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April 07, 2014 10:01 PM Pulling Jockeys in the Race for Scottish Independence

By Keith Humphreys

Scottish support for leaving the United Kingdom is at 47% in the most recent poll, to the surprise of some members of the Tory Party (Whose proper name of course is The Conservative and Unionist Party). Now that independence seems more than remotely possible, some fingers are being pointed among Unionists for allegedly not campaigning hard enough to prevent Scotland’s departure. Some of this is fear of complacency among those who truly support the union, but suspicion of pulling jockeys runs high on this issue, and for good reason.

By tradition and identity, the Tories strongly support a United Kingdom. However, they can also count. With but one seat in all of Scotland versus 41 for Labour, Tory political prospects in England and Wales would be much rosier for Scotland’s exit. The 2010 election results for example would have produced an outright win for the Tories, with no need to enter into a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Pro-independence groups point out correctly that since the war, Scottish voters have rarely swung national election outcomes. But it is not clear why that time frame is the relevant one given how lopsided is the current allocation of seats.

For Labour, the shoe is on the other foot. Scotland has been kind to Labour over the last generation, sending a gaggle of MPs to Westminster and also providing many high profile leaders including Gordon Brown and Tony Blair (even though the latter was eventually seen as a Sassanach by many people in the land of his birth). Scottish independence would mean a less liberal electorate in England and Wales, and less chance of Labour gaining a simple majority of seats in Westminster in 2015 and thereafter. If current polling holds up in 2015, Labour could squeak to a majority without Scotland, but many Labour politicians and voters would rather not have it be such a close-run thing.

The ongoing debates are thus bringing out the best in some politicians (like John Major), who are arguing against political interest for what they see as a national good. They also at times are bringing out the worst in other politicians, who make public speeches firmly taking one stand and then anonymously leak the opposite sentiments to journalists.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

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