As I See It: Terry Murden
An election that was expected to determine the fate of Britain’s future in the EU, will do more than end the suffocating arguments over Brexit. It will reshape British politics, and determine the relevance of the Labour Party as well as Scotland’s relationship with England.
Labour’s John McDonnell was contrite in defeat, putting the blame on Brexit. It was, as forecast, a quasi second referendum on EU membership and it put the Remainers to the sword.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn knew his party was split and that he had little choice but to take a neutral view, but it inevitably led to defeat for the party and it will likely end his leadership. Labour is a busted flush and cannot hope to overturn the gulf with the Conservatives, at least not without a massive overhaul of its left wing agenda.
The contrast between the SNP’s domination in Scotland with the scale of the Conservative victory down south could not be more stark. With Labour and the LibDems now effectively marginalised north and south of the border the scene is set for a fight to the finish over the union.
In Scotland, the nationalists once again reign almost unchallenged, with the SNP winning 48 of the 59 seats, a result that has energised an already aggressive demand for separation. However, the first past the post electoral system disenfranchises many voters, whereas in a referendum every vote counts and in Thursday’s poll 1,468,248 or 54%, voted for pro-UK parties against 1,242,380 for the SNP.
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon may be fortified by her new intake of MPs, but these figures suggest that she would be foolhardy to push for a referendum. A second defeat in six or seven years surely would be the the last for a generation.
The prospect of five, or more, years of a Tory government fiercely opposed to her main ambition may even have tempted her to step down while her reputation remains intact. Instead, she has refused to accept that the fight is over, and chosen to soldier on, throwing more troops into battle despite the Tories reinforcing the union barricades. She will attempt next week to bring forward the process of calling another independence referendum, even though Mr Johnson has said he will not allow it.
Ms Sturgeon is embarking on a risky strategy. With no prospect of the Tories agreeing to her demands, it could get ugly for the SNP leader with the potential for the party to split between those prepared to join her in playing the long game and those who will become impatient and demand immediate unilateral action “to get independence done”.
Added to this, the party faces the prospect of public humiliation in the spring when the sex allegations against former leader Alex Salmond will be heard in court and will dominate the headlines.
Boris Johnson has also to ponder his strategy and that must include alternatives to his De Gaulle-style “Non” in the face of an undeniably substantial and increasingly frustrated body of support for Scottish independence.
If he continues to resist he will be required to deliver policies that will win over the separatists or face five years of intensifying hostility. Just as the SNP moved its tanks on to Labour’s lawn, the Tories need to tackle those issues that are driving voters to the nationalists. He could start by better promoting the union dividend and ensuring that his One Nation government works for the whole kingdom. Government by slogan alone just won’t wash.
For business, a Tory majority was the most satisfying outcome, removing the threat of Labour’s hugely ambitious and risky nationalisation programme, higher taxes and public borrowing.
The ending of Brexit uncertainty and delivery of a government able to push through its legislative programme has already given impetus to the pound, equities and investment.
Mr Johnson’s government must now make good on its promises to reform business rates and incentives for entrepreneurs. The country’s infrastructure is creaking, and there are some big decisions to be made on Heathrow, HS2 and climate change. A good trade deal with the US, as promised by Donald Trump, would help undermine Ms Sturgeon’s claims that Brexit will wreck the economy.
The Prime Minister has work to do on mending his own reputation which has been shredded over his careless use of language and failure to empathise with those at the wrong end of the economy. Despite this, the electorate has put its faith in him and he must now repay them by delivering the changes the voters demand.