Northern Irelandisation. It’s a bit of a mouthful, but it’s the only phrase that seems to fit the explaination which could be the next chapter in Scotland’s political history. As far as I am aware this is the first time the phrase has been used in the following way.
For a long time Northern Ireland has had a separate party political system to the rest of the UK, dominated by the DUP, the UUP, Sinn Fein and the SDLP amongst others, whilst Great Britain has been dominated by Labour, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and now of course UKIP.
But Scotland has changed. On Thursday, a wave of yellow swept the Scottish nation giving the SNP a massive landslide and leaving the non-SNP parties with just three seats between them. The SNP got 50% of the vote north of the border.
The term ‘Northern Irelandisation’ is two-fold:
- Firstly, it is the situation where a part of a country (Northern Ireland within the UK) has a different party system to the rest of the UK.
- And secondly it is the situation where one of the main political cleavages in said area is one’s view on the entire nation (the UK) and the area’s place in it.
Obviously, Northern Ireland fits this criteria: Northern Ireland certainly has a different party system to the rest of the UK and the union is a major player in terms of how people vote. As for Scotland it is becoming clear that the party system is massively different and going through a period of change and that the position on the union is a cleavage in Scottish society.
Furthermore, this process will likely continue, arguably resulting in Scotland becoming another Northern Ireland in one sense. One way Scottish Labour might address the SNP issue could be to become a fully independent party north of the border, free from Westminster control. A fully independent Scottish Labour could sit with rUK Labour in the House Of Commons, sharing many values, but would be able to set its own agenda in full. This could happen with the Conservatives. Back in 2011 Murdo Fraser set up his leadership bid for the Scottish Conservatives; he pledged to disband the party and set up a new independent centre-right political party, free from ‘London rule’ and the toxicity of the Tory brand north of the border. As for the Liberal Democrats, the party has a federal structure and the Scottish party could benefit from further autonomy. As for the Greens, the Scottish Greens are already a separate party to the Green Party of England and Wales - a sign that Scotland’s party system is already on the road to full ‘Northern Irelandisation’.
Of course not everyone who voted SNP voted 'Yes' in the referendum and not everyone who voted Sinn Fein is in favour of leaving the union. In fact a 2013 Ipsos-Mori poll suggested that 23% of SF voters would want Northern Ireland to remain in the union (available here on the BBC). But the union is certainly a factor, just as it is in Scotland.
Scotland's politics have been different for some time, but the general election has confirmed it. Scotland's divide over the union has always been there, but the referendum confirmed that too, and May's election accentuated it. Scotland is still a while away from full 'Northern Irelandisation', as its unionist parties do not have full autonomy, but there is certainly an argument to be made that Scotland is going down that road.