaigns masterminded by Lynton Crosby, who helped John Howard win four successive victories under Alternative Vote.” Perhaps appropriate, considering Howard seems to have won elections on a big dose of heresthetic (see Edwards 2004, “Divide and Conquer: Heresthetic in the Antipodes.”), and heresthetic can be even more effective under plurality rules.

    • Commonwealth parliaments, (except possibly Canada) provide a place for each member. The UK house of commons actually has a separate members’ gallery that overlooks the chamber where members can sit but not speak.

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