What will become of the May 2015 UK Parliament if Scotland votes ‘Yes’ on Independence?

Image by filtran

Image by filtran

The timetable for a Scottish Independence referendum in October 2014 and, if that is successful, implementation of the decision in March 2016 overlaps that of the fixed cycle for elections to the UK Parliament, for which the next general election will be held in May 2015. Governing the UK during that inter-regnum (when there will still be 59 Scottish MPs) will be difficult, as may forming a government after the May election, plus sustaining it after those 59 MPs depart in March 2016. And then there is the House of Lords…

Although opinion polls currently indicate declining support for Scottish independence, 18 months is a very long time in politics. Groups of civil servants are undoubtedly now working in both London and Edinburgh on the myriad issues that would have to be resolved should there be a positive vote in October 2014. Does their agenda include the following scenario?

  • Scotland votes clearly for independence, to occur – according to the SNP’s current timetable – in March 2016;
  • In May 2015 there is a UK general election (when Scotland is still a member of the UK). Labour wins 330 seats in the 650-member House of Commons, a majority of 10 over all other parties. Its complement of 330 includes 40 of Scotland’s 59 MPs. Labour forms a government; and then
  • In March 2016, the break-up of the United Kingdom occurs. The House of Commons is now reduced to 591 MPs, with Labour having 290; it no longer has a majority.

What would happen then? Labour may go on governing – it would be only just short of a majority and, given that Sinn Féin MPs do not take their seats (and also that there are five of them then, as now), it could well get its business through. Alternatively it may reach an accommodation with one or more other parties – maybe even a LabLib pact (a full coalition is  less likely).

If at some stage Labour loses a vote of confidence, however, then the procedures set out in the Fixed Terms Parliament Act, 2011, come into play: there may be a premature general election. And if that happens before late 2018, such an election would be held in the current 591 English, Welsh and Northern Irish constituencies – created using electoral data for 2000; following the Lords’ amendment to the Electoral Registration and Administration Act, 2013, the Boundary Commissions do not have to deliver recommendations for 548 new constituencies in those countries until October 2018.

Having voted for independence, however, the Scottish electorate may decide to send many more SNP MPs to Westminster in May 2015 – why vote for the parties of the now-rejected Union? Indeed, why vote at all? It is doubtful that Labour could win a majority in England and Wales alone so David Cameron’s hopes of a Conservative majority over Labour and the LibDems in 2015 would be enhanced if very few Scottish MPs were elected to represent those two parties. In addition, 11 of the Liberal Democrats’ current 57 MPs represent Scottish constituencies, so much will depend on how the soon-to-be-independent Scots vote in the 53 seats that currently return a non-SNP MP and how the MPs who replace them vote in the Commons during that inter-regnum (would they join with Labour and the Liberal Democrats in voting against the Queen’s Speech, for example, or just abstain?)

That might be a bit – perhaps very – messy, at a time when continuity and stability will still be preached as necessary conditions for economic recovery. As interesting – and potentially very controversial – will be what happens between October 2014 and March 2016, and especially between May 2015 and the latter date, whichever party (or parties) are in power. The government is already concerned about, and seeking a resolution to, the West Lothian problem: it will be magnified many-fold during that inter-regnum.

Once Scotland has voted for independence, what role should Scottish MPs play at Westminster during the following 18 months? Some might argue they should no longer participate –  certainly not in its votes, though, of course, they should continue to represent their constituents’ interests that are covered by the transitional UK government (just as Sinn  Féin MPs do now). But Scotland will still be a member of the UK and decisions will be taken during those 18 months on which they should have a say: what if the UK government recommends that the country goes to war somewhere  in December 2014?

Would Scottish MPs agree to vote on a restricted range of issues only? Could agreement be reached on what those issues are? If not, would the government legislate to limit Scottish MPs’ roles in the House of Commons – perhaps with opposition support (the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats are all opposed to the break-up of the Union)?

And what of the House of Lords. What would happen to the Scottish hereditary peers? The 1800 Act of Union allowed the Irish peers to elect 28 members to the Lords. None were elected post-independence, but also none were required to relinquish their seats, with some remaining members of a ‘foreign’ Parliament until their death, which for one Irish peer was as late as 1961. A similar situation occurred after the Act of Union with Scotland in 1707, when the Scottish peers were entitled to elect 16 of their number to sit in the Lords. From then on all new peers were appointed to the Peerage of Great Britain (as were a few peers created after 1922 who took Irish titles). All Scottish peers were entitled to sit in the Lords under the Peerage Act, 1963, and became part of the electorate after most of the hereditaries lost their seats under the House of Lords Act, 1999. There is thus no Scottish hereditary peerage, merely a UK Peerage, and it would presumably be up to those who, post-independence, considered themselves Scottish rather than UK citizens to withdraw from the hereditary electorate.

Of course, all peers are now appointed for life, and many of those currently occupying the House of Lords benches have some Scottish links. But could a separate ‘Scottish Life Peerage’ be defined to identify them? On what criteria – residence (first, or second)? Some may self-identify and withdraw but others, like their Irish predecessors, may decide to stay. How could they be removed? Could a generic Act be conceived, or would there have to be a series of ad hoc pieces of legislation? And when it was all settled – it might take some time – would the Prime Minister then replace them with a new tranche to maintain the currently-desired party balance?

Uncertainties abound, but governing the UK may be very difficult during the transition period, even if there is good will on all sides.

Ron Johnston is Professor of Geography in the School of Geographical Sciences at the University of Bristol, Charles Pattie is Professor of Geography in the Department of Geography at the University of Sheffield, and David Rossiter. 

40 Responses to “What will become of the May 2015 UK Parliament if Scotland votes ‘Yes’ on Independence?”

  1. John Greer
    April 15, 2013 at 1:36 pm #

    I think that ALL Scottish born MP’s that are at Westminster should either give up their right to be MP’s in Westminster or give up their right to be in Scotland as MP.
    Between the vote and possible full independence, anything concerning Scotland directly, should have all Scottish MPs voting on it and anything not concerning Scotland they should not be allowed to vote on it.
    After the vote in 2014 and before the election in 2015, all Scottish Lords should have decided whether to give up their peerage and move to Scotland or stay as lord at Westminster with no say in Scotland.

    • Ken haslam
      January 5, 2014 at 1:27 am #

      They will not give up their right to continue to be Westminster MPs. As all they are interested in is the cash they can claim from the English taxpayer…

      • dab
        January 25, 2014 at 3:59 am #

        knob its our money too you tit

        • len murray
          September 10, 2014 at 8:47 pm #

          When you go please take your useless MPs with you

      • Kal
        May 22, 2014 at 11:15 pm #

        Oh dear ken
        You really are misguided
        Oh thought the mythical days of this ridiculous lie if scotland was being subsidised was over we in fact subsidies england and the rest of the uk
        You really need to know the facts
        I could educate you but if would be lie leading the blind
        With attitudes like yours know wonder we want to leave the racist capitalist classist mentality of good old england.
        i also hazard a guess that you have never given as to why the u union is so desperate for us to stay.
        Roll oh the yes vote

        • Kal
          May 22, 2014 at 11:16 pm #

          Ps if you can’t understand my scots speak I can speak my second language english for you

  2. Thomas Widmann
    May 6, 2013 at 11:03 am #

    Apart from the House of Commons and the House of Lords, there is also the question of what happens to the Scottish members of government at Westminster (in particular, Danny Alexander and Michael Moore). Do they resign and join the Scottish negotation team? Do they remain in government and take part in the negotiations with the Scottish negotiation team?

  3. Graham Pointer
    June 19, 2013 at 6:10 pm #

    At the time of the 1922 general election, the 26 counties of the devolved region of Southern Ireland were still part of the UK, and did not become independent (as the Irish Free State) till the following month.

    However, despite being part of the UK, the general election simply did not happen in Southern Ireland – there were no writs issued, no contests, no MPs elected.

    • Simpson
      May 10, 2014 at 3:08 pm #

      Agree with this and also that the UK parliament does not deal with or discuss Scottish affairs during the interim period save for those dealing with the issue of independence ,when the UK government will deal directly with the government of Scotland

  4. john king
    August 1, 2013 at 7:38 pm #

    thomas widmann said
    “Do they resign and join the Scottish negotation team? Do they remain in government and take part in the negotiations with the Scottish negotiation team?”

    Or do they do the honorable thing and throw themselves on their swords and commit hari kari, because they wont be welcome in an independent Scotland :(

  5. Ian Mackay
    August 9, 2013 at 8:18 pm #

    The article does keep up the myth that Scottish MPs for the most part have any mathematical bearing on a Westminster Government. It is rare to the point of extraordinary that what England votes for England gets.

    This is information from the Westminster elections down through the years – taken from http://wingsoverscotland.com/why-labour-doesnt-need-scotland/

    1945 Labour govt (Attlee)
    ————————————
    Labour majority: 146
    Labour majority without any Scottish MPs in Parliament: 143
    NO CHANGE

    1950 Labour govt (Attlee)
    ————————————
    Labour majority: 5
    Without Scottish MPs: 2
    NO CHANGE

    1951 Conservative govt (Churchill/Eden)
    ——————————————————–
    Conservative majority: 17
    Without Scottish MPs: 16
    NO CHANGE

    1955 Conservative govt (Eden/Macmillan)
    ——————————————————–
    Conservative majority: 60
    Without Scottish MPs: 61
    NO CHANGE

    1959 Conservative govt (Macmillan/Douglas-Home)
    ————————————————————————
    Conservative majority: 100
    Without Scottish MPs: 109
    NO CHANGE

    1964 Labour govt (Wilson)
    ————————————-
    Labour majority: 4
    Without Scottish MPs: -9
    CHANGE: LABOUR MAJORITY TO HUNG PARLIAMENT

    1966 Labour govt (Wilson)
    ————————————-
    Labour majority: 98
    Without Scottish MPs: 77
    NO CHANGE

    1970 Conservative govt (Heath)
    ——————————————–
    Conservative majority: 30
    Without Scottish MPs: 55
    NO CHANGE

    1974 Minority Labour govt (Wilson)
    ————————————————-
    Labour majority: -33
    Without Scottish MPs: -50
    NO CHANGE

    1974b Labour govt (Wilson/Callaghan)
    —————————————————–
    Labour majority: 3
    Without Scottish MPs: -8
    CHANGE: LABOUR MAJORITY TO HUNG PARLIAMENT

    1979 Conservative govt (Thatcher)
    ————————————————-
    Conservative majority: 43
    Without Scottish MPs: 70
    NO CHANGE

    1983 Conservative govt (Thatcher)
    ————————————————-
    Conservative majority: 144
    Without Scottish MPs: 174
    NO CHANGE

    1987 Conservative govt (Thatcher/Major)
    ——————————————————-
    Conservative majority: 102
    Without Scottish MPs: 154
    NO CHANGE

    1992 Conservative govt (Major)
    ———————————————
    Conservative majority: 21
    Without Scottish MPs: 71
    NO CHANGE

    1997 Labour govt (Blair)
    ———————————–
    Labour majority: 179
    Without Scottish MPs: 139
    NO CHANGE

    2001 Labour govt (Blair)
    ———————————–
    Labour majority: 167
    Without Scottish MPs: 129
    NO CHANGE

    2005 Labour govt (Blair/Brown)
    ——————————————–
    Labour majority: 66
    Without Scottish MPs: 43
    NO CHANGE

    2010 Coalition govt (Cameron)
    ——————————————
    Conservative majority: -38
    Without Scottish MPs: 19
    CHANGE: HUNG PARLIAMENT TO CONSERVATIVE MAJORITY

    Sources:
    All UK general election results
    General election results in Scotland 1945-2001 (Table 1e, p.13)
    General election results in Scotland 2005 and 2010

    So in summary we can see the following:

    - Scottish MPs have NEVER turned what would have been a Conservative government into a Labour one, or indeed vice versa.

    - on only TWO occasions, the most recent of them being 38 years ago, (1964 and the second of the two 1974 elections), have Scottish MPs given Labour a majority they wouldn’t have had from England/Wales/NI alone. The majorities in question were incredibly fragile ones of four and three MPs respectively – the 1964 Labour government lasted barely 18 months, and the 1974 one had to be propped up by the Lib-Lab Pact through 1977-78 so in practice barely qualified as a majority. Without Scottish MPs but with Liberal support, Wilson would have had a majority of 12.

    - and on ONE occasion (2010) the presence of Scottish MPs has deprived the Conservatives of an outright majority, although the Conservatives ended up in control of the government anyway in coalition with the Lib Dems.

    Also @John Greer. Surely where a person is born has no bearing on the matter. If an English constituency want to elect a Scot, that’s their business. The issue is not nationality but where they represent. The Scottish Parliament has a Frenchman that’s a SNP MSP, for instance. He doesn’t represent France but his constituency of North East Scotland. By all means, kick out MPs representing Scottish constituencies post-Independence, but kicking out every Scots-born MP from anywhere else is anti-democratic and racist.

    On a Yes vote on Scotland’s independence, Scotland will become de facto Independent. Westminster will deal direct with the Scottish Government and any new laws affecting Scotland will be passed to the Scottish Government for legislation. From that date there will be little point of Scotland MPs. (As now, then! :) )

  6. Iain Lawson
    August 9, 2013 at 10:59 pm #

    Dont know where you get your facts but all the latest polls show the Yes vote increasing, in the latest poll where only a five per cent swing would give the YES side victory.

    If you are going to write about Scotland please check your facts first.

    Source Panelbase Poll for Sunday Times/ Real Radio.

    • Kal
      May 22, 2014 at 11:20 pm #

      Spot on Ian
      Those in scotland are seeing the light

  7. John Greer
    August 12, 2013 at 9:24 pm #

    So John King, i am racist am i, I am Scottish so how could i be racist against Scotland. The point i was trying to make is that all Scottish born MPs in Westminster should be given the choice after independence of moving back to Scotland and trying to get elected in Scotland or to cut ties completely with their relevant parties in Scotland.
    After independence, NO MPs Scottish born or otherwise that are at Westminster, and have refused the offer of a place in Scottish government, should be allowed to have any say whatsoever in Scotland affairs.

  8. Peter T
    August 22, 2013 at 1:46 pm #

    While I sympathise with Scotland’s desire for independence, I wonder what the human cost will be to those of mixed ethnicity currently calling themselves British whatevers (I include myself).
    I’m proud to be British because it’s an inclusive society. A Scot is a Scot regardless of skin colour. But I get reminded almost every time I meet someone new in England that I can never be English.
    “Where are you from? You’re obviously not English”. My answer is always “I was born in Greenford” I speak with a London accent and have a mediterranean appearance (Hungarian/South African heritage). Is there a “race” in the world as genetically mixed as “the English?” Briton,Celt, Roman, Angle, Saxon, Dane, French, German, Moor, Spanish not to mention last century’s influx from all corners of the Empire, yet I’m “obviously not English?”
    No wonder Institutional Racism is not recognised

    • Thomas Widmann
      August 22, 2013 at 2:00 pm #

      While you’re right that in England, “English” is an ethnic term that foreigners cannot acquire by living there, this simply isn’t true for Scotland.

      Some of the largest ethnic groups in Scotland are Asian Scots and Italian Scots — they are definitely regarded as Scottish, not British.

      As a Danish Scot I can assure you that foreign-born Scots are planning to vote Yes to independence in great numbers, because we feel welcome in our new home.

      • Thomas Widmann
        August 22, 2013 at 2:17 pm #

        As Ruth Wishart said last year, “A Scot is someone born here, and anyone who has paid us the compliment of settling here.”

        • Kal
          May 22, 2014 at 11:28 pm #

          Couldn’t agree more
          Being in scotland is not about being Scottish
          If you love here.live here and contribute in a positive sense then you are oart of scotland

    • walshy
      January 24, 2014 at 3:58 pm #

      England is one of the most genetically pure countries in the
      world, its one of the benefits of being an island nation.

      We dont accept you as an English man because you go round spreading misleading information about our country.

      • Kal
        May 22, 2014 at 11:25 pm #

        Oh dear you have list it haven’t you
        That’s the great thing with being scots we know were we come from and embrace our very diverse background,,Norse ,Latin Celtic and so forth
        Walsh thee is no genetic “english” and never has been in fact your probably more French than English,lol
        Englishness is modern day and hasn’t exsisted for that long
        In fact like your so called ” royal family ” you could even be German.
        Yes there you go shock horror eh
        How many “english” know that prince Phillip isn’t really Greek his original German name of “battlenburg “was changed to kid you all on
        Battenburg who would have though eh lol

        • Kal
          May 22, 2014 at 11:40 pm #

          In fact he is of german/Danish blood though more German,,in fact his sisters were barred from his marriage as they were all married to German royalty
          His adopted english name was Mountbatten which as simply for your previous england to accept him more
          As its an anglification of his original German name.

      • Kal
        May 22, 2014 at 11:47 pm #

        And as got genitcally pure
        Sorry mate but that’s nonsense ypur more than likely from germany originally,,lol (how ironic )
        If not then probably Brythonic Norman or Danish who settled later..
        Only england with its arrogant people could think its original
        Sadly not

    • walshy
      January 24, 2014 at 4:04 pm #

      @ peter t

      the old phrase involving the horse and the stable springs to mind

  9. billforsyth
    August 23, 2013 at 1:21 am #

    If there is a positive vote in the referendum and the electorate in Scotland does vote for independence I imagine that there will be very few politicians in Scotland who will want to go to Westminster in 2015 ,given that Scotlands power base will be at Holyrood.

    They will be even more irrelevant there than they are now.The question for voters in Scotland should really be what do they think will happen to the country if the no campaign is successful.As whatever the outcome of the referendum the political divergence between Scotland and England is unstoppable and Westminster will be in no mood nor have any need to pay the slightest bit of notice to Northern Britain,if it rejects self government and independence.

  10. Ian Mackay
    October 5, 2013 at 9:10 pm #

    @ John Greer.

    I don’t understand your obsession with what to do with Scots-born MPs on Scotland’s independence.

    The issue surely is where they represent. i.e. if they represent Scottish constituencies, not where they were born.

    For example, if the voters of North Somerset are happy electing Liam Fox to represent their area then why kick him out on Scotland’s independence? Its a choice for North Somerset to make at the next election; and – since he has been their MP for a while – they obviously have been happy with him for a number of years.

    It would be quite an insult to suggest that those voters in those constituencies outwith Scotland, that have elected a Scots-born MP, would suddenly become intolerant to Scots overnight on Scotland’s independence.

  11. ScotFree1320
    October 5, 2013 at 9:34 pm #

    If a yes vote is returned, Scotland is de-facto independent from that moment. Also, from that moment, the whole legal basis from which Westminster derives its power disappears.

    The only parliaments that can negotiate the dissolution of the Treaty of Union are the two parliaments that formed it. For that reason I believe that Westminster will have to be dissolved, and a new General Election must happen in the rest of the UK in order to elect representatives to provide legally sound governance and negotiations.

  12. dab
    January 25, 2014 at 3:58 am #

    freedom

  13. MH Asquith
    April 21, 2014 at 12:01 am #

    Sorry ScotFree1320 but Scotland is NOT de-facto independent from that moment. The decision to break up the UK can only be taken by the UK Parliament, in the same way that the decision to create the Irish Free State was taken in London, not in Dublin.

    The 91% of the UK population who are not Scottish are entitled to their say, regardless of what Salmond, Cameron, Clegg and Miliband think. At the very least, this means a free vote in Parliament, though the most acceptable way would be a confirmatory referendum in the rest of the UK.

    Why should I, as a native-born citizen of the UK, have to watch my country being dismembered without my being consulted or represented in any way?

    • John Stobbs
      May 6, 2014 at 11:20 pm #

      If the vote is 55% or higher, the British Parliament will find it hard not to accept the vote for independence, If a Yes vote is over 60% the Uk parliament will have to implement the voters wishes for an independence Scotland, many powers now held by Westminster could be easily transferred to the Scottish Parliament, note it is a parliament and not an assembly.

      Many Tories yes Tories, will demand a dissolution of the UK parliament in its existing format, and if labour is in power with a minority government that dissolution my be easier to achieve, a bill moving large powers to the Scottish assembly and the removal of voting powers of Scottish MPs from powers that have been transferred may be the solution. The lessons of history is that such break ups will have unintended consequences be sure about that.

      • Kal
        May 22, 2014 at 11:30 pm #

        Actually under the edinburgh agreement john its not 55 percent
        Anything over over the 50 percent will be classes as a majority and the uk government in London will have no say ,,it’s legal and done

  14. Kathleen Maddocks
    June 5, 2014 at 4:33 pm #

    I think it should be left as the. UK why change now I don’t think 16yr olds should have a vote they don’t know what they are voting on.

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  16. Gavin Thompson
    July 20, 2014 at 8:19 am #

    On the question of what will happen to Scots MPs after yes vote I think that rather depends on them. If they come back to Scotland -and I mean that in its widest sense -then I am sure they will be warmly welcomed. Ours is not a nation to fester in acrimony. However if they continue to talk Scotland down in general or campaign against Scotland in the independence negotiations or campaign for re-unification then that is a differant matter. There are a number of Scottish MPs that think this latter path is possible and even ‘honourable’. I think any of this vitew need to be re-elected on this basis as an MSP or ‘lsst interim’ MP. Any other course of action is unconstit

  17. Gavin Thompson
    July 20, 2014 at 8:24 am #

    On the question of what will happen to Scots MPs after yes vote I think that rather depends on them. If they come back to Scotland -and I mean that in its widest sense -then I am sure they will be warmly welcomed. Ours is not a nation to fester in acrimony. However if they continue to talk Scotland down in general or campaign against Scotland in the independence negotiations or campaign for re-unification then that is a differant matter. There are a number of Scottish MPs that think this latter path is possible and even ‘honourable’. They are wrong. Continued campaigning like this would be divisive and contrary to the settled will of the Scottish people.

  18. servicemanjohn
    July 28, 2014 at 8:19 am #

    One question I have should the independence vote win – what will happen to the armed forces of GB. Does Scotland form their own forces….do we split the current forces…thoughts ?

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  20. Olga thrall
    September 5, 2014 at 12:14 am #

    Would hate it if Scotland left us. I love the country and the people .
    Please stay with us.

  21. Jacqui hogan
    September 5, 2014 at 10:58 pm #

    The obvious solution is to delay the general election for a year. Anything else will result in some sort of constitutional crisis.

    Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

  22. Colin Biggs
    September 8, 2014 at 5:41 pm #

    Seems the Scots are in a win win situation. Independence if yes and more devolved power if no? If i was Scottish i would vote yes,yes,yes.Anything to rid myself of the corrupt parasites in Westminster.

  23. Dennis Lane
    September 8, 2014 at 6:56 pm #

    Labour could win election 2015 and lose it in 2016 when Scottish Labour MPs leave and cannot vote in Parliament???.Labour lose 40MPs,?a vote of no confidence in the Labour government who may have less than 40 majority.

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