Andrew Whitaker: How would parties fare in iScotland?

THE UK Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat leaders all insisted country was so much more important to them than party as they upped the stakes this week with an unprecedented joint absence from Prime Minister’s Questions for their intervention in Scotland.

A Yes would deprive Jim Murphy of his Westminster seat. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
A Yes would deprive Jim Murphy of his Westminster seat. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

However, with less than a week to go before referendum day, it’s worth considering what the possible implications of a Yes vote really would be for the parties both north and south of the Border. An argument made by sections of the Yes campaign is that independence would lead to a revitalisation of Labour, the Tories and Lib Dems in Scotland, and at a stroke end a perceived Westminster domination of the parties.

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But in the aftermath of a vote for independence, it’s hard to picture the SNP, which has effectively led the Yes campaign as the party of government, being toppled from power by the chastened unionist parties still licking their wounds from what would be a disastrous and cataclysmic defeat for them. It’s highly doubtful that the SNP would be prepared to loosen its grip on power, let alone effectively liquidate itself.

The SNP, fresh from leading a victorious campaign, would almost certainly style itself as the party of Scotland and, although its leadership would surely use conciliatory language to No supporters, it’s possible that for many years after the referendum there would be a subtle and whispering message of “why weren’t you on our side back in 2014”.

Labour, by contrast, would be in a complete state of flux north and south of the Border, having lost a block of at least 40 Scottish MPs, which would deprive some of the party’s biggest hitters, such as Douglas Alexander, Jim Murphy and Alistair Darling, of their Westminster seats overnight.

As for the Tories, it’s hard to see how a party whose official title is the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party could continue in its existing form. Ironically, a Yes vote could lead to the Scottish Conservatives dissolving themselves and launching a new centre-right breakaway party, as controversially campaigned for by Murdo Fraser during the party’s 2011 leadership contest.

The Lib Dems, who now have only five MSPs and face potential further electoral losses in Scotland as a consequence of their role in the Tory-led coalition at Westminster, would perhaps be reasonably well placed to adapt with a federal structure that would probably allow the party to carry on its current form.

With a weakened and shell-shocked Labour Party, the SNP would be in a position where it could remain in power in an independent Scotland for decades.