In the wake of Monday’s momentous events at Stormont, the May-June period is shaping up to be a very interesting time in the politics of both Britain and Ireland. A lot of the timetable remains uncertain, but here’s how it looks:
3 May: Scottish elections. Alex Salmond’s SNP expected to make strong
gains at the expense of Jack McConnell’s Labour. Introduction of single transferable vote likely to hit Labour’s historic dominance of Scottish local government. Local elections also taking place in England.
8 May: Restoration of Northern Ireland Assembly. Ian Paisley and Martin
McGuinness expected to be elected First and Deputy First Minister.
9 May: Possible date for the resignation of Tony Blair
18 May:Possible date for the Irish general election. Fianna Fail’s Bertie Ahern favourite to return as Taoiseach ahead of Fine Gael’s Enda Kenny.
23 June: Possible date for the result of the Labour leadership ballot. Gordon Brown still the overwhelming favourite to be elected.
25 June: Possible date for new Prime Minister to take office.
6 July: Last possible date for the Irish general election.
There are a number of possible permutations in this critical two-month period that could shape the future of these islands for years to come. The key uncertainty, it seems to me, is whether the SNP’s gains will be enough to make Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland.
We could emerge with a situation where the main delegates to future meetings of the British-Irish Council would be Gordon Brown, Bertie Ahern, Alex Salmond, Rhodri Morgan, Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness.
This would be a fairly combustible mix in itself. Imagine what the discussion would be like if someone raised the corporation tax issue, for example. It is also likely to compound English nationalist resentment at a time when the Conservatives look as if they are moving to exploit the West Lothian question:
DAVID Cameron is set to strip Scottish MPs of their powers to vote
on English issues at Westminster if he wins the next UK General
After launching his party’s Holyrood election campaign yesterday,
the Tory leader made clear that the West Lothian Question had to be
And he warned Gordon Brown that if the Government failed to do so, his
legitimacy and credibility as Prime Minister would be questioned. (Edinburgh Evening News)
There’s no mention of the article of whether the Tories want to ban Northern Ireland MPs from voting on English issues. I seem to recall the last time this was raised, they claimed Northern Ireland was a different case from Scotland because there was no functioning devolution. There’s a very real chance that argument won’t be available after May 8.