It seems fairly inevitable that the Conservative Party will win the next general election in the UK. Or, it might be better to say, in England.
The Conservatives are unionists: "I support the union" says David Cameron, time and time again. They have proved this in the Northern Irish context by jumping into bed with the UUP – "a party of the Union" – through the formation of UCUNF.
Logically, therefore, it might be expected that a Tory victory in 2010 would strengthen the UK and weaken nationalism.
But the Tories presently hold only one of the 59 Westminster seats in Scotland, three of the 40 in Wales, and none at all in Northern Ireland. Even with the anticipated swing towards the Tories in 2010, their total of MPs outside of England may reach barely 17 out of 117 (including three gains in Scotland, ten in Wales, and none in Northern Ireland). The Tories are simply an English party.
The UK may then revert to the situation of the Thatcher years in the 1980s, when Scotland and Wales saw the Tory government as an unfriendly foreign power, and nationalism grew in opposition to it. Writing in The Guardian yesterday, Mark Perryman noted that:
"Through three consecutive general election defeats between 1979 and 1992, Labour maintained the semblance of effective opposition because for millions the promise of a Labour government remained the alternative to Thatcherism. After 2010 that prospect may not have the compelling purpose it once had, certainly not in the immediate aftermath of the wasted opportunity for change that the new Labour years will come to represent after being defeated by the Blair-lite Tories."
"In Scotland and Wales after 2010, independence won't simply be an end in itself in place of British labourism – it will be the purpose of opposition, and thanks to Labour, the institutions to fulfil that ambition now exist."
The victory of the unionist Tories in England in 2010 will give an enormous impetus to the nationalist movements in Scotland and Wales, leading to increasing tensions within the UK's constitutional structure. The very success of 'unionism', in the guise of a very English Tory party, may come to be seen as 'foreign' rule, where England, always the biggest part of the UK, essentially rules the UK in its interests. The Labour Party, a party genuinely popular in Scotland, Wales, and large parts of England was, ironically, much more a party of the UK than are the Tories.
How long the Tories remain in power may be crucial to the disintegration of the UK. Thatcher ruled for 11 years, and kindled nationalism in a way that had never been done before. Now the foundations are laid and the institutions are in place, a further prolonged period of unsympathetic Tory rule may tip the balance.
No UK means no place for Northern Ireland. The breakup of the UK would leave it unwanted by England or Scotland, and too poor to go it alone – even if a majority of its people wanted that. There is, of course, one logical direction that it can take – a direction favoured by an increasing number of people – re-unification with the south.
Practical nationalists must hope for a crushing Tory victory in England in 2010.