There was something for all the main parties to be pleased about in Thursday’s election results, to get their spokesmen and women through those painful interviews analysing the outcome. Labour can point to winning London for the first time in 8 years, and to holding more of its English Councils than expected. UKIP can point to wins in the Welsh Assembly, and to coming a good second in two Labour held by election contests. The Conservatives can be pleased to have overtaken Labour as the official Opposition party in Scotland, and to holding most of their English Council seats. The Lib Dems can point to a few wins after their mauling in 2015. The SNP can rejoice at a third victory in a row in the Scottish Parliament, though they fell just short of an overall majority of seats this time.
Underneath these predictable statements lies a deep unease in all the parties. The truth is that with the advent of a strong SNP, more nationalist sentiment, more effective challenges from the Greens and UKIP alongside the Lib Dems, UK politics is a lot more competitive than it was in the days of two party dominance. No overall control in Councils and Parliaments and Assemblies without majorities are now much more likely. This in turn can add to disillusion with politics. As more governing bodies fall under the control of officials and follow the hand me downs of EU requirements and regulations, a greater sense of frustration and powerlessness arises amongst electors. This in turn encourages people to vote for untried or challenger parties more, which in turn creates more elected bodies without proper political control.
Even if the two main parties emerged again who could provide an effective challenge to each other and alternate in power, they would find it difficult to be in charge given the extent of EU interference and control over our laws and policies. Some majority Council groups struggle to provide good strategic leadership and policy direction, falling back on official guidance or being advised into accepting the conventional wisdom of Brussels and Whitehall even when commonsense tells electors and Councillors that consensus is wrong or unhelpful.
In a democracy people usually prefer it if an elected group is in charge. They either do a good job and respond to public opinion in a helpful way, or they can be dismissed. Too many layers of government , too much confusion over what is an EU requirement, what Whitehall wants and what a Council is entitled to do leads to endless unproductive arguments and to people angry or dismissive of the inability of their local or national government to get obvious things done and problems sorted.
Taking out the whole layer of EU government would transform many things for the better. It remove the excuse or the reality that EU laws and requirements prevent us doing what we want. It would leave open the issue of the correct relationship between local and national power, where England still needs a devolution settlement to match Scotland. In Scotland the new Conservative opposition has to learn how to make the Scottish government truly accountable for the many things it does now have the power to do. For a stable constitutional settlement to emerge, Scotland has to spend more time discussing how things are managed and working, and less time discussing who should manage them.