You’ve probably heard by now that the upcoming General Election is the most unpredictable and arguably one of the most important in recent UK political history. Minor parties are winning a large number of votes, diminishing the chances of an outright single-party majority in the process.
It is therefore very likely that some kind of coalition or minority administration will have to be formed. Failing that, there could even be a second general election later on in 2015 if any three party “rainbow” alliances fall through, but this is very unlikely.
The coalition negotiations that are expected to take place after the public vote on 7th of May will have far reaching consequences for all of our lives, at which point only the top politicians will determine the consequences of the mandate from the people. If cross party talks do have to occur, it will be messy and possibly quite cheerless, because every party will have lost the election and nobody will get the government they want.
So what has this got to do with the SNP? Well, the Scottish National Party has been steadily gaining in the polls in Scotland, to the point where they are expected to win almost every seat north of the border. This is a disaster for Labour, who in 2010 won 40 of the 59 Scottish seats, but this time round are looking at only winning a small handful of constituencies, if any.
The SNP first got into power in 2007 as a minority government, but in 2011 they increased their support to become a majority government (64⁄129 MSPs), the first ever seen at Holyrood. The SNP has the third largest party membership in the UK (93,000) and now commands strong majorities in many Scottish constituencies. So many in fact that the SNP are expected to see their representation in Westminster increase from six seats in 2010 to more than 50 in 2015.
A party that can only be voted for by less than a tenth of the United Kingdom’s population is going to have the third highest number of seats in the House of Commons come May, and could be the kingmakers in coalition talks.
In 2010 the Lib Dems had enough seats to create a shared majority government with the Conservatives, but this will not be the case in 2015. Nick Clegg’s party will see their parliamentary representation half, while the Scottish nationalists practically clear up north of the border to win a similar number of MPs that the Lib Dems currently have. The First Minister of Scotland and Leader of the SNP Nicola Sturgeon will be hugely influential in the subsequent negotiations that will take place after a hung parliament is called.
Labour and the SNP combined could possibly win enough seats for a slim majority in the House of Commons, but politicians on both sides have always said there is virtually no prospect of a coalition, mainly because it would not further the interests of either party.
Sturgeon explained that although she couldn’t imagine a coalition between the two centre-left parties, she could envision a Labour minority government that deals with the SNP on a vote-by-vote basis to get things passed through the House of Commons. This ‘confidence and supply’ alternative would allow Labour to pass vital actions such as the budget without having to concede ministerial posts to the Scottish nationalists.
A few days ago Ed Miliband officially ruled out the possibility of a formal coalition agreement between the two parties, saying “there will be no SNP ministers in any government I lead.” This will also put a stop to Conservative ads showing Ed Miliband in the pocket of Alex Salmond, the former Leader of the SNP.
A Labour-SNP-Lib Dem three party coalition would be almost guaranteed to get the seats required for a majority government, but Vince Cable has called a Lib Dem-SNP deal ‘inconceivable.’ A Conservative-SNP post-election deal is even less feasible.
The SNP was founded in 1934 during the merger of the National Party of Scotland and the Scottish Party. They have gained support in Scotland over the last few decades and finally came to power on a wave of anti-establishment, anti-austerity politics.
One of the most talked about, and potentially problematic, demands of the Scottish Nationals is for the unilateral disarmament of the UK’s nuclear weapons programme, Trident. More generally though, as a socially democratic centre-left party the SNP want more progressive personal taxation, free higher education, an increase in the minimum wage, heavily reduced cuts to public services, voting from the age of 16 and, most notably, Scottish independence. At the very least in this parliament the SNP might accept further devolution of powers to Holyrood, as is currently going on.
SNP Leader and First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon took the helm as Alex Salmond’s successor after his swift resignation following defeat in the Scottish independence referendum, when Scots voted to stay in the UK 55:45. Sturgeon has said in interviews that she will not rule out the possibility of holding another referendum for the break up of the UK, the prospects for which look less attractive for Scotland than they did last September due to the recent drop in oil prices. Scotland’s success as an independent country is closely tied to how much revenue could be created from their oil reserves – the amount of which is not precisely known, and this fall in prices would spell disaster for government expenditure plans.
The take home message here is that if Labour is the biggest loser after the election, a minority government backed by the SNP is looking far more plausible than an actual coalition. Scottish nationalists are going to be a powerful and controversial force in Westminster and will complicate the already difficult situation further. We have had minority governments before, but the next administration is set to be one of the least stable in our history.
Your vote on 7th of May really matters; please do not waste the opportunity to voice your opinion at the ballot box. Uncertain yet interesting times are ahead in British politics. Good news for journalists, bad news for the rest of us.