With the SNP surge in Scotland there are some interesting parallels with the general election held over a century ago in 1910 and its resulting aftermath.
In 1910 Herbert Asquith’s Liberal government had fought two general elections and only held onto power by forming political alliances, in this case with the Irish Nationalist Party under John Redmond, who wanted something in return – home rule.
The opposition to Asquith in parliament, dominated by the Conservative Party, had now adopted the title the Unionist Party.
By 1911 the Unionists were led by Arthur Bonar Law, who was against home rule.
However, despite all the arguments for and against home rule, a Home Rule Bill was introduced into Parliament in April 1912. It proposed:
1. Purely Irish questions would be dealt with by an Irish Parliament
2. Parliament in Westminster would deal with all issues relating to the crown, army and navy, foreign policy and custom duties.
3. Irish members would still be in Westminster.
Asquith saw this bill as the start of a process that would free up Westminster from what could be seen as local issues to deal with more important imperial issues – especially as Britain was the world’s largest imperial power.
Asquith knew that the Lords would not support the bill and that he had about two years from the start of the process (the bill being introduced) before time ran out to get a compromise through.
However, all talk of home rule ended when the First World War broke out.
While one could never compare Scotland with Ireland and the situation there over a century ago, it does demonstrate the potential leverage a Nationalist party can have at Westminster if it holds the balance of power.