Sunday, August 29, 2010

Can anyone spare a hoot (or two) for Thoroughly Modern Tavish?

For months now, Hamish Macdonnell seems to have been determined to promote the narrative that a Labour return to power is written in the stars, and his latest rather dubious astrological observation is based on a supposed hardening of the Lib Dems' opposition to a referendum on independence. His conclusion is that "the only logical powerbroking deal after next May's election looks like being between Labour and the Lib Dems".

Frankly, I'm struggling to think of a deal that looks less logical than that one just at the moment. I can certainly see the theoretical appeal to the Scottish Lib Dems of demonstrating their independence from the federal party by choosing a coalition with Labour (although that appeal may fade pretty fast when they start pondering the full implications), but for Labour it would be an incredibly difficult leap. They would effectively be sacrificing their capacity to launch full-blooded attacks on a Tory-led Westminster government whenever they feel like it, and my guess is that would be too high a price, even to secure the prize of a stable four-year term in office. Macdonnell is also overlooking two obvious possibilities - a) that the Lib Dem vote might collapse so far that a coalition with Labour isn't even arithmetically viable, and b) that the Tories may be more pro-active than before in trying to forge an alliance (whether a coalition or something short of that) to freeze Labour out.

More broadly, the quotes from Tavish Scott in the article are highly amusing. Apparently the Lib Dems used to be "concerned" about his negativity towards a referendum, but the "modern party" has "moved on" and "couldn't give two hoots about it". Hmmm. Given that, to the best of my recollection, those concerns reached their peak as recently as the last year or two, this "modern" incarnation of the party of which Tavish speaks must be almost as new as his last haircut. In which case, the SNP have every reason to keep the faith - at this rate of change, the Lib Dems will in all likelihood be embarking on a brave new postmodern era by Christmas.

As an aside, I'm somewhat dubious about Macdonnell's assertion that the SNP made a referendum a precondition of a coalition in 2007. They were certainly vocal about the policy's central importance, but the only party setting literal preconditions were the Lib Dems themselves - it was beneath their dignity to even enter discussions unless the SNP abandoned the referendum policy in advance.


  1. The possibly concoctions in Holyrood after May next year are certainly interesting.

    I suppose that we may be able to guess more (and guess is of course is all that it will be) after the October statement by the chancellor and his Liberal deputy.

    Just how damaged the party may be by its association with the Tories may well be clearer after we see just how damaged we all are going to be by their collaboration. And, of course then Tories may be damaged too.

    The combinations are fascinating: Lab/Lib; Tory/Lib; SNP/Lib; SNP/Tory. None seems impossible, although frankly all seem improbable.... The even more bizarre possibilities of Lab/Tory or...surely not....SNP/Lab would have one up at night.

    But then, if the Respect Agenda is as abandoned, as indications suggest it may be, maybe the SNP/Labour coalition would be the “national government” solution to what may well be a real crisis. And they are the only ones that can point the finger at London.

  2. James, since as you point out the Lib-Dems refused a coalition and power in Holyrood in 2007 because of their hard line unionism it's a little surreal to hear the fact that Tavish and his Lib-Dems don't want an independence referendum being presented as newsworthy.

    "Lib-Dems against independence referendum", is a headline which has all the shock value of, "dog bites man", or, "Bear excrement found in the woods".

    The only reason that I can think for Tavish making a big thing of it is that he is positioning his party now to ensure that any possible deal with the SNP is off the table in the event of a close result in 2011. In terms of numbers that only leaves Labour as a possible coalition partner for the Lib-Dems in Holyrood but I can't see how a Lab/Lib coalition in Holyrood can work with a Con/Lib coalition in Westminster.

    The coalitions which are non-runners are Tory/SNP because the SNP won't do that, Lib/Tory because the numbers won't be enough, and Lab/Tory because they are fighting it out in Westminster.

    An SNP/Lab coalition is also out. If Labour become the biggest party in Holyrood then getting the SNP onside would make it easier to rule as a majority rather than a minority government but what can Labour offer the SNP to entice them to sup with the devil?

    Labour hate the idea of an independence referendum just as much as the Lib-Dems and all the SNP would get out of a coalition would be a share of the blame when the cuts bite. I can't see anything that Labour can offer which would make the SNP want to be in Government with them.

    The three possible outcomes I can see for 2011 are an SNP minority government, a Labour minority Government or the very long shot of a Lab/Lib coalition.

  3. Doug, I wouldn't completely rule out the possibility of SNP/Con - if the two parties are presented with an arithmetical situation where they either work together or see Labour take power, what's previously seemed unthinkable might suddenly become thinkable. Admittedly, that's an outside chance, because even as things stand the two parties don't quite have a majority in combination. SNP/Con/LD would be arithmetically possible in just about any situation, but Tavish's personal hang-ups about working with the Nationalists might well scupper that.

  4. James, I don't think SNP/Con would ever leave the starting blocks even if the SNP held their noses. It would be impossible for the SNP to oppose the cuts coming from the Con/Lib coalition in Westminster if they were in an SNP/Con coalition or an SNP/Con/Lib-Dem coalition in Holyrood. The media fallout in Scotland from the Labour supporting Scottish media would also be horrendous.

    A coalition with the Lib-Dems would probably be just as poisonous as a Conservative coalition for both Labour and the SNP but luckily for the SNP Tavish has just made plain his desire to be with Labour.