Britain’s election quake has opened chasms David Cameron will struggle to bridge

Jonathan Freedland writes: In his victory speech outside Downing street, David Cameron reaffirmed his promise to stage a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. That will happen before the end of 2017, which means a two-year-long campaign to get Britain out of the EU is under way now.

Those who marvelled at the power of last year’s plebiscite on Scottish independence to stir the deepest questions of identity and belonging should brace themselves. Just such a debate is coming to the entire UK, one that will rouse profound and unresolved questions. What is Britain’s place in the world? Where do we really belong? Are we one of many – or do we stand alone?

The party that was set to lead the case for “in” has been crushed: the Liberal Democrats will not bring much firepower to this coming contest. It will require a huge effort of will for Labour to regroup and marshal its resources for such an epochal fight. Meanwhile, Ukip – heartened by the nearly 4m votes and 12.6% share it won on Thursday, even if that translated into just a single seat – will be hungry for the battle of its life.

There is no date on the calendar for the other union struggle, but it is coming too – a contest over the union that binds the four nations of these islands. A party committed to Scottish independence is now Westminster’s third-largest, a nationalist force in parliament unseen for a century. The success of the SNP is the transformative, historic event of the 2015 election. The question now is not so much whether Scotland will break away from the UK, but rather what would have to happen to make a country that has voted en masse for a nationalist party not leave the union. [Continue reading…]

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