May 9th, 2010

forums, me, non blog

[FORUM] How are your countries internally divided?

Over at the Independent, Tim Luckhurst revisits the West Lothian question in his analysis of the outcome of the recent British general elections. These have produced a Conservative plurality of MPs that constitutes a large majority of England's MPs, but England's Conservatives may not form a government largely as a result of MPs, whether Labour, Liberal Democrats, nationalists, or other, elected disproportionately from the largely self-governing polities of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. This has potential for chaos.

On Thursday, voters in Scotland elected 41 Labour MPs, 11 Liberal Democrats, six Scottish Nationalists and one Conservative. English voters elected 297 Conservatives, 191 Labour and 43 Liberal Democrats. The populations of England and Scotland are 51.4 million and 5.2 million respectively. But Labour's haphazard constitutional geometry allows the possibility that the smaller part of the UK may determine the future of the larger one.

If David Cameron and Nick Clegg fail to agree terms by which a Conservative-led government can take office, the Liberal Democrats will enter discussions with Labour.

No anomaly there, it happens throughout the democratic world. What does not happen is the formation of a coalition government in which MPs guaranteeing the passage of controversial legislation can support it in the certainty that it will have no consequences for their own constituents.

If a Labour/Liberal coalition emerges, an English Conservative voter who backed the party out of sympathy for its education policy may find that policy blocked by the votes of Scottish Labour MPs. If a Scottish voter faced the same risk of being stymied by a Conservative-dominated coalition this would be fair. But Scottish voters are insulated from policies they oppose. Their schools are governed from Holyrood where an Executive elected by Scottish votes alone holds office.

My home county of Kent, which has just elected 17 Conservative MPs from its 17 parliamentary constituencies, will, along with the rest of England, be governed by the UK parliament. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will have their domestic affairs, including education, health and the provision of social services, administered at home.

This was the point of devolution. Scotland did not vote for the poll tax but got it first. Wales loved its coal mines and Maggie closed them. So the Scots and the Welsh sought home rule to protect them from a party they despise. Good, but the English have chosen David Cameron's Conservatives and, in the absence of formal rules, they may be denied him.

The breakup of the United Kingdom into its component countries is one predicted consequence of these divisions, although some commenters do point out that England is itself internally divided and the English/non-English dichotomy isn't nearly that determinative. There does seem to be something of a real divide. Thoughts?

These sort of regional divisions within a country, different regions supporting different parties for different reasons, have parallels elsewhere. Here in Canada, for instance, the Conservatives tend to predominate in western Canada and much of small-town Ontario, the Liberals have their strongholds in Vancouver and Toronto and Montréal, the Bloc Québécois dominates Québec outside of Montréal, and the New Democratic Party holds a selection of urban and rural ridings where it has long held strength. In recent years, these political divisions have seemed fairly static, and I expect in the wake of some unforeseeable change these divisions will remain. They're just too rooted.

And in your countries (or polities), what are things like? Are there enduring political divisions based on region, or on some other factor?