Magazine article Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy

The United Kingdom Enters a Decisive Era of History

Magazine article Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy

The United Kingdom Enters a Decisive Era of History

Article excerpt

BRITAIN'S GENERAL ELECTIONS OF MAY 7, 2015, quickly produced a decisive and unexpected result: an absolute majority in the House of Commons to the Conservative Party, ending the five-year run of coali tion Con ser va tive govern ment with the Lib eral Dem o cratic Party. There was no indication, however, that the clear mandate won by Prime 1Minister David Cameron would translate into stability for the UK on the global stage.

It seemed likely that the Conservative win would en able a con tin u a tion of do mes tic economic stability and growth, but the fact that the Scottish Nat ional Party (SNP) won 56 of Scotland's 59 seats meant that the United Kingdom was split into what seemed to be a north-south divide. This had several ram ifi ca tions, in clud ing the fact that the SNP was opposed to Britain's retention of a nuclear deterrent force, principally now based around the Royal Navy's Tri dent II D5 SLBMequipped Vanguard-class sub ma rines (SSBNs), based out of the Clyde Naval Base at Faslane, in Scotland's Firth of Clyde.

But the concern could be less about the ul tra-left SNP views on def ense than about the Party's views on the UK's European Union (EU) membership. Prime Minister Cameron had campaigned on a commitment to offer UK voters a referendum by 2017 on whether Britain should stay in the EU. The SNP view, however, was that Engl and - now per vasively dom i nated by the Con ser vative Party - could not use a referendum to take all of the UK, including Scotland, out of the EU, arguing that Scotland would be disenfranchised in such a vote.

The SNP gained its dominance of the Scottish seats in Westminster, however, not by a reasoned presentation of its strategic plans for Scotland as a separate state, or on the SNP's ability to govern Scotland without the great economic input of the rest of the UK, es sen tially mean ing Eng land. The SNP's success has been driven by highly emotional imagery, but its implicit threat now would be that a referendum to take the UK out of the EU would mean the de facto break-up of Great Brit ain, leaving an in de pend ent Scot land within the EU.

Such an outcome would be more difficult for the SNP to achieve than it would seem, however. And already the same Scottish voters who gave the party 56 of the 59 Scottish seats in the Westminster Parliament were the same voters who, in Sept ember 2014, had re jected the SNP's plea for Scott ish independence by 55.3 percent. In any event, the SNP is aware of that, but nonetheless insists that it would chall enge the legitimacy of a national UK referendum which could be decided against the wishes of Scotl and. This fact alone will make it more difficult for Prime Minister Cameron to negotiate with (in par tic u lar) Ger man Chan cel lor Angela Merkel a more separate space in the EU.

However, if Mr Cameron cannot achieve a better deal for the UK within the EU, then he will face significant pressure at home for the withdrawal of Britain from the Union, regardless of the SNP threats. In other words, the Conservative majority in the House of Commons (331 of the 650 seats) may still not give Prime Minister Cameron the kind of freedom he would have liked.

At the same time, Mr Cameron has yet to exhibit any enthu si asm to rebuild Britain's rap idly-declining defense ca pabil ities. His Gov ern ment, five years ear lier, in her ited two bud get-dis tort ing de fense sec tors which have been described as critical to the UK's retention of a "place at the top table": firstly, its sub ma rine-based nu clear strike ca pa bility (its Tri dents as well as its nuclear-armed cruise missiles); and secondly, its two new c70,000 ton disp. …

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