Could Mr Brown Be the Last Prime Minister of Great Britain? Triumphant: Scottish Nationalist Party Leader Alex Salmond

Daily Mail (London), July 26, 2008 | Go to article overview

Could Mr Brown Be the Last Prime Minister of Great Britain? Triumphant: Scottish Nationalist Party Leader Alex Salmond


Byline: PETER OBORNE

TWO consequences, both of huge importance, flow from yesterday's historic byelection victory for the Scottish National Party in Glasgow East.

The first, and most obvious, concerns Gordon Brown. The Prime Minister has been dealt another terrible, wounding blow. The Labour defeat, which was not predicted until the very last moment within the disastrously out-of-touch British political establishment, places Brown's premiership for the first time into genuine doubt.

It guarantees that a question mark will surround Gordon Brown's leadership all summer, dominate Labour's conference in early autumn, and probably reach some kind of crisis early next year. The likelihood remains that Gordon Brown will survive, but he is gravely weakened and in danger of becoming irrelevant, as John Major was in his final months in office.

However, the feverish discussions of Gordon Brown's political health which have dominated the airwaves over the past 24 hours have obscured a matter of much more enduring significance: whether or not the United Kingdom itself can survive beyond the next General Election.

History may come to view the Glasgow East by-election as the moment the breakup of the 300-year-old British union became inevitable. One thing is now certain: it will not survive in its present form.

This is because the most significant feature of yesterday was not defeat for Labour, important though that undoubtedly was. The really important thing was that each one of the mainstream national political parties was humiliated.

The Lib Dems lost their deposit a third successive by-election disaster which confirmed how much their pointless new leader Nick Clegg has become a liability.

But David Cameron's Conservatives also failed to take advantage of government unpopularity. The brutal truth is that in Scotland Alex Salmond and his Scottish National Party now mark the only meaningful opposition to Gordon Brown.

And this undeniable fact has deadly serious consequences for the future of Britain. It means that when David Cameron as now seems certain becomes Prime Minister after the coming General Election, he will immediately be plunged into a first- rate constitutional crisis that could destroy his premiership before it has even begun. C AMERON'S problem is simple. As incoming Prime Minister he will be able to count on approximately 340 Conservative MPs, giving him a reasonably comfortable majority in the House of Commons.

Crucially, the vast majority will be English, and judging by Friday morning's SNP triumph only one or at most two will come from Scotland's 59 constituencies.

In other words, the new Cameron administration will carry zero legitimacy north of the border. More worrying by far, Cameron will take power at the exact moment when Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland, has always promised to unleash his nuclear weapon: a referendum on independence.

The timing for Salmond, who has emerged as a politician of exceptional luck as well as talent since his election as Scottish First Minister last spring, would be perfect. …

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