THE BLOG

Big Decisions for the Electorate and Thursday Is Just The Start

05/05/2015 15:51 BST | Updated 04/05/2016 10:12 BST

Despite still appearing on the list of the worlds top ten wealthiest countries, the UK is punching well below its weight where it really matters.

Based on quality of life indicators such as health, education, life expectancy and job security, Britain lags well behind nations like New Zealand, Sweden and Switzerland. Despite the UK's fiscal wealth, on most QoL scales we struggle to get into the Worlds top thirty. More worryingly the gap between the wealthiest and poorest in Britain is now at its widest since the days of Charles Dickens. An indictment, not just of the current administration but the thirteen years of New Labour that preceded it.

There is also, of course, still much to commend our small island but those steering Britain's course in the coming years will face some huge challenges. Challenges that will not only determine this country's domestic policies and our relationship with our principal European trading partners but also whether the union itself survives.

With the spectacular rise of Scottish nationalism and the Tories increasingly adopting an English nationalist stance, the route to the break up of the union seems well signposted. First you've got to ask yourself just why there is such a surge in Scottish nationalism. Total disillusionment with a Labour Party in Scotland that promised much but delivered little and an oil industry that has seen relatively few ordinary Scots benefit, are definitely significant factors. A decade of Thatcherism and more recently five years of austerity emanating from Westminster, despite receiving a less than emphatic endorsement at the ballot box from the Scottish people, certainly haven't helped matters either.

So, if/when Scotland does eventually go it's own way, what happens to the remaining parts of the 'United' Kingdom?

Will we end up with England opting to go it alone and a succession of reactionary, hard line, inward looking governments? An England quite possibly out of the EU and defining itself on the world stage, to all intents and purposes, as a surrogate fifty first state of America?

And what of Wales? Cast adrift by its much larger and more powerful neighbour, will it ultimately find itself an independent nation by default, and against the wishes of the vast majority of its people? A small country reliant on tourism and EU handouts. While it's undeniable that large parts of Wales have scarcely fared well under Westminster rule and latterly under toothless and incestuous Welsh Assembly governments, it's difficult to see how the collapse of the union would benefit the Welsh people.

Against the backdrop of a fragmenting union, there is also the very real possibility of an in/out EU referendum within the next couple of years. Some will undoubtedly view it as a much needed chance for the British people to finally have their say on this divisive subject. Others will see it as a monumental distraction as ordinary Brits come to terms with crumbling public services and a painfully slow and fitful economic recovery.

More immediately, the British public face the choice of which party to vote for in Thursdays general election. The odds are, of course, firmly on a hung parliament, with the likelihood being that the weeks ahead will see chaotic horse trading as both the Tories and Labour attempt to form a government.

The main thrust of Cameron's campaign has been that the Tories are a safe pair of hands, able to best look after the economy. Well, that's one way of looking at it - another would be that another five years of Conservative rule will hasten the break up of the union, lead to two years of distracting debate around an EU referendum and a ramping up of ideology driven cuts. Any hint of one nation conservatism under Cameron has long since disappeared.

In the red corner, Labour are hardly offering anything more attractive. So keen are the party mandarins to communicate the message that their party will manage the economy with prudence that many traditional Labour voters are turned off by the prospect of 'austerity lite.'

One thing that has run true to form during this election campaign has been the pervasive influence of the toxic British reactionary press. An agenda driven mix of scaremongering and personal attacks has skewed debate. It's fair to say that if you absorb just a fraction of what you read in the Mail, Express and Sun, they'll have you believe the good guys are the bad guys and the bad guys, the good. For these downmarket scandal sheets, traits like fairness and compassion fall a long way behind vested interests and glorying in outdated imperialism and militarism. Their influence is poisonous, malevolent and as ever only serves to stifle objective debate.

So, having steered a course through the tabloid press propaganda, British voters will this week be faced with their first opportunity to shape the future of this country. I write first opportunity because over the next few years I have little doubt that the electorate will be faced with plenty more very important decisions. Some of them with much longer lasting implications.