IF there is one broad lesson to be drawn from the recent election campaign, it is that the politics of necessity and opportunity will more often than not trump deep-rooted philosophy and principle.
This is why the Conservatives so ruthlessly and successfully used the prospect of a Labour/SNP alliance to scare the wits out of voters in England and deliver a majority for David Cameron. An election tactic which has probably done more to undermine the Union than two years of a hard-fought independence referendum campaign was pursued relentlessly, despite Mr Cameron’s avowed love for the United Kingdom and keeping it together.
And anybody who thinks that the politics of necessity and opportunity will be put aside would be kidding themselves. In fact, the result has offered both the Conservatives and the SNP a fantastic opportunity to achieve their own political goals. While the two parties are apparently sworn enemies, their aims are surprisingly complementary.
The Conservatives have a majority, but it is a wafer-thin 12 which could well be eroded as time passes. The Tories have some highly controversial issues to push through parliament such as cutting £12 billion from the welfare budget and scrapping the Human Rights Act. And it is with these issues that they may spy an opportunity in the SNP’s demands for full fiscal autonomy – or at least Smith Commission-plus – which would then be linked to the introduction of English votes for English laws.
Already senior Tories including Boris Johnson are calling for a more federal UK, because they believe Scotland should to all intents and purposes take responsibility for itself. While Mr Cameron appears to be reluctant at the moment to go beyond Smith, there are plenty who would like to push him that way for political reasons.
The Tories have now largely given up on ever getting more than two or three Westminster seats in Scotland. However, if Scottish MPs are locked out of voting on English-only matters such as health and education, it makes the Tory majority in the Commons on English-only matters that much bigger.
The logical progression then is to say: why not devolve more to Scotland and lock out the Scottish opposition in England? This means that if, for example, all of welfare was to be devolved, then 58 opposition MPs from north of the Border and just one government MP could in theory be stopped from voting on £12bn of welfare cuts. Suddenly a Tory majority of 12 becomes a much safer one of 69.
The temptation will be great. It may be the Conservative and Unionist party that starts to push Scotland to the exit door, as much as the 56 new SNP MPs at Westminster.