Saturday, December 20, 2014

The ideal result?

I was amused the other night to see Flockers (our occasional visitor from Stormfront Lite) apparently licking his lips at the prospect of SNP supporters having to justify Alex Salmond's hints that the party may dispense with its recent practice of abstaining on English-only matters.  Flockers' implication was that a core part of the SNP's sense of itself was about to be casually reversed in an "Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia" kind of way.  Dear God.  The mind boggles as to the number of Anglocentric assumptions that must be required to reach the conclusion that a Scottish pro-independence party's identity is somehow bound up with the stance it takes on English votes at Westminster.  In truth, I doubt if there are many SNP members, supporters or voters out there who give a monkey's about the English votes policy, beyond its tactical utility. 

And the question of tactical utility is exactly why the policy should be ditched if the SNP hold the balance of power next May.  If a self-denying ordinance reduces the party's bargaining power and makes it less likely that a deal can be done with Labour to transfer huge powers to the Scottish Parliament, then that self-denying ordinance serves no purpose and needs to go.  Full stop, end of story.  The best interests of Scotland come first.

For weeks now, Tory commentators like Fraser Nelson have been congratulating themselves that the SNP's abstentionism on English affairs will make it easier for the Tories to run a minority government, and will also get David Cameron off the hook of having to do anything about English Votes for English Laws.  But I'm afraid it's no part of the SNP's mission in life to make it easier for the Tories to rule.  It would also be crazy for the SNP to reduce the pressure for EVEL through their own nobility of action, given that EVEL will introduce a severe instability into the UK constitution that can only be of benefit to the Scottish national movement.

In rightly noting Alex Salmond's tactical astuteness in revisiting the English votes policy, the Scotsman's editorial makes a claim that I'm not sure is entirely well-founded -

"Mr Salmond must surely know this plan can only come into play if Labour is the largest party but does not have an overall majority and would certainly not have a majority of English seats."

That's misleading in two ways.  Firstly, it's perfectly possible that Labour will need the SNP's help to govern, even if they have more seats than the Tories in England.  But just as importantly, it's not true that Labour would have to be the largest party in the Commons for the SNP to have leverage.  Consider this highly plausible scenario -

Conservatives 285
Labour 283
SNP 32
Liberal Democrats 25
Sinn Féin 5
Plaid Cymru 4
Greens 1
Independent 1

The Tories are the largest single party, but a Tory-led government isn't arithmetically viable - or at least not without Labour's help.  Assuming Sinn Féin don't take up their seats, the target for an effective majority would be 323 seats.

Labour + SNP + Plaid Cymru + SDLP + Greens = 323

The SNP, Plaid and the Greens have all said they would have nothing to do with the Tories (and it can reasonably be assumed that the SDLP take a similar view), so Cameron's only hope would be that useful idiots in Labour's ranks like Tom Harris repeat their antics from 2010 and actively campaign for the Tories to take office, on the grounds of "They won the most seats!  It's only fair!"  But I think after five long years in opposition, Labour's hunger for power is sufficient to ensure that those voices would be shouted down this time.

In some ways, the scenario outlined above would be better for the SNP than one where Labour is the largest party - because it would mean that Labour wouldn't have the option of simply trying their luck as a minority government without the help of others.  In order to get their leader into Number 10 in the first place, they would need a deal with the SNP to demonstrate to the Queen that Miliband is better placed than Cameron to command a Commons majority.


  1. In this, I would have to agree with Tom Harris. If the Tories have the most seats, they will also have the largest vote share. It would be very dodgy ground to be seen bumping the losing party into government.

    1. If the Tories have little more than one-third of the popular vote, and not even the obscene first-past-the-post voting system can help them to an artficial majority, then in absolutely no sense have they "won the election".

    2. The Tories would technically have got the most seats/votes, but that doesn't give them a mandate in a multi-party system. If Labour, the SNP, the Greens et al. between them have enough to form a government then *they* won the popular mandate. It wouldn't just be the Labour Party in majority government; it would be a Labour Party that relied on other parties who also received votes and seats.

    3. Remember in 2007 when the SNP won the election and decided to rule by minority government? Imagine how pissed off people would have been if the Tories or Lib Dems had jumped in bed with Labour.
      The SNP only got 32.9% of the vote, so certainly didn't "win the election".

      The largest party needs to be able to attempt to form a government. Having a party that finishes 3rd or worse getting to choose who they prefer in government is democratically dodgy to say the least.

    4. "The SNP only got 32.9% of the vote, so certainly didn't "win the election"."

      Quite right - they didn't. Their mandate for government came from Alex Salmond defeating Jack McConnell by 49 votes to 46 in the parliamentary vote for First Minister, with the Lib Dems and the Tories freely choosing to abstain for their own reasons.

      "The largest party needs to be able to attempt to form a government."

      But what you're saying goes much, much further than that - you're arguing that smaller parties have to ensure that the attempt succeeds. That's a ridiculous argument. In any case, the SNP will hardly be breaking new ground - in 2010, they wanted a progressive Labour-led alliance, and weren't remotely moved by the arguments that the Tories "won" with 37% of vote.

    5. As Cameron will be the incumbent PM, he would have first go at trying to form a government. That would be pretty difficult, although not impossible, in your scenario. Presumably he would talk to Clegg and the DUP. With their numbers he would get to 319 in your scenario and would dare the others to vote them out. There's been an article in the Guardian speculating that the Tories are raising funds with a second election in mind.

      I think it's only if those negotiations didn't go anywhere and the Tories were stuck on 283 that your scenario would develop. Presumably Miliband would also have been negotiating with other parties in the meantime (as Cameron did in 2010). If he could then form a government, Cameron would be forced to resign (as Brown was in 2010).

      Today's YouGov sub-sample is SNP 44, Lab 24, Tories 19.

    6. I know the constitution is unwritten, but I believe the convention would be that Lizzy would ask the leader of the largest party to try to form a government. Remember that in Belgium that took many months!.

      I think two things should be noted. Although Eck is the king over the water, he is not leader of the SNP at Holyrood or Wastemonster. So he has the liberty to say things without constraint. To float ideas. In that respect he is being the consummate tactical genius we know and love.

      Secondly. If the Tories - and many English people hate the Scots - decide that they can cede everything except Defence and Foreign Affairs to Scotland in return for SNP support, then that is in the best interest of Scotland. We are voting for what is in Scotland's interest, not on what we may want for the UK. If the English want to elect the monster raving loonies thats as much their right as it would be ours if we elected the Broons.

    7. @JamesKelly

      "you're arguing that smaller parties have to ensure that the attempt succeeds. That's a ridiculous argument."

      I was arguing no such thing.

    8. I think a lot of people are swayed by nonsense such as Nick Robinson's mantra in 2010 when he feared briefly that the Tories might be denied. 'It's a coalition of the losers' came the cry. The thing is, what's of import is that a lasting government can be brought together in some form (be that a formal coalition or not). If Labour are a close 2nd in terms of seats and arrange things in such a way that they have an alliance which trumps the 'winning' Tories, I would be relaxed about that. Not least when you consider that some of the smaller parties who might end up with some influence are actually supported by vast numbers more than their seat shares ever suggest in the broken FPTP system. So the chances are that more people get something like the sort of government they want and some of their policy wishes might be seen through. I can live with that, no problem, whatever Nick Robinson might have to say about it.

    9. Boab : "I was arguing no such thing."

      Of course you were - the point you made doesn't make sense otherwise. If the smaller parties don't feel they have a "duty" to sustain the largest party in office, then in the scenario I painted above the Tories would be defeated on the Queen's Speech vote as soon as parliament returned (even assuming Cameron managed to hold on that long, which is highly doubtful). In all probability Miliband would then be given a chance to form a government.

  2. Interesting analysis, James and the kind of quality of writing that used to be more common on PB.

    Sorry to go off-topic so early but I saw a couple of graphs about Westminster polling on Slab/SNP figures and wondered how they compared with your stats.

    I hope you do not mind me jumping in like this.

    and this one:

    PS I reckon there is money to be made on the seat betting market right now.

  3. I think the most likely result is a conservative minority, unless UKIP are able to make a breakthrough and offer a coalition.

    It is hard to see Labour taking the majority of either seats or votes in England. And equally hard to see them agreeing to a coalition with progressive constitutionalists. The backlash in England would be tremendous (especially if Labour have the minority of English seats/votes) and might sunder the union.

    Happy days.

  4. Wait a minute, if folk think the SNP are willing to work with Labour, then there's no need for them to vote Labour?

    Vote SNP, get Tory no longer applies. Instead, it's vote SNP get Labour. Unless Labour start 'hinting' they won't work with the SNP and will instead let the Tories in again?

    Giggles. Of course the hints will be only that and come from Salmond who doesn't represent the SNP.

    There won't be any SNP SVEL. That would end the huge power SNP MPs have. By not voting on English matters, should they get a majority of Scots MPs, this allows them to argue English MPs can't vote on Scottish matters. Which of course, renders Westminster rather powerless over Scotland.

    1. "By not voting on English matters, should they get a majority of Scots MPs, this allows them to argue English MPs can't vote on Scottish matters."

      Abstract arguments are much less important than raw bargaining power. Without being serious about voting on English matters (and my guess is they are), the SNP wouldn't have enough to offer Labour at the negotiating table.