The Scottish Independence Referendum – What Happens Next?

There is less than 24 hours to go until people in Scotland answer the question that could change the UK forever.

Either way, the result will have a huge impact for people across the United Kingdom. Here at PLMR, the referendum has encouraged us to bring forward our long-held plans to launch PLMR Scotland – our new office based in Edinburgh.

As the UK’s top Public Affairs Agency, our team of political experts analyse what the referendum means for the future of British politics. Their thoughts are below.

Either way, David Cameron could be the biggest loser from the referendum
James Ford PLMR

James Ford is a Senior Consultant at PLMR, specialising in transport, environment and digital policy. He was formerly the Adviser to the Digital Chamber of Commerce at the London Chamber of Commerce and an aide to Mayor of London Boris Johnson.

A Yes vote would create a looming constitutional crisis and cause serious problems for David Cameron’s leadership. It is a bad thing to be the Prime Minister who presides over the breakup of the UK, but if you are also the leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party, your discomfort is going to be multiplied.

However, without a really credible leadership candidate in sight at the moment (remember, Boris is still yet to return to the Commons) Conservative attention is likely to shift to trying to delay the 2015 General Election until after Scottish Independence in 2016, arguing that there should be consistency on the matter of who leads the negotiations on behalf of what is left of the UK in the meantime. Given that the last time a Government was able to extend its term beyond five years was due to the Fall of France in World War Two, it seems unlikely those hopes will be met.

It is more possible that a Labour Government could be elected in 2015 only to potentially lose its majority within a year as the forty-plus seats that Scotland generates for Labour cease to exist. In fact, Ed Miliband could become the last Labour leader to see the inside of 10 Downing Street. Enter Boris Johnson, England’s Premier-for-Life….

By contrast, whilst a No vote in the referendum will prompt sighs of relief in Downing Street, these will be short-lived. Cameron will have to deal with the fallout from a seemingly inevitable UKIP win in the Clacton by-election on 9th October. This surging UKIP support and Labour’s poll lead (plus all those Scottish Labour MPs) would likely see the Conservatives ejected from office in May next year and David Cameron racing to hand in his resignation as Tory leader before he is sacked.

The silver lining for the Conservatives could come in the wake of ‘devo-max’ as England (or its constituent regions) begins to demand increased powers to offset Scotland’s privileged position within the Union. Future Labour governments in Westminster may find it increasingly difficult to implement their policies in England, or even pass their Budgets annually.

The No campaign has been reinvigorated by famous Labour faces but it is still impossible to tell which way the vote will go
Kevin Craig PLMR
Kevin Craig is the founder and Managing Director of PLMR. He is currently an elected Labour Councillor in London and was a member of the 2001 General Election PR team.

It has been good to see Gordon Brown back on top form over the last few days I didn’t think I’d ever say this but his energy has actually reinvigorated the Better Together campaign.

If Scotland votes against independence, Labour would likely claim it as a victory. The party’s support north of the border is far larger than their rivals – Labour won 40% of the Scottish vote in the 2010 General Election – and they have the most to gain from a No vote. Let us not forget, Labour has 41 out of 59 of Scotland’s MPs. Keeping hold of these seats would certainly be a boost for Ed Miliband and future Labour leaders.

But it is also important to note this would not be as disastrous as some make out. Over the last few months, many have trotted out the line that losing those 41 seats, while the Tories drop just one, means years and years of Conservative majority governments. While a Yes vote would undoubtedly be a blow to Ed Miliband, it can’t be stressed enough that even without the MPs from Scotland, Labour still would have won with an outright majority in 1997 (with 139 seats, down from 179), in 2001 (129, down from 167) and in 2005 (43, down from 66).

This doesn’t detract from how disastrous a vote for independence would still be. As Labour would be the biggest beneficiaries of a No vote, they also stand to lose a lot from a decision the other way. Scotland is a key party stronghold. Losing to Alex Salmond and the Yes campaign would show that the party is not able to bring votes with it.

A defeat in this manner would certainly be bad news for Ed Miliband’s leadership but perhaps not as disastrous as it would be for the Prime Minister. Many Tory MPs have already got their tracksuits on and are warming up on the touchline, ready to replace him.

The Liberal Democrats are aiming to avoid the blame game

Nathan Hollow

Nathan Hollow has been a Liberal Democrat party member for over a decade, and served for a number of years on the Executive Committee of his constituency party. Before joining PLMR he was an aide to a Lib Dem MP, and in 2014 stood as a Liberal Democrat council candidate in Merton.

Unlike the other two parties, the Lib Dems want to be in a position where, regardless of the outcome, the blame game will focus its attention elsewhere. The mainstream media have so far focused on the contributions (and failings) of Cameron, Miliband, Brown and Darling. Meanwhile Lib Dem activists, always keen for a street stall and leaflet delivery round, have been enjoying some cross-party campaigning and generally keeping a low profile.

But a Yes vote would have severe ramifications for the Party. Aside from party conference being in Glasgow in a few weeks’ time, some 20% of Lib Dem MPs are Scottish – losing them would be a substantial blow to a Party looking to retain a seat in Government in 2015, or indeed remain relevant at all. The Scottish wing of the party is also particularly weak in Holyrood, losing out to the left leaning powerhouses of the SNP and Labour Parties. With only four MSPs, Lib Dems would be unlikely to play a major role in an independent Scottish Government.

On the other hand, a No vote opens up some interesting possibilities. With the Better Together campaign having promised devo-max to Scotland to convince them to stay, other parts of the country are looking enviously and asking ‘where is our devolution?’

As a Lib Dem with a South West twang, it would be remiss of me to not mention the Cornish devolution campaign – an area where half (formerly all) the MPs are Lib Dem and are strong supporters of local rule. If Scotland can have enhanced powers and financial benefits, why are there no devolved powers for Cornwall? That is certainly the attitude of veteran Lib Dem MP Andrew George – the first MP to swear his oath of allegiance to the Queen in Cornish.

At times Andrew may have been considered a member of ‘The Awkward Squad’ (a label he likely relished) but having recently defeated the Government over the so called ‘bedroom tax’ keep an eye out for him pushing for enhanced powers for Cornwall to be included in any package of reforms for Scotland should the No campaign prevail tomorrow.

Join the IndyRef debate on LinkedIn
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To help promote debate online, we have created a new (open) LinkedIn Group – Scottish Independence Referendum Debate.

The objective of the group is to exchange experiences, opinions and knowledge about the Scottish referendum, and its implications, by sharing news, blogs and articles.

Contribute to the dicussion here. 

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