Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Can the Lib Dems have their coalition and eat it?

In a couple of posts a few weeks ago, I explained my theory that a reconstituted Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition was an unlikely outcome after next May's election.  However, Professor John Curtice's views clearly need to be taken seriously, and in his appearance on the BBC's Politics Scotland this afternoon, he seemed fairly convinced that both Iain Gray and Tavish Scott were inching towards that outcome (assuming the arithmetic allows them to, which of course remains a very big if).  Certainly there can be little doubt from Tavish Scott's increasingly hysterical Nat-bashing rhetoric of late that he at least is positioning his party for the possibility of coalition with Labour.  But I still struggle to see how all this stacks up from Labour's point of view.  Yes, I can see Curtice's point that they will not want to be hobbled by the limitations of minority rule as the SNP have been.  But there's surely another consideration that easily trumps that concern.  The very life-blood of any new Labour administration will be in portraying itself as Scotland's protector against the Tory-led UK government.  How can they do so if they effectively relinquish their licence to demonise that government's man in Scotland, ie. the Lib Dem Secretary of State for Scotland?  Even more general attacks on the UK government would have to be somewhat nuanced if they weren't to risk breaking an alliance with the Lib Dems apart.

My guess is that the Lib Dems' best (and perhaps only) hope for a stable partnership with Labour in Scotland is, ironically, that Hamish Macdonell in the Caledonian Mercury turns out to be right, and that their Westminster coalition with the Tories is already doomed.


  1. The problem for the Lib-Dems is that if the coalition with the Tories goes down in flames it will mean an immediate UK election which will be fought against the background of cuts and and jittery financial markets who don't like unstable governments.

    The Lib-Dems will be destroyed, tainted by their association with the Tories but with nothing to show for it. They've got to tough it out in the hope that the pain will bring an economic revival which they can claim as a Lib-Dem creation. That however is no guarantee that the the dissidents in the party won't pull the pin on the grenade in a massive self-destructive huff.

    The Lib-Dems are a unitary party so Tavish has limited freedom of movement in Scotland and to be quite honest I can't see Nick Clegg caring that much about a Lib-Dem coalition in Holyrood when he's got his seat in No. 10. Holyrood will get their block grant and lump it, Labour or SNP.

    I can see Tavish happily doing a deal with Labour but if the Lib-Dems are still in No. 10 then it's going to be a no-no for Labour as you say.

  2. That's a good point about Clegg, Doug - in 1999 Ashdown was desperate for the coalition negotiations to succeed so that the Lib Dems could get their first taste of power since 1945. This time there'll be no such hunger for power on the part of the London leadership, and I'd guess Clegg would be ambivalent about whether it's even a desirable outcome, given the obvious complications two different coalition partners would cause.