Tuesday 6 April 2010

Celtic corners will bear scrutiny in election

Watch the corners of the UK during this election. They have never been more interesting.
The devolved assemblies have made an enormous amount of difference to the way the people of Scotland and Wales think about Westminster.
It has become a them and us scenario -- where Westminster is "your" parliament -- that is if you are not Welsh or Scottish -- and the assemblies are "ours".
So how will the general election play out in the Celtic corners? First off there is a certain amount of confusion. Why -- some Scottish people ask --- should we care about Westminster MPs when they don't make any decisions we care about any more? It is up to the election campaign to make that argument.
There's even been a feeling among some Scots that anyone who stands for the Westminster Parliament is being disloyal to the essence of Scotland and their Scottish roots.
Another factor is that Wales and Scotland have been traditionally Labour strongholds -- where there have been few Conservative seats in recent years. But have the assemblies changed all that?
Certainly there have been hints that might be so. An SNP led assembly in Edinburgh. Increasing profile for Plaid in Wales. So what might that mean? A few years ago the SNP might have looked set for a big bump in this election. But Scots may have swung back behind Labour as the idea of an imminently independent Scotland faded during the downturn. Does that mean then the traditional Labour backing might strengthen or will their traditional opposition here, the Lib Dems, carve out some more seats?
And meanwhile what will happen to that traditional Labour base in Wales?
In Northern Ireland there is something else going on again. Northern Irish politics has always been particularly difficult for outsiders to understand, partly because the mainland parties didn't have a presence there -- and the names of NI political parties were not well understood by outsiders.
This election is different in that the Conservatives have done a deal with UUP to work with them should they win. How far that changes NI politics is not yet clear, but it reshuffles the pack when it comes to counting up the votes.
So what does it all mean? My bet is that the Scottish vote might swing behind Labour in May, but Welsh hearts are going to be much harder to win than history might suggest.
And while those Celtic corners have never been so hard to win, they have never been so much needed.

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