Scottish referendum

Parliament recalled and party conferences cancelled: the immediate consequences of a Yes vote

With immaculate timing, the House of Commons has shut up shop and gone on recess. MPs aren’t due back until 13 October.

Their break from Westminster coincides with possibly the most momentous four weeks in political history since the last election.

By the time they are scheduled to return, Ukip may have its first elected MP, conflict in Iraq and Syria may have taken more British lives, and Scotland may have voted to leave the United Kingdom.

To be fair, MPs always go on recess at this time of year. It is party conference season, and the Commons traditionally packs up for a few weeks to allow its members their annual jaunts to seaside resorts – or, as has become the trend recently, to ritzy conference centres in British cities other than London.

But it is awkward to say that least that MPs are not committed to being in parliament for the rest of the month, in particular the days immediately after the referendum.

It is Labour to whom falls the dicey honour of being the first to formally respond to the result in Scotland. Its party conference in Manchester will begin next Sunday: just two days after the counting is over and the outcome is known.

If the referendum result is No, I’m sure Labour will meet as planned and the conference will go ahead. Ed Miliband’s speech would probably touch on many of the themes he’s been voicing on the campaign trail in Scotland: only a Labour government can guarantee social justice and protect the NHS for the whole of the UK, the Tories are losing both votes and MPs, etc.

If the referendum result is Yes, however, it would seem utterly perverse for Labour to head off to Manchester for a week of electioneering while the rest of the country reels from Scotland’s historic decision.

In any case, parliament would surely be recalled for next week, meaning the entire conference season would be postponed, if not cancelled and rescheduled for early in the new year.

The Liberal Democrats have already had to reschedule their conference, which would traditionally take place this week, to the week after the Tory conference – coincidentally the week of the Clacton and Heywood & Middleton by-elections. Their conference is also due to take place in, of all places, Glasgow. I wonder how the party will be received were it to troop into the city less than a month after Scotland had voted to say goodbye to Westminster for good.

David Cameron is due to travel to New York next week for talks on climate change, Iraq and Syria; someone else would almost certainly be sent in his place.

The parliamentary timetable for the remainder of this session would have to be ripped up and rewritten. MPs are currently due to return on 13 October but only until 11 November, when they get their half-term holiday. The final session of the calendar year is from 17 November until 18 December.

There are only a further nine sessions of prime minister’s questions left in 2014.

The government is also attempting to pass 11 brand new bills before the general election, while another three have been published for pre-legislative scrutiny and a further six have been carried over from the 2013-14 session.

This programme always seemed rather ambitious; a Yes vote would render it virtually impossible.

In total there are now (rather neatly) 100 days on which the House of Commons is scheduled to sit between now and the general election.

I can’t see how this total would be sufficient to deal with the consequences of a Yes vote, never mind passing all those pieces of legislation, and all against the backdrop of the break-up of the coalition and start of the election campaign.

Even if there’s a No vote, we’ve been assured the Commons will rush through a whole batch of new legislation to increase devolution to Scotland, the consequences of which will undoubtedly be further debate about the status of Wales, Northern Ireland, Cornwall, London, English cities and so on.

So much for the fifth year of five-year parliaments historically being “occupied with wrangles, hold-ups and dead-ends”.


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