With the re-election of Mark Reckless and Douglas Carswell under the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) banner at the end of last year, one could be forgiven for getting carried away at the party’s rather forceful shake-up of British politics. From no MPs to two within a month is impressive.
In recent weeks, however, talk of the party’s success in the upcoming General Election has been met with mixed views. Because of the First Past the Post (FPTP) electoral system in the U.K it looks unlikely that UKIP will have more than a few seats (at most) after May. This is frustrating for the party’s supporters and somewhat of a relief for its critics.
People concerned with the message the party spreads may well be reassured by our use of a majoritarian electoral system here in the U.K. It must be remembered though, that only General elections in the U.K use a majoritarian system. Scotland and Wales elect their legislatures through a hybrid electoral system known as the Additional Member System (AMS) combining FPTP and a regional list, which adds a degree of proportionality to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly elections. It is these elections that UKIP critics should be worried about: after all, if the party gain seats in these elections they will continue to have a prominent public presence within the U.K at least until the next devolved elections in 2020.
It should be noted that these devolved elections in Scotland and Wales will take place in May 2016. If UKIP manages to maintain its popularity over or around 10% in Wales and Scotland, it will gain an unprecedented amount of seats in each of the legislatures, and all of these will be gained from the proportional element of the electoral system, with predictions for UKIP in Wales currently ranging from 6 to a possible 9 Assembly seats out of a total 60.
If UKIP were to perform as well as currently predicted in these devolved elections it could have a serious impact on the whole political landscape of Britain. After all, this is a party who are against the principle of devolved legislatures in the first place. This would be particularly important in the Welsh Assembly, where there are only 60 Assembly Members (AMs). If we were to hypothesise and say UKIP gained 8 seats: they would have a huge role to play within Welsh politics, and many of the party’s members would gain prominent roles in Welsh public life. They would also be able to stall and delay the workings of the Assembly greatly if they chose to. After all, in such a small legislature almost all of the members tend to have some function or role, if not being a minister, then chairing or participating in a committee or running and being involved in cross party groups. Thus, to have such a strong anti-Assembly voice occupying almost one-sixth of the seats would disrupt or change the workings of the Assembly completely. This would have a huge effect on how politics is conducted in both Wales and Scotland.
Further to this, most polls show that although UKIPs ratings are strong across the country currently, they have slightly or significantly (in the case of Scotland) less support in the devolved regions. It is important to assess, therefore, the fairness that the people of Scotland and Wales may end up with a strong UKIP presence in their legislature: yet the British Parliament, which in much of its dealings represents some of the UKIP heartlands in England, may end up with no MPs from the party sitting in it.
This predicament raises significant questions about British democracy in its current stage. It also raises serious questions for the electorate in Wales and Scotland. Should proportional systems be used across the U.K, or should the devolved legislatures use a majoritarian system like the British Parliament? One thing is certain, if UKIP gain a significant presence in the devolved legislatures of Scotland and Wales it will increase tensions between the nations of the U.K and may well and another layer of complexity and division over the subject of devolution and where it goes from here, with the question of fairness and parity between the nations once again being questioned.
By Liam Clements, Junior Writer for Daily Political View.