March 6, 2015 by Nash Riggins
No political leader has ever led an election campaign under the presumption they’ll be forming a coalition government with somebody else. It doesn’t matter where you stand on the political spectrum – everybody is in it to win it. But let’s be honest: when it comes to this year’s general election, there isn’t going to be a clear winner.
Unless we get a handful of shocking regional results come polling day, neither the Labour Party nor the Conservatives will be able to muster enough seats to form a new government. At present, pollsters have got both main factions running neck and neck; therefore, their only hope of victory will be to form a coalition with one of the country’s smaller parties.
They might struggle to find contenders.
Ever since the failed independence referendum in Scotland, a nationalist typhoon has consumed anything and everything north of the border. Holyrood has been granted new tax powers, pro-independence newspapers are outselling national dailies and opposition to cookie cutter Westminster policies has reached an all-time high. Bearing that in mind, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to know that the ruling Scottish National Party is about to clean up at this year’s general election.
The SNP is, by definition, a separatist party. Yet its representatives appear to have handled last year’s unsuccessful independence bid with (relative) grace, and are working overtime to make amends. The charismatic Nicola Sturgeon has even been making regular sorties down to London in order to weigh in on British finances and take on board a few new lessons. In essence, she’s putting on a severe charm offensive to demonstrate that the SNP can operate as a national party whose political capital transcends the Scottish border.
That evolution scares English Tories – and with good reason.
According to the latest election poll, Scottish voters are overwhelmingly pleased with the SNP. In turn, the party is expected to win 56 of Scotland’s 59 parliamentary seats. Football heroes and blue collar locals are set to slip into the seats of former political heavyweights like Gordon Brown and Charles Kennedy. The Liberal Democrats will fade into oblivion north of the border, and Labour will all but shrivel to extinction.
In fact, the post-referendum rise of the SNP is more or less the sole reason that Ed Miliband will be unable to secure a majority in government. That’s also exactly why the nationalists are the stand-out favourite to be named this year’s unlucky coalition partner.
Conservative leaders have already come out swinging against this perceived threat by warning Labour cohorts to avoid an SNP coalition at all costs. According to former PM John Major, a Labour coalition with the SNP would spell disaster for the future of the UK. Why? Because Scottish politicians would draft legislation that openly favours Scottish interests above that of the rest of the United Kingdom, and take every possible opportunity to try and tear this country apart.
A very astute observation. Yes, governing parties usually do prioritise their interests above those of other political factions – that’s kind of how politics works. But let’s think about it: what sort of influence have the Liberal Democrats had as a coalition partner? When poor Nick Clegg took on the role of Deputy Prime Minister, he vowed to keep tuition fees from going up, impose a “fairer” alternative vote system and introduce a shiny new mansion tax. Instead of fulfilling promises, all he gave us was a never-ending supply of depressing YouTube videos and internet memes.
Nine times out of ten, the little brother of any coalition government will never get his way. That’s why it would be extremely daft for Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP to take part in one. After all, the nationalists are gaining real momentum in Scotland as a palatable alternative to the ancient powers of Westminster. If they choose to align with Labour, party leaders will be sending a clear message to Scottish constituencies that the change they keep voting for will never truly come. Other parties will rise in the wake of that lost mandate, and Nicola Sturgeon’s grip on power will diminish.
That’s why a five-year coalition with any party would be political suicide, and it’s why nationalist leaders simply won’t allow it.
So, where does that leave us? It’s difficult to say. Nobody is going to win this May, and so we’re going to need some sort of compromise in order to construct an even remotely effective government. Yet prospective coalition partners would do well to observe the cautionary tale of Nick Clegg and the LibDems – because agreeing to step into that secondary role will soil every inch of political capital they’ve got. Strong-willed leaders need not apply.