Magazine article Public Finance

Nightmare Scenario?

Magazine article Public Finance

Nightmare Scenario?

Article excerpt

There has been mounting alarm in the press about the 'nightmare' of a Scottish National Party-Labour coalition after the May general election. Opinion polls suggest that the nationalists might win up to 50 seats. Meanwhile, neither Labour nor the Conservatives look likely to win outright. Westminster is now a parliament of minorities.

The Conservatives' latest election poster depicts a smug-looking Alex Salmond with Ed Miliband in his pocket. Forget that Alex Salmond is no longer leader of the Scottish National Party - it's now Nicola Sturgeon - the idea that the SNP would be 'ruling' England, as has been suggested, is very wide of the mark. Junior partners do not get to rule the roost, as Nick Clegg has discovered in coalition with the Tories.

It is, anyway, most unlikely that a formal SNP-Labour coalition would happen. The SNP do not want one, for the obvious reason that they don't want to end up like the Liberal Democrats. They have built their success in Scotland on outflanking Labour on the left and in coalition they would have to swallow policies - such as spending cuts and renewal of Trident - that would damage their radical image back home.

All that Sturgeon is likely to sign up for is some kind of electoral deal, like the Lib-Lab pact of the late 1970s. The SNP would support Labour in any confidence motions and on its budget, and that might well be enough. We are in a different era not only because of the decline of the big UK parties, but also because of the Fixed Term Parliament Act 2011.

The Act makes it very difficult to call a general election without the support of two-thirds of MPs in the House of Commons. Prime ministers in trouble can therefore no longer use the threat of a snap election to pull unwilling or uncooperative partners into line. This has interesting consequences.

It means a much looser coalition is possible than the Conservatives and LibDems agreed five years ago. …

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