Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Who would be the SNP's Cabinet ministers in a Westminster coalition government?

And so we arrive at the final day of this most extraordinary of years.  As it happens, it's Alex Salmond's 60th birthday, and it's also the eve of general election year - an election which could leave Salmond in an even more powerful position than he enjoyed as First Minister.  There was an article in the Herald yesterday that claimed the SNP were talking about the possibility of full coalition with Labour for the first time, although I struggled to reconcile that interpretation with the actual quotes from Stewart Hosie.  The conventional wisdom remains that the SNP want a confidence-and-supply deal that would not entail taking up ministerial office in London.  But let's just suppose for the sake of argument that a full-blown coalition does happen.  Who might be the SNP's Cabinet ministers, and what portfolios might they hold?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER : Alex Salmond.  He would probably inherit his predecessor Nick Clegg's "special responsibility for constitutional reform", although the difference is that he might actually do something about it.

SCOTTISH SECRETARY : Stewart Hosie.  The deputy leader of the SNP would take over from the deputy leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.  Yes, that's right, folks - Alistair Carmichael is Willie Rennie's deputy.  How does that work, exactly?

CULTURE SECRETARY : Angus Robertson.  The SNP's Westminster group leader used to be a BBC journalist, so who better to oversee the long-overdue transfer of broadcasting regulation to Holyrood control?  Of course, sport comes with the culture brief, which technically means that Robertson would inherit responsibility for the UK government's bizarre commitment to make the England football team better than the Scotland football team.  Perhaps he could delegate that one to an enthusiastic Labour Minister of State, such as Ian Davidson.

WORK AND PENSIONS SECRETARY : Philippa Whitford.  Health is already (thankfully) a devolved matter, so Ms Whitford can't take on her natural brief, but it's hard to think of anything that has a bigger indirect impact on health than the war that has been waged on the poor and vulnerable by means of welfare "reform".  There could be no more satisfying a replacement for Iain Duncan Smith.

INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT SECRETARY : Angus Brendan MacNeil.  Obviously the SNP wouldn't want to go within a thousand miles of responsibility for London's foreign or defence policy, but ensuring justice for the world's poorest is a different story.

Of course in reality there would probably be a better gender balance than that, but with so few candidates having been selected so far, I've ended up looking mainly at the SNP's existing MPs by default.


  1. As DPM Salmond would have to fill in for Ed regularly at PMQs and as such would find himself answering plenty of questions on English-, Welsh-, or Northern Irish only matters. Is that really tenable?

  2. I find it very hard to imagine the SNP would be allowed anywhere near constitutional reform or Scottish Secretary.

    1. Well, a coalition wouldn't really be tenable unless the SNP controlled their main area of interest.

  3. Coalition - Red Tories or Blue Tories would be the end of the SNP. We send MPs to Westminster to determine the British state not to facilitate its governance. Our MPs must cause the Brits as much trouble as possible and sicken them of their accursed Union as quickly as possible. Too many generations of Scottish MPs have gone to London only to turn their coats and take the shilling - not this time!

    1. As I've explained at length in various posts recently, something along these lines is exactly what's going to happen. Our nationalists are not going to give up the powerful mandate they'd have (an essential veto over Scotland if they get a majority of Scots MPs) by becoming unionists in a coalition, voting on English laws etc...

      Make sense to play cards close to their chest though. Maybe drop a few hints (sovereignty, EU, trident from Nicola) but at the same time muddy the waters with other hints about coalitions. Make sure the voters know of course that only a coalition with Labour would be looked at. After all, that’s what internal polling (and now published – panelbase) is telling them folk are happy with.

    2. Alasdair.... the thought of a coalition deal with anyone other than the INDY partners throughout the Uk sickens me to the marrow.... and therefore I agree totally with your thoughts... it must not happen.

    3. The SNP would be lunatics to enter into a formal coalition with either party: they would be eaten alive in 2016 and 2017, and the Greens and SSP have a much better chance in Scotland with 4 million voters or so than the Greens in the rUK with over 50 million voters.

      Indeed, as the Skier says, the power they'd have unofficially is far more powerful than any deal Westminster could try to coax them with.

  4. Mmm, on the other hand we could have Angus Robertson as Defence Secretary. He gets to order up some badly needed MPA, make a good few permanent friends in the various arms of the Armed Forces by scrapping the Trident replacement, clearly builds 13 Type 26s at Scotstoun, sends Astute back down the Irish Sea and along the Channel, starts the move for Vanguard / Trident (scrapping the deterrent completely on his watch would be a bad political move). What else. Well, with the savings on Successor perhaps they could even build another couple of T45s, Faslane would be turned into a North Atlantic / Arctic / north-east and north-west passage naval base, the MPAs would be based at Lossie probably, though a reconstitued Leuchars is a possibility. Prestwick would get a military section. I'd suggest a multiple redundancy duplicate QRA control at Leuchars which quite by chance, a total coincidence, would be ready in time for Independence in 2017 + 18 months after the YES vote, and split the MOD over the four "nations".

    Oh, all that sort of thing. Distributed resilient defence. Sounds good to me.

  5. I just joined the SNP after the referendum. My membership card would be torn up the day they entered into a Westminster coalition.

  6. There would be riots in England (certain parts) if the SNP entered into a coalition like the one above....

  7. Would the Secretary of State for Wales come from Plaid Cymru? I hope so, as long as the SNP gives us Welsh Devo-Max then I'm happy

  8. SNP ran a minority administration at Holyrood quite successfully. Can any of the WM parties manage that? If they can't, shouldn't we be asking why not?

  9. Not sure how I feel about the SNP entering a coalition with Labour.
    I'm an SNP voter, rather than a supporter, so I guess it'd be easier for me to rationalize than it would be for many of the members who have only recently 'defected' from Labour.

    1. Are ex-Labour voters going to be up in arms at the SNP going into coalition with Labour? If so, are they going to leave the SNP and go back to Labour?

      All this is fun imagining Salmond as deputy-PM etc, but Labour wouldn't want it, and I'd suggest Salmond would prefer to stay out of a coalition too, so its very unlikely to happen.

      Much more likely is a supply-and-demand arrangement that see's Milliband voted in as PM (if Lab+SNP is enough) in exchange for a more beefed up package of devolution powers, non-renewal of trident and the power to hold referenda shifted from Westminster to Holyrood.

      For that price Milliband would be in power for his full term and have full SNP support on the issues broadly agreed upon.

      But then, I don't believe Labour will win. It'll be a Tory win imho which brings in a whole new ball game.

  10. "an essential veto over Scotland"

    Nope. Constitutionally incoherent. Do the DUP get a veto over Northern Ireland?

    1. So you are saying English MPs have complete control over Scotland? That England owns Scotland? Novel concept. So much for a partnership of nations agreeing a common future. Scotland is just a colony of England according to you.

      Note the DUP don't have a majority of seats (9/18). They are also a British unionist party, so using them as an example to counter what I was saying is just stupid.

      Republican parties have 8/18 and the remainder is a single independent, which I understand is a unionist. Ergo, the British parties have a slim majority and they choose not to veto a lot because they are British.

      However, you will have noticed - being the political expert you are - that NI has been in something of a stalemate, with many of the welfare reforms and budget cuts yet to be implemented, precisely because the republicans and unionists are so closely matched in terms of elected representatives (both at Stormont and in Westminster) and they've been struggling to agree both internally, and with the UK government. Essentially, NI has been 'vetoing' Westminster legislation.

      I guess you are also saying that England owns NI too? What if NI people elected a strong majority of republicans and they started moves towards re-joining Eire, e.g. via a referendum. Are you saying England would/could overrule this?

      You are not selling this union well. I guess England owns wales completely too? That it's just an English colony too as Scotland and NI are? Sure wales was conquered, but the reality is it still sees itself as Wales.

      To be honest, it would be brilliant if the SNP said 'no' to something like the bedroom tax and it ended in England trying to force it on Scotland. It would make a new iref all the more likely.

      You can expect an SNP majority to work to create the situation where this occurs as much as possible. They will veto and short of Westminster sending in tanks, some form of agreement will have to be reached if the union is to survive.

      In terms of the media...When Scots Labour vote against Tory legislation, you here '(UK) Labour voted against' mainly. However, if it was SNP, it would be 'SNP (= Scotland) voted against: England tries to overrule' all over the headlines. Brilliant.

      If the SNP get a majority, it's going to be a whole lot of fun. Enjoy.

    2. It is my understanding that a referendum on Irish reunification is not ruled out by the GF Agreement. The Secretary of State would need to approve such a deal, and is obliged to if it was likely a majority would approve it.

    3. Scottish_Skier: English MPs have imposed policy on Scotland on several occasions, and it's once or twice happened the other way round (top-up fees being the obvious example). Whether this makes one, both or neither of them a "colony" is subjective, but it's quite clearly not the case that MPs from Scotland, England, Wales or NI have a formal veto over what a formal happens in their country.

  11. Eck mentioned Parnell by name recently as I recall. Watch this and wonder what we can achieve

  12. "You are not selling this union well."

    LOL I voted yes ya moron.

    "So you are saying English MPs have complete control over Scotland?..... Scotland is just a colony of England according to you."

    But unlike many other Yes voters, I don't get too emotionally invested in Scotland being a nation vs being a colony. It's an argument which doesn't particularly engage me. Certainly a Tory government largely made up of English rather than Scottish MPs was able to impose the poll tax on Scotland in the relatively recent past, to take just one example.

    "Note the DUP don't have a majority of seats (9/18). "

    They actually have 8/13, since Sinn Fein don't take their seats.

    "the British parties have a slim majority and they choose not to veto a lot because they are British."

    This conceptual distinction you are trying to create between British and non-British parties in so far as it relates to the SNP doesn't really hold up. Indications are that the SNP will go into the forthcoming election arguing for Devo Max, not a UDI or another referendum. That means they implicitly accept the continued legitimacy of the Union,at least in the immediate future. THe difference between them and the Scots Tories or Labour will relate to the *degree* of devolution they are arguing for in the parliament to be elected.
    Moreover if you follow JK's line of argument the SNP might end up supplying the Deputy Prime Minister of the British government. How they could be simultaneously within and without the British system under those circumstances?

    Parliamentary rules and conventions are that any member can ask a question of the government on any subject, and that any member can vote on any subject. If the SNP take their seats, take the oath and agree to abide by the rulings of the speaker they do not get to claim veto power over a subset of issues.

    Having said that, there may be a political cost in trying to impose something on Scotland that most of its MPs did not want - but there was in the poll tax days too, even when most of Scotland's MPs were 'British' under your definition. That is a separate argument from claiming that the SNP will have some extra power of veto.

  13. As far as the London government imposing a constitutional settlement on a part of the UK which doesn't want it is concerned, you might find it instructive to look at the reaction in Northern Ireland to the Anglo-Irish agreement:

    See in particular:

    "The Agreement was rejected by unionists because it gave the Republic of Ireland a role in the governance of Northern Ireland for the first time ever, and because they had been excluded from the agreement negotiations. The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) led the campaign against the agreement, including mass rallies, strikes, civil disobedience and the mass resignation from the British House of Commons of all the unionist MPs. "

    15 by-elections were held on a single day: the most ever.,_1986

    The results were: 14 Unionist MPs re-elected, most with very large majorities.

    The Anglo-Irish agreement was not however vetoed.

  14. N. Ireland is only partly comparable. And it's a mess. Not quite 'ungovernable', but nearly so. So, you are actually proving my point. The UK has even sent the army at various to try and control the part of Ireland it still currently occupies. That is seriously ungovernable.

    The English-Irish agreement was between the occupier of part of Ireland and the rightful owner. An attempt to try and settle a dispute over territory between two different states. So in that sense it was always going to overrule what many in the province actually wanted. And it would be done with military force if needed.

    So, the question is, if an SNP majority with e.g. a mandate for devo max vs Westminster with a mandate for only FA&D over Scotland, as delivered by election, says no to something, is Britain willing to intervene with force? Would it send troops north to impose its will?

    It's choices are to negotiate or use force against democratic will. That's basically it. Scotland implements Westminster policy into Scottish law via Holyrood (formerly the office of the SoS handled this, then the Scottish Office). It does this with consent as Scotland continues to vote unionist for the UK parliament.

    If Scotland's democratically elected MPs/MSPs say No, then we hit stalemate.

    There are no hard and fast rules other than democratic legitimacy.

    I'm not saying that they will or should block everything. That would be stupid. However, they can use the threat of blocking to negotiate and push the issue if needed.

    Give them a mandate for devo max and if they get a majority, the rUK has to work out something. If it ignores it, then the threat of another iref looms; they hand the SNP an excuse to propose another one.

    Oh, and Labour + Lib MPs could have done the same for the poll tax. They could have told councils they controlled not to impose it for example (Holyrood makes this easier nowadays to block at a national level). They just didn't because they are unionists. They just protested as any opposition UK party does.

    And thanks for debating this topic sensibly. I can't say I am totally right, but I hope people appreciate what I'm saying. A majority of SNP MPs is in many ways far more powerful than an SNP majority in Holyrood. Combined, nationalist majorities at both levels is extremely powerful. Scotland is democratically lost to the union. That can't be dismissed as if we were just a region of England or something. It's huge.

    1. So, the question is, if an SNP majority with e.g. a mandate for devo max vs Westminster with a mandate for only FA&D over Scotland, as delivered by election, says no to something, is Britain willing to intervene with force? Would it send troops north to impose its will?

      Why would this be necessary? An SNP majority could vote against (say) an increase in the pension age - but because the DWP is controlled by the UK government, not by MPs, that change would be implemented by its branches throughout the UK.

      I suppose the SNP could order the police to arrest DWP officials or something, but that would be via their control of Holyrood, not any potential Westminster majority.

  15. "Give them a mandate for devo max and if they get a majority, the rUK has to work out something. If it ignores it, then the threat of another iref looms; they hand the SNP an excuse to propose another one."

    I think we perhaps more or less agree here. If the UK government wants to impose Poll Tax 2 or some other thing most Scottish MPs disagree with, there will be a political cost. If the issue is big enough, then it could as you say increase the pressure for a second referendum. This is an issue of 'realpolitik'. Every government takes into account public opinion before passing certain laws, and they will often back down if they judge the opposition to be too strong. However, that does not mean that they do not retain the legal and constitutional authority to impose such a law.

    I also agree that having a majority of MPs and MSPs would be a political advantage for the SNP and would allow them to frame the debate in various new ways. On the other hand, to say that Scotland is lost to the Union implies it would be impossible for unionist forces to recover, which I don't think is the case.

    I also don't think the SNP can seriously consider using the institutions it controls (councils, Holyrood) to block measures over which the Westminster parliament has competence. Such an act would be illegal and would be tantamount to rejecting the British constitutional settlement and the authority of Westminster. It other words, it would amount to UDI, which I think we generally agree the SNP do not want to do.

    "And thanks for debating this topic sensibly"

    Yes, you too, sorry for the 'spat'. Happy New Year to all commentators!

  16. "However, that does not mean that they do not retain the legal and constitutional authority to impose such a law."

    And in the UK, the only real legal and constitutional authority comes from electoral mandate. As we know, no UK government is bound by its successors. Anything can in theory be undone or newly implemented...

    Realpolitik is what I'm on about - not some golden rule book. There's no rule book because there's no constitution (thank fuck for that, otherwise we'd be more like Catalonia or Quebec potentially). The UK is probably the most hotchpotch, thrown together at the last minute, patched up with sticking plaster states that exist.

    If Scotland, as a sovereign, voluntary member of the union (as reconfirmed by Westminster for the iref), rebels electorally, it will need to be dealt with. Somehow.

    Anyway, time to stop posting and get on with festivities.

    All the best for Hogmanay.

    We've a big year ahead, with May 2015 potentially making things very interesting if we back the SNP and they play their cards right.

  17. Have a great Hogmanay everyone! (& Thanks again James for creating this brilliant forum!)
    See you all in 2015.


  18. A coalition is a non-starter. No chance whatsoever of the SNP going into coalition.

    Happy New Year to you all.

  19. Political suicide and the affirmation and confirmation that the SNP is a British party - most activists leave party and as David Cameron rightly said, 'the smaller party always gets trashed'. Yet, the SNP does stupid things from time to time even though they are smart. The UK government spooks pretending to be ScotNats would just love this and would smile as they watch the SNP die indefinitely.

  20. There won't be any coalition involving the SNP.

    For any UK party to join a coalition with those 'bloody nationalists', the SNP would need to hold the balance of power. If they don't, then attempts can be made to just freeze them out; which of course could have significant political implications as I've talked about, but that would be a risk for Westminster to deal with.

    If the SNP actually held the balance of power, they could just sit back and watch the farce that would ensue. How could a party form government knowing that the SNP could just vote with the opposition and block anything. Or, at a given moment, decide to form a temporary confidence and supply with the opposition suddenly creating a new majority government.

    The Tories could, e.g. decide to form government with the Libs, but only having a majoirty without the SNP. They do this and Dave C stays in No. 10. Then the SNP declares it plans a coalition with Ed of some form. Ed is now PM...

    The SNP could have a whale of a time playing them off one another.

    What would be worth a shot in such a situation would be to say 'Well, give us devo max and we'll withdraw our MPs. Of course we'll need to have a say on FA&D, but we can work something out'.

    If that allowed one of the big two to get a majority, even in coalition with e.g. the Libs, it could be quite tempting for them.

    Tories more likely to go for it as Scotland is long lost to them. I suspect Ed might consider it too. The Labour party as a whole might be resistant; depends what they thought their chances were of winning Scotland back at some point. Ed however has quite the ego and the thought of No 10 would be very tempting. Libs would jump at the chance of being in power with anyone; just give them some cabinet positions and they'll do anything. So they could help said one of the big two get a majority if needed.

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