Why is Scotland overrepresented in Westminster

The regional parties: In the shadow of Westminster

In UK majority voting, these parties are relatively favored because of their regional and local strongholds in which they compete exclusively. However, they only play a decisive role in the British House of Commons when the majority situation is precarious. The creation of regional parliaments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland after the change of power in 1997 has partially changed the focus of these parties: participation in the regional arena has become more important than the "shadowy existence" in Parliament in London.

Scotland

This applies primarily to the Scottish nationalists, the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP). The SNP sees its real task in gaining power in Edinburgh, which is to be used for the creation of further rights of autonomy. The 2005 election is therefore a springboard for the regional parliament election in two years' time, in which the SNP intends to replace the ruling coalition of Labor and the Liberal Democrats. In the last election to the House of Commons in 2001, the SNP won five of the 72 Scottish seats. In the election campaign, the nationalists are relying heavily on the crisis of confidence in the Blair government, which, in addition to the affairs over the Iraq war in Scotland, was also triggered by locally and regionally significant issues.

The Labor Party could also do worse in Scotland due to a new constituency layout. The total number of Scottish seats has been reduced from 72 to 59, as the earlier overrepresentation of Scotland in the British Parliament is no longer opportune due to devolution (= parliamentary regionalization). In the larger constituencies, there could now be new majorities for the SNP, which would be at the expense of Labor. The Scottish Socialist Party is another regional party in Scotland. Although it has put up a candidate in each constituency, it is likely to play only a marginal role. This also applies to the British Conservatives, who were only able to win one seat in Scotland in 2001.

Wales

In Wales, the Welsh nationalists, the Plaid Cymru (PC), have some local strongholds, primarily in areas where Welsh is spoken. The PC advocates cultural autonomy and seeks to expand the powers of the Welsh Assembly, which are relatively limited compared to the Scottish Parliament. Similar to the SNP, the Welsh nationalists also see the general election as a template for the 2007 regional elections. Another parallel can be seen in the election campaign. The PC also relies on the dissatisfaction with the Labor Party, which, like in Scotland, is by far the strongest force in Wales. In addition to Iraq and the Kelly affair, as in the north of the island, local and regional issues are troubling the British ruling party. The PC won four of the forty Welsh seats in the last House of Commons election. It concentrates on a few more constituencies where it seems possible to oust the respective representative of the Labor Party.

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland there is an entirely different party system; none of the three major British parties run there directly. The decisive line of conflict runs along the division between the two major political camps, the republican-minded Catholics and the unionist-minded Protestants. On both sides, in the last regional parliamentary elections in Belfast in 2003, the more radical party prevailed over a more moderate group.

The same is expected for the upcoming election of the lower house. On the Republican side, the IRA-affiliated Sinn Féin will probably be able to replace its current four-seat representation in Westminster at the expense of the Social Democrat and Labor Party (SDLP), which currently has three seats; On the unionist side, it can be assumed that Pastor Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party, which is not willing to compromise, currently has five seats compared to the once leading Ulster Unionist Party, which currently has six MPs in London. In view of the fragility of the peace process, it is even more important in Northern Ireland that the election to the British House of Commons is subordinate to the specifics of the situation in Ulster.

Klaus Detterbeck

Dr. Klaus Detterbeck is a research associate at the Institute for Political Science at the University of Magdeburg. He mainly deals with the parties and party systems in Western Europe, with federalism and regionalism as well as the dynamics of European
Integration.