The election is coming up on 7th May and it looks as though whatever happens, it is going to be a momentous occasion in British politics.This election will change the complexion of Britain. The polls put Miliband and Cameron neck and neck – this isn’t hard to understand, with one promising a ‘fairer’ way to balance the books and the other planning to continue with the ‘long-term economic plan’ that has created 1000 new jobs every day and claims to have put the economy back on track.
The two most fascinating parts of this election, though, are far bigger than the Conservatives or Labour. The first is the looming threat of Scotland leaving the UK, and as David Cameron put it, a ‘match made in hell’ between the SNP and Labour. The second is the real possibility that Britain could leave the European Union before the end of the next Parliament. For both of these issues I say: be careful what you wish for.
The rise of the SNP is an interesting case and exposes huge holes in our political system. The Nationalists could take virtually every seat in Scotland and have an unproportionally large voice in Westminster. If they prop up a Labour government they will be helping to govern England and Wales without a single person in either of those countries voting for them. The Greens and UKIP are unlikely to win many seats at all, even though both will beat the SNP in terms of real votes. Does our system care about those voters? It would appear not. Is Scotland’s voice ignored? Certainly not.
There are only two real possibilities for the Scotland question, the status quo not being one of them. If they leave, this would cost jobs, prices would rise and Scotland would be plummeted into a logistical mayhem. The second, and more appealing option, is large scale reform. It seems that we need a federal system like that of Germany or the USA. Their political systems are by no means perfect, but we can learn something from them. Each of the four member states of the UK would have decision-making power for education, health and many other issues. Then a central UK government would make decisions on foreign policy, immigration, defence, climate change etc. At the moment I know the agreement could be so much better, but I’m afraid that we could end up in a worse situation than we started with.
The other big question regards the EU. The focus here tends to be very much on economics and migration. You hear facts bounded around like ‘the UK is making more jobs than the rest of the EU combined’ and Nigel Farage repeatedly asking himself, ‘what can the UK do about immigration whilst it’s in the EU?’ before repeatedly shouting ‘Nothing!’ To an extent, you can’t argue with these assertions. It is true, however, that the EU closely links Britain with the world’s largest economy and the outcome of removing us from the Union is a gamble at best. It is also true that although the free movement of people in the EU is unavoidable if you want to remain in it, real British people have benefited from the agreement. There are over a million Brits living in Spain, for example. Let’s get our facts straight before we start wishing for a divisive, rather than inclusive, politics.
Despite all this, neither economics nor migration are the most important challenges that Britain and the EU are facing. Even with a basic knowledge of history you’d know that Europe has been a continent in constant warfare. Germany and France in particular had been going at each other for centuries right up until (I would argue) the removal of French troops in south-west Germany not so long ago. The EU is a huge, influential and powerful body of countries that helps smaller countries punch above their weight on a global level. The world is becoming increasingly hostile: think about the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the growing aggressiveness of Putin. Then think about the rise of China and its potential economic clout and the increasing American isolationism. Europe is, to a large extent, at peace with itself. Not free of protest, not free of disillusionment or nationalism or fear mongering, but free of out and out war at least. I’ve walked across the bridge of the river Rhine from Baden-Württemberg in Germany to Alsace in France, thinking about how great it is that I can do so freely. No security, no passport checks. Two countries at peace with one another at last. The EU might have its problems (as does the UK), but isn’t sticking together as largely (domestically) peaceful nations something worth fighting for (if you’ll excuse the irony)?
If Britain leaves the EU, it might be the beginning of the end for the Union. A British exit may galvanise anti-EU activists in France and if they leave, the project’s a goner. They were at the heart of the development of the EU and the Union simply cannot exist without two of its three most powerful members. What would happen in Europe if the EU collapsed? We’d see a Europe that is divided again, where governments act in their own interests rather than seeking co-operation and negotiation. Russia, now facing lots of less powerful nations rather than one united group, will become more aggressive than ever and look to advance the occupation of Ukraine. Divided, the former EU states may be able to do very little other than look on in horror.
You hear so much about austerity, the bedroom tax, zero-hours contracts… but the election on May 7th is so much bigger than that. Its outcome could affect Britain drastically, for better or worse.