Archive for the ‘British politics’ Category
Scotland’s upcoming independence referendum has been in the news in Britain. The Scottish government wants to hold the referendum in 2014, but UK Prime Minister David Cameron has said that Westminster holds ultimate control over the wording and timing of any legally binding referendum and wants to hold the referendum sooner.
Another point of contention is whether the referendum question should include two or three options. The SNP government in Scotland is open to a three-question (status quo, independence, or “devo max“) referendum, while the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government in the UK wants a two-question (in or out) referendum. The apparent worry from Westminster is that a three-option referendum could split the unionist vote and allow independence to win with a bare plurality (say, 40% for independence and 30% each for status quo and devo max). Here is a debate among British political prognosticators about what will happen.
The solution to the problem is simple: (more…)
For the first time in history, Britain has vetoed a new EU treaty. The purpose of the treaty was to impose tough new limits on budget deficits of member states. David Cameron argues that the new treaty would open the door to new financial regulations that would disadvantage Britain. His move is likely to prove popular in the UK, where a bare majority of voters with an opinion on the question favors leaving the EU altogether. The Europhiles at The Economist, however, are unimpressed. The remaining EU members appear headed for a new treaty technically outside the auspices of the European Union (however, there are obstacles, as Britain will likely insist that no EU resources be used for the new institutions).
From a strictly economic point of view, however, it was always unclear why Britain and other non-eurozone member states needed to be part of the treaty. Large budget deficits in Britain no more threaten the euro’s stability than do large budget deficits in Sweden or the United States. The European Central Bank has no reason to monetize British debt, and while British default – a highly unlikely prospect to begin with – would surely harm the European financial system, the ECB presumably would intervene in such an event by supporting financial institutions within Eurozone countries. As ever, the construction of new economic-policy powers for EU institutions is about politics: building a political-economic bloc with stronger economic bargaining power. Pay attention to Sarkozy.
There’s been a great deal of debate about the “root causes” of the recent violence in England. Unfortunately, some British and American commentators have tried to score partisan political points by arguing that government cuts to things like “youth programs” are ultimately responsible for the violence. Never mind that the thugs doing the looting and random killings have never expressed an articulate political agenda.
Now there is survey evidence showing that the vast majority of British voters blame either “criminal behaviour” or “gang culture” as the causes of the violence (68% of all voters). Only 8% blame “government cuts.” The other explanations on offer – unemployment, poor policing, and racial tensions – garner even less support. Even 50% of Labour voters agree that either criminal behaviour or gang culture is the main cause of the violence, while only 16% of Labour voters blame Conservative-Liberal Democratic spending cuts.
Of course, saying that “criminal behaviour” is the cause of the riots is a bit like saying that bribery is the cause of corruption. By definition, what is going on is criminal behavior. Nevertheless, what most respondents who picked this option are probably thinking is that the criminals participating in the violence are doing it for self-interested motives, either loot or the fun they get out of vandalism and murder. So then the question becomes: why have people with this mentality been able to rampage for so long? The political science literature on how temporal signals solve coordination games may help us here. The shooting of Mark Duggan six days ago triggered protests and sent a signal to would-be troublemakers that police would have their hands full. As police stood back and appeared to allow the violence to rage, it quickly spread. Individual criminals apparently counted on low risk of being caught. Last night’s surge of police onto the streets seems to have changed that calculus and begun to quell the violence.
But the coordination explanation only tells us why the violence happened now, not why it was possible to begin with. For my money, one of the best explanations comes from Brendan O’Neill, who argues that “welfare-state mobs” have been created by public policies that encourage irresponsibility and social atomization. As Guido Fawkes points out, in Tottenham, the neighborhood where the violence started, as many as 80% of families are fatherless. Welfare policies that reward women for having more children, regardless of whether a father is around, surely deserve some of the blame for that situation, as do lax welfare eligibility rules that allow able-bodied but idle young men to live off the taxpayer.
The biggest story of yesterday’s British elections has to be the stunning success of the Scottish National Party in elections to the Scottish Parliament. As tipped on this blog, the SNP were rising in the polls, but in the end their success outstripped expectations, as they won 69 seats in the 129-seat parliament, a solid majority, despite a moderately proportional electoral system. The SNP won 45.4% of the constituency vote and 44.0% of the party-list vote. With Greens and an independent nationalist, pro-independence MSP’s will take up 72 seats in the new parliament.
SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond (pictured) has promised that the new government will hold a referendum on independence, likely toward the end of their term. For the first time ever, Scottish voters are going to have a direct say on whether they want to be part of Great Britain or not.
In other news, the IRV referendum appears to have gone down in flames, as was widely expected.
In a few hours, polls open in the United Kingdom for local and devolved elections and for a referendum on moving to a new electoral system, Instant Runoff Voting, which Brits and Aussies insist on calling, undescriptively, “alternative vote” (AV). This referendum came about as a demand of the Liberal Democrats, who held the balance of power in the hung parliament elected last year. The Conservatives agreed to hold the referendum but have campaigned against it. The Lib Dems, for their part, prefer proportional representation with multi-member constituencies, but decided AV was better than nothing. (Lib Dem leader and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg is on record as having called AV a “miserable little compromise.”) The Labour Party is split on the reform.
Indeed, AV has many flaws. Compared to the plurality, single-member-district system used in the US, UK, and Canada currently (sometimes called, somewhat inaccurately, “first past the post”), it should at least get rid of the wasted vote problem, in which voters decide to vote for the lesser of two evils because their favored candidate cannot win. But it does so at the price of removing small third parties’ blackmail power. For instance, in the US a Libertarian would have no chance of winning, arguably even if AV were the electoral system. But at least under the current system, a Libertarian candidate can take away votes from a Republican (usually, but not always, Libertarians siphon more votes from Republicans than Democrats) and cause the Republican to lose a tight race. Therefore, Republicans at least occasionally have to pay lip service to Libertarian causes to keep those votes.
Within the UK context, AV would essentially mean a “permanent progressive majority” for the foreseeable future, since (more…)
On May 5, Britain votes in a referendum on a new electoral system called “alternative vote,” also used in Australia (polls show it going down to defeat), but in Scotland and Wales, there are also elections to the devolved parliaments. The Scottish National Party (SNP), which advocates independence for Scotland within the E.U., is heading up a minority administration with about 36% of the seats in the Scottish Parliament.
Now, a new poll shows the SNP opening up a big lead in the upcoming election, with 45% in the constituency vote and 42% on the party-list regional ballot. Since Scotland has a compensatory mixed-member system like Germany’s, the latter percentage is the better guide to the ultimate seat breakdown. If the SNP indeed wins north of 40% of the seats, they may have enough votes to authorize a secession referendum with the support of minor secessionist parties like the Scottish Greens and Scottish Socialists. Whether such a referendum could obtain the requisite 55% of the vote is doubtful, but such a step would be historic nonetheless.