With less that 100 days until the General Election all the opinion polls are saying that there will be a “hung parliament” with either the Conservatives and Labour being the largest party.
As a result, both major parties will need to start to prepare for a coalition with some, if not all, the smaller parties at Westminster.
Former Cabinet Minister and EU Commissioner, Lord Mandelson, said recently that the lesson to be learned from the 2010 election is that the Labour Party will need to plan properly for a coalition after the election. Mandelson went on to say that “Labour has to be careful about two things – it must not appear tribal or exclusive in its politics and it must not repeat its 2010 lack of preparation. It is not defeatist to consider the different scenarios in which we can get the Tories out.”
While speaking to the Guardian, the former Business Secretary said that there is a possibility that Labour could go into coalition with the Lib Dems, saying: “Where there is a will there is a way, but it will be harder scrambling something together at the last moment if there has been no thinking through beforehand.
“The important areas to prepare are not the allocation of ministerial posts but the forging of a shared approach to policy. Achieving greater fairness and protecting those most in need would be relatively easy to agree between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, as would the position on Europe, while the harder issues would be reducing the financial deficit and long-term debt.
“We cannot achieve anything we want without economic growth and policies to achieve that will have to come first. Security against terrorism would also have to be hammered out.”
Mandelson has a long belief that since 2010 the notion of a Coalition Government will become the norm. In his memoirs, The Third Man, he says that “my feeling is that, with the re-emergence of the Lib Dems as a party of government, coalition politics might well be here to stay. I sense that the old pattern of two-party pendulum politics may be breaking down.”
He goes on to say that he is in favour of an alternative voting in all elections because it would force candidates in all parties to gain every vote in their constituency.
Alternative voting has been around for some time in other countries, particularly Germany where there is a mixed-member proportional election whereby one vote is for a direct candidate for the district. The second vote is for the electoral list for every state of Germany that is lined up in order by the parties. This is so that there is a proportional representation in the German parliament.
Similar systems have been used for the devolved parliaments in the UK, in that it will enable the political parties to come together to form coalitions. This makes it even more surprising in Westminster that there is a coalition government born from the First Past The Post voting system.
This changed after the SNP ran a minority administration in 2007 at Holyrood. Then they surprised everyone when they had won a majority in 2011 as the system was not designed for that. At the time, the former First Minister, Alex Salmond said that the SNP had “a majority of the seats, but not a monopoly on wisdom”.
Salmond added: “I’ll govern for all of the ambitions for Scotland and all the people who imagine that we can live in a better land.
“This party, the Scottish party, the national party, carries your hope. We shall carry it carefully and make the nation proud.”
After the recent opinion poll by Tory Peer Lord Ashcroft that show that Labour and the Lib Dems would be wiped out in Scotland, the SNP will have the confidence to go into any potential coalition talks asking for more powers to the Scottish Parliament.
What the SNP wants, apart from independence, is all the powers to be devolved, apart from defence and foreign affairs.
This panicked both the Scottish Party Leader Jim Murphy and the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown as they are now calling for a “vow plus”. Murphy told party activists recently that his party’s plans would include:
- Clearer powers to vary social security benefits
- Wider responsibilities for tackling unemployment
- Devolution of the £1.8 billion housing benefits system
- And devolution of power to local communities from Holyrood and Westminster
That would go further than what the Smith Commission is recommending.
Scottish MPs will play an important role in deciding the make up of any coalition government. With the Tories and the Lib Dems non existent in Scotland, the choice that the voters will have is who would you trust the SNP to form a coalition with at Westminster.