I was making muffins today (my usual quasi-elderly Sunday activity), and watching BBC 1 Scotland’s Politics Show. I had used the last of my frozen cranberries, and was now adding some chopped nuts to the mix. Meanwhile, the punters onscreen were discussing the current fixed term in the UK Parliament, and the potential for an unhappy mix of Holyrood and Westminster on future polling days.
For those not in the UK, the Westminster Government (which governs the entire UK, and devolves limited powers to the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies) has only just instigated a fixed term system. Before, it was the Prime Minister’s prerogative to call the election (by going to the Queen and asking her to do so). The only other circumstance that could produce an election was if the House of Commons produced a vote of no confidence in the government. That’s all changed: Westminster now has a fixed term of five years that a Prime Minister cannot change (but the House of Commons still can with the right vote).
If we compare the fixed term of five years with the Scottish Executive’s fixed term of four years, things get interesting. The last Scottish Executive election was in 2007, and the next will be in 2011. This means that on the 6th of May 2015, there will be two elections in Scotland on the same day – one which elects MSPs to the Scottish Parliament, and one which elects MPs to Westminster. Not only that, but this situation will be repeated every 20 years.
It was this discussion of potential conflict which skidded into my subconscious, alongside the metaphor of the fruit and nuts. This past election has shown the confusion that currently exists about devolved powers, not to mention the clear political polarity between Scotland (predominantly Labour) and the UK (Conservative). While this is slightly ameliorated by the election of Liberal Democrat Danny Alexander to Scottish Secretary, there is still a clear divide between Holyrood and Westminster. And just like the cranberries and the nuts, the whole thing will get mixed together in the heady mix of election fever (all the more heightened for the events of this election).
UK politics is no longer the simple two party, one government system it used to be. It’s a real complicated beast – one government, with 3 devolved powers (each with varying responsibilities for their electorates), and three political parties (four if you count SNP/Plaid Cymru) all with credible governing power, making alliances all over the place. And we’re not done yet – further electoral reform seems to be on its way.
How on Earth are we, the electorate, supposed to make heads or tails of this? And more importantly, how are the politicians?
I think it’s time I tasted those muffins.