The Unraveling Of The United Kingdom


David Runciman has a fascinating post-mortem on the British election. He notes that there were, in some respects, three separate votes - in England, where the Tories had an 11 point margin; in Scotland, where Labour actually gained a little; and London, where Labour's vote held up rather well. What explains this strange pattern? Anti-incumbency. In England, Labour ruled and the Tories fared well; in Scotland, the Scottish Nationalists have been in power in Edinburgh's Assembly and Labour did well; in London, my old mate Boris Johnson is the Tory mayor, and he created a little backlash as well.

If this is any harbinger for the US, all incumbents may be at risk, and not just the Democrats (as the primaries have so far shown). But for Britain, there are darker implications. In Runciman's deft phrase:

At present Labour can only govern England from Scotland, and the Tories can only govern Scotland from England.

So what happens when the English Tories impose stiff spending cuts on Scotland? Or Northern Ireland? That's the problem with devolving real power to Scotland, as Labour did. The country starts to develop an entirely different politics and entirely different political conversation, and the UK starts to feel as incoherent as the EU:

In this respect, British devolution is a bit like that other great constitutional project launched for the new millennium, the euro. It worked fine to start with, when it was awash with cheap credit and good intentions. But when the money runs out, the cracks start to show.

(Photo: The English flag, by Paul Gilham/Getty.)