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19 April 2007

The month that changed the UK

30th April: Northern Ireland gets smoking ban. The island of Ireland is smoke free and England remains the last part of the UK without a smoking ban in place, highlighting the democratic deficit in England.

2nd May: the 10th anniversary of Labour coming to power. This will intentionally be a low key affair given their unpopularity in the polls.

3rd May: Scotland goes to the polls. The SNP are widely tipped to win and significant steps towards Scotland becoming an independent country, ending 300 years of union will ensue. Like Wales, the SNP are proposing abolishing prescription charges. How long will England remain socially and politically behind the rest of the former UK?

Labour are expected to lose control of the Scottish and Welsh parliaments and do badly in the English council elections, all on 3rd May with their support approaching a 20 year low.

Tony Blair is expected to resign shortly after the polls, realising that the disastrous showing of Labour UK wide and the loss of devolved control in Scotland and Wales is largely down to continued resentment over Iraq, cash for honours sleaze and it is time for a fresh start. Sources indicate 31st May as the favoured date, but in practice a poor showing in the polls would bring this forward significantly.

Prime minister in waiting Gordon Brown has his own problems to deal with though. On 10th May, the Bank of England raises interest rates again. Normally set on the first
Thursday of the month, the Bank of England which was allegedly set free from political control is curiously meeting on the 10th, rather than the day most of the UK goes to the polls. Higher than expected inflation and a strong pound will hit the manufacturing sector and the balance of payments. The economic joy ride that Gordon Brown has enjoyed is coming to an end and the Tories are riding high in the English polls. Whilst the Dow Jones is now at an all time high, the FTSE100 is still some way off the level reached in 1999.


8th May: The devolution picture completes. With the Scottish and Welsh results in a few days ago, today see the Northern Ireland assembly assumes full powers and a nationalist party, Sinn Fein, sharing power. A struggling Labour government has at most three years to recover from a disastrous showing in the polls. Behind the scenes the Labour government has to discourage prominent Labour MPs from Scotland for seeking election to English constituencies as the SNP seeks to hold an independence poll in 2010 and remove Scottish MPs from Westminster. The UK looks to be on course for a SNP government in Scotland confronting a Conservative government in Westminster from 2010 elected almost entirely from English constituencies.
Such a prospect not only favours the SNP but also sees Plaid Cymru and Sinn Fein increase in popularity.

The UK, heading for part of one island (England and Wales) and part of another island (Northern Ireland) needs a clear rethink of its structure as the nationalist movements in Northern Ireland and Wales look to Scotland and the previous negative arguments levelled at Scottish independence fail to hold much ground as Scotland heads towards being a sovereign nation.

From the end of April to the end of May, it will be an interesting month with reprocussions for years to come.
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