The next general election will be one of the most exciting in recent history. Here's why

Scotland has finally given our political system the high-voltage shock it desperately needed

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The Independent Online

It’s Monday and the political hangover from the Scottish referendum is still settling in across the UK. What could have changed the course of hundreds of years of history never was. The party’s over. Scotland’s missed out on the opportunity to forge a radically progressive state rich on oil revenue and free of the shackles of Tory rule. Or to go bust, depending on whom you believe.

You could be forgiven for thinking that this is a boring result. That the referendum failed to give Westminster the shake-up it so desperately needs, that it only succeeded in kicking the can the length of A9. But that’s not true; the No vote stands to make next year’s general election the most exciting we've had in decades.

Last election revolved around deciding which party we trusted to fix the economy; the one that was in power when the world slipped into the greatest recession in living memory or the one that wasn’t. Blair was a shoe-in before that. And, if we dig into the recesses of my political memory, Blair vs. Major seemed to be a choice between fresh-faced dynamism and grey-faced hackery. 

This time last year it felt like 2015 would again be a relatively straightforward economic argument: vote for the party that saved us from whatever Labour-created economic abyss justified the cuts; or wage growth remains stagnant, the cost of living argument gains traction and Labour maintains a strong enough lead to win the thing. 

That’s not the case anymore. The No vote is the latest and most important thing to re-write the script for the upcoming campaign.

The government now faces the difficult task of negotiating devolution eight months before a general election, of balancing the need to respond to Scottish demands without angering Conservative MPs. If David Cameron’s progress on the European Union, whether it’s dealing with backbenchers, judging public sentiment or re-negotiating the relationship, is anything to judge by it’s likely he’ll do a terrible job.

 

There’s another group of nationalists that are rebelling too. Tracts of Labour heartlands and traditional Tory councils are turning purple with rage at the European Union and open-door immigration.

The Ukip threat to conservative re-election, whether by syphoning off votes or actually winning seats, again has Cameron fighting on two fronts. How does he placate traditional Tory voters and MPs tempted by their line of reasoning, but stick to his beliefs, differentiate the party from Ukip’s platform and keep its appeal to the middle ground?

The strength of progressive campaigning north of the border shows us that 2015 doesn’t necessarily have to mean a drift to the right under the guise of EU scepticism. Ukip have shown us the opposite.

Whoever gets elected next year is going to have to win the economic argument, address fears about the European Union and convince the public they can quell a sizeable Scottish revolt. More than that though, they have to confront the level of political discontent that’s prevented Labour from solidifying its lead in the polls, opened the door for Ukip and almost broke the union.

The turnout for the independence vote was one of the most representative and democratic in a long time. If that momentum, that passion, can be carried all the way to the polling booths in May 2015 it’ll be amazing — and impossible for the Establishment to ignore.

Until two weeks before the historical referendum, Westminster largely overlooked Scottish sentiment about the UK. They're also failing to give people a choice on the European Union. Again and again this government’s policy making has been a case of firefighting rather than understanding and leading. These are the debates we need to have and now there’s an election riding on them.

And this is why it’s getting really interesting. The election has turned from a debate hinging on arguments about public debt and GDP into questions of ideals. We’re fighting for our very belief system, our very union.

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