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When Nigel Farage trounced Nick Clegg in their debate last week, some of the loudest cheers must have come from SNP headquarters. There’s not much ideological affinity between the UKIP leader and Alex Salmond, but the latter must hope that he too can outwit the Westminster establishment.
Right now, the NO campaign is still ahead, but according to Sean Thomas of the Telegraph, the referendum result is far from certain:
“YES is in with a real shout, as shown by the latest betting on the referendum. William Hill have the odds on YES at 10/3. Those are not the odds of a rank outsider; they are roughly the chances of pulling a spade, any spade, from a pack of cards. That’s how close we are to the UK breaking up in September: pulling a random spade from a pack of cards.”
And if Mr Salmond comes up trumps, what then? Thomas is in no doubt as to who the biggest loser would be:
“…the loss of Scotland to Labour will be utterly devastating: like a battlefield amputation. Without Scotland, Labour will be mutilated and traumatised for a generation. And might never recover.
“For a start Scotland provides Labour with about 40 MPs, important to their chances of winning power in future elections.”
The blow would be psychological as well as psephological:
“…the loss of Scotland means so much more than grisly parliamentary arithmetic, because Scotland is, in many ways, Labour’s heartland.
“Scotland was the birthplace of Labour: the birthplace of the party’s founder, Keir Hardie… Scotland gave Labour Donald Dewar, John Reid, and John Smith; Scotland gave Labour Gordon Brown and Robin Cook; two of the brightest stars in today’s Shadow Cabinet – Jim Murphy and Douglas Alexander – are Scots.”
Just imagine a Labour Party without Jim Murphy and Douglas Alexander, why it’s unthinkable… or maybe not. In fact, the Shadow Cabinet could lose any two of its members – including Ed Miliband and Ed Balls – without anyone missing them much.
Still, those forty seats definitely would be missed:
“…you’d think Labour would be fighting tooth and nail to retain Scotland. It isn’t… Ed Miliband only bothered to go north, to face the issue, a few days ago, and hastily hurried home 15 minutes later.
“Why are they so complacent about something which might destroy their party.”
Sean Thomas puts it down to “denial”:
“The prospect of losing the heartland, Scotland, is so horrendous, lefties down south prefer not to think about it – or do anything about it.”
But perhaps it’s the Conservative Party that’s in denial. It’s not forty seats we’d be losing in the event of a YES vote, but our country – and yet we’re all going about our business as if this wasn’t a very real and imminent possibility.
Should things go the wrong way in September, the shock to the Conservative psyche would be immense. Wherever there’s a state – any state – the parties of the left will always have a purpose, which is to make the state bigger. But conservative parties are rooted in specific circumstances, particular traditions – if that vital context disappears then so does our purpose. What’s the point of the Conservative and Unionist Party without a Union?
Certainly, the Prime Minister who lost Britain would come under immediate and entirely justified pressure to resign. There’d also be a wider blame game – and, with equal justification, a great deal of the blame will attach to the Thatcher years, when the Scottish people were permanently alienated by the opponents of devolution and proponents of the Poll Tax.
Then, while we tore ourselves apart over the history, there’d be the small matter of negotiating a new constitutional settlement. Good luck to whoever has the job of holding the party together on that one.