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Friday, 30 March 2007

30 March 2007

In just over four weeks from now, voters in Scotland look likely to slam a big clunking fist on to the nose of the Labour party. All the signs are that the party which has dominated Scottish politics for the past half century is in something close to melt-down.

Are you bovvered? (Note to readers overseas: it’s a catch-phrase from a popular comedy TV show in which an amateur actor named Tony Blair recently made a well-received guest appearance.) Well, here are a couple of reasons why you should be interested, even if you live far from Scotland’s borders.

First, if the Scottish National Party emerges after the Scottish parliamentary elections on 3 May as the largest single party, some mighty interesting constitutional issues could arise. The SNP says it will hold a referendum on whether Scotland should break away from the United Kingdom and become a separate, sovereign nation again. That could keep constitutional lawyers happily in business for many years.

Second, if the Labour vote does collapse in Scotland, what does that do to Gordon Brown, Labour’s most senior Scotsman and the man most likely to become the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom? Can’t even win in his own backyard? What kind of electoral asset is he? I can already hear the Blairite ultras whispering from behind the Westminster curtain.

But just hold on a minute. Suppose the SNP do win in May. They won’t have enough seats to govern on their own, so they’ll need some partners to form a coalition. And if they insist on retaining their referendum pledge, that could be tricky.

Even if they get over that little hurdle, all the opinion polls suggest that something like three-quarters of Scottish voters would vote against independence. Which would leave us pretty much exactly where we are, except that Labour would have a very sore nose.

But why don’t you make up your own mind? The reason I’m here in Edinburgh is to chair a debate between members of the Scottish parliament on the motion: “That Scotland would face a brighter future independent of the United Kingdom”. You can hear it tonight (Friday 30th), or if you’ve missed it, it’s still available via the Listen Again facility on the website.

Oh, and if you’re worrying about my carbon footprint, don’t. I came here by train.

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