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Tribalism raises ugly head in British poll                

Ikebesi Omoding

Tribalism raises ugly head in British poll                

 Great British general elections

Great British general elections

A number of things were notable in the recent Great British general elections, when it won an outright victory. Initially, all the pollsters had predicted that the poll was too close to call and that it was going to end in a hung Parliament.

It was not to be. The Conservatives scored 333 seats to win an outright majority in the 650-seat Parliament. Labour was only able to muster 232 seats.

The other notable outcome of the poll was not just the wiping out of the Labour Party in Scotland, but the emergence of the Scottish National Party (SNP); and it all but washed out the other parties in Scotland. In the previous political dispensation Scotland was the preserve of Labour.

Not anymore.  The SNP of Nicola Sturgeon won 56 out of 59 parliamentary seats. The major and established parties of Conservative, Labour and the Liberal Party, got one each. This was instructive, given that a year earlier in a referendum to decide Scotland’s presence in Great Britain, the Scots who have been campaigning for independence, scored only 45% against Great Britain’s 55%; and so were bested to the tape for them to go their own way.

The general election however told a different story. The Scots want out, and as much as Ms. Sturgeon is arguing that the elections were not about quitting Britain, it demonstrated that in any future referencuim the likelihood is that Scotland is likely to go its own way.

She said that the Conservative Party has now to take the issues that Scotland has stood for, very seriously in the British Parliament; that politics in Britain henceforth has to be done differently. The SNP with its 56 seats will be sitting in the Opposition alongside the Labourites that it defeated, but can form a voting bloc with it and the other smaller parties including UKIP – the United Kingdom Independent Party (One seat) – that wants to block immigrants going to Britain.

(The interesting thing about UKIP was that its five million voters were spread across Britain and Northern Ireland and did not form well-defined constituencies as to get individual seats.)

As a voting bloc in the Opposition, any issue that the Conservatives will want to bring up, and does not jell with the SNP, Labour and the other Britishers, even within the Conservative Party, would have the likelihood of some Conservative members of the party rebelling and throwing their lot with the Opposition. And they could defeat the ruling party, causing a vote of no confidence and requiring a snap general election.

Such an issue that is coming up in 2017 is Britain’s membership of the European Union (EU). Prime Minister David Cameron promised that he would hold such a referendum with the idea of taking Britain out of the EU if the British people did not agree with the reforms he wants the EU to undertake on behalf of Britain.

Scotland does not want to get out of the EU; and that bloc vote has emphasized this desire. In effect the Scots, as a tribe are saying that, the English and the Welsh can get out of the EU if they so wish, but they, the Scots will not want to get out. This is a clear tribal divide pitting the three tribes against the other.

True to form, Cameron does not want the divide to be seen as tribal and insists on calling them nations.  This is merely splitting hairs with words. For nearly 1,000 Britain has been a “nation”, with the main tribes being English, Scots, Welsh and Irish. They have hung together all this time, each with its own distinguished language and customs but in the intervening period the English have become the domineering tribe, and lauded over the others, as Great Britain.

From time to time the tribes have been at loggerheads with one or the other, the most militarily bruising in the recent times, has been the conflict in Northern Ireland. But in all these tribulations the British have hung together. Now, however, the Scots are not resorting to arms but to the ballot box and to diplomacy to wrest themselves out of Great Britain.



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Ikebesi Omoding is the acclaimed author of a weekly column titled: From the Outside Looking In

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