Although the current UK Parliament has a mandate until 2010, there has been a lot of speculation in the last few weeks about the possibility of a much earlier election.
Labour Chairman Hazel Blears has called for activists to prepare for an election ‘which may be less than 16 months away,’ while David Cameron has called on Gordon Brown to seek a fresh mandate once he becomes Prime Minister.
I think that the Scottish elections in May 2007 need to be factored into this equation. If the SNP emerges as the largest party, a UK election might have some attractions for Labour as a way of challenging their mandate for independence.
1. Brown, not Blair
The Scottish elections look likely to be fought during the very last days of the Blair era. A subsequent UK election would see Brown in full control of both the British Government and the Labour Party. That of course, has its own dangers for Brown, which is one reason he is not taking over the premiership until after the Holyrood poll.
2. First Past the Post
In Scotland, Labour has traditionally been the beneficiary of the first past the post system used for Westminster elections, rather than proportional representation system used for Holyrood.
3. Muddying the waters
One alternative would be to concede the SNP’s demand for an independence referendum, but this could be a dangerous option if polls showing a groundswell for independence are correct. In a UK election, independence would be only one issue, with the battle between Labour and the SNP being secondary to the struggle for power between Labour and Tories. This could, however, backfire, if Scottish voters thought that the Tories were likely to win, and Scottish voters decided to back the SNP and independence rather than face a return to Conservative government.
In sum, a UK election in response to an SNP at Holyrood would be a high-risk strategy – double or quits. However given the threat to the union and his own personal mandate, Brown might not have many alternatives.
What do you think?