London deals and the Scottish branch parties


Cameron offers chocolates and Brown offers flowers, who then will Clegg jump into bed with?…

Cameron offers chocolates and Brown offers flowers, who then will Clegg jump into bed with?

There is a very real dilemma here for the Lib Dems as the differences North and South of the border come into play.

Should Nick Clegg decide to join David Cameron and form an official alliance with the Conservatives then the party maintains its high profile in England, some compensation perhaps for their poor showing on election night.  The flip side to this is that North of the border they will surely suffer.  Any party seen to be propping up a Conservative government will be slaughtered in Scotland.

Alternatively, perhaps Clegg will be fall for Brown’s scented offer of proportional representation.  Notwithstanding the claim by Tom Harris that it isn’t in Gordon Brown’s gift to make such an offer it is still the only concrete deal that comes close to the Lib Dem holy grail.

Once again though the Anglo/Caledonia clash comes into play.  Scotland, including many nationalists, would endorse such an alliance.  It opens up a whole raft of opportunity for reform both constitutionally and electorally, the Lib Dems of course preferring a federal system for the UK.

However the English, having spoken and made it clear that they no longer wish a Labour government, will not be best pleased.  The sight of a discredited Labour government being propped up by the Lib Dems who did not fare well in the elections is bad enough.  However such an alliance would have to include the nationalists of Scotland and Wales to produce a majority, and that would be too much for the English.

The third option available to the Lib Dems is to back off from both parties and allow the Tories to form a minority administration.  It works in Holyrood where the SNP have excelled in such a situation, cooperating with other parties and making concessions in order to pass legislation and of course their annual budgets.

Again though the Scotland experience will present lessons for Clegg.  The Holyrood Lib Dems had the opportunity to form an alliance with the SNP in 2007 but refused.  That stance saw the Lib Dem leader replaced as the party’s profile slumped in Scotland.  Indeed the Lib Dems were the only major party to lose support in Scotland in Thursday’s election – dropping by 3.7%.

So the choices facing Clegg are:
Join the Tories and suffer in Scotland, however it maintains a high profile in the much more fertile ground of England – on balance the Lib Dem’s gain.

Join Labour and incur the wrath of the English voters – on balance the Lib Dem’s lose.

Reject any coalition offers – Lose profile and any opportunity of electoral reform and influence, sinking back into relative Westminster obscurity.

It’s a no brainer, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives will almost certainly form the next UK government.  The planned savage cuts will go ahead and Scotland will face significant reductions to its annual budget.

The Scottish branch of the London party will therefore be sacrificed at the alter of Westminster and for the greater prize of the English vote.  They will face a significant backlash in the 2011 Holyrood elections and may even see their Scottish Westminster MP’s go the way of the Conservatives.

But how is the election result playing out with the other parties in Scotland ?

The Tories, despite a 0.9% increase in the vote look like a dying party in Scotland.  PR would breath new life into the Scottish party but is unlikely to be adopted unless Cameron capitulates completely when negotiating with Clegg.  The Tories are fast becoming only a Holyrood entity in a Scottish context, the Holyrood group are now a de-facto autonomous party.

The SNP actually had a decent election given what appears to have been a nationwide anti-Conservative tactical vote.  The party saw a 2.2% increase in their vote, which is a proportional increase of almost 13% on 2005.  First Minister Alex Salmond has reiterated the SNP’s opposition to the Tories and has announced that they have accepted Gordon Brown’s offer of talks with civil servants in order to facilitate cooperation with Labour as they seek to protect Scottish interests.

Labour in Scotland however appear stuck in an anti-SNP rut.  Jim Murphy continues to make bizarre and unhelpful statements attacking the SNP.  His suggestion that the Scottish electorate were somehow voting on the record of the SNP at Holyrood is a slap in the face to those people who have very real concerns about a probable new Tory government and who made their point clear on Thursday.

Labour’s Glasgow North East MP Willie Bain joined Murphy in attacking the SNP when on Newsnight he stated that Thursday’s vote was “an alarm bell from Alex Salmond” and that there was a “very real prospect of Iain Gray becoming First Minister”.

The Scottish public may quickly tire of these gratuitous Labour attacks at a time when there is a pressing need for maturity and cooperation in order to ensure that Scotland’s future budgets are protected.

One thing is clear, the significance of this result is still to be realised.  The effects on the body politic in Scotland is intriguing and no-one with any sense would dare predict what the future holds as we leave the Westminster arena and head towards the waiting constitutional debate in Scotland.