05 January 2006

A match made in Heaven?

It's being reported in The Herald (and by the BBC) that the SNP and the Greens have been in informal talks over a possible Coalition after the 2007 Election.

I have to say that the SNP are probably the ones who gain the most from this: they have plenty of common ground with the Greens, on issues such as independence (the big issue, of course), nuclear power and rendition of terror suspects, so they have a good basis to start negotiations. This also makes discussions after the Election (if they're needed or even remotely useful) more productive. They're helped by the Greens' tactic of only standing on the Second Vote, preventing a challenge to the SNP in their target constituencies. Let's not forget that the SNP, as members of the European Free Alliance, sit with the Greens in the European Parliament. Not only that, but the alternatives aren't really palatable. Although it's likely that the only viable two-party agreement would be a Grand Coalition between Labour and the SNP, this would fail simply on the enmity between the two parties and the fact that neither would want to be the junior partner. The Party has constitutionally ruled out a pact with the Tories, who are just too Unionist, despite their agreement on some economic matters. As for the SSP, well, even if you discount the death spiral in which they're currently engaged, they aren't particularly fond of the SNP either, dismissing them as a 'fearty party'. The LibDems, of course, rule out independence and have, from an SNP viewpoint, soiled their hands through their pact with Labour.

There are risks, of course. Firstly, in spite of Alex Salmond's aggressive targeting of 20 constituencies, they need to keep their Second Vote up if they're going to bolster their number of seats in 2007. It was their failure to pay attention to this vote that damaged them so badly in 2003, letting in the Greens and the SSP. Also the two parties are surely rivals for the remains of what is likely to be the SSP's carcass at the Election. While an SSP collapse might gift the SNP a handful of constituencies, their List votes might head more easily towards the Greens, thus making life more difficult for Alex Salmond's party. Of course, my dire predictions regarding the Socialists might be wrong, and an SNP-Green alliance might well have to turn to the SSP for support. Even if they do fade into irrelevance, this new Coalition might not have enough combined strength to command a majority. This might well either force the two parties to seek LibDem support (an unpleasant option for both, particularly the Greens who would have the most to lose in terms of influence from their involvement), or, to prevent that, persuade the Greens to break this pact and support the current Lab-Lib executive in a 'traffic light' Coalition in exchange for major concessions on policy.

But what of the Greens? Well, this gives them a credibility bonus. By planning for the aftermath of the next election now, they put together a list of outcomes that they would expect from any deal, helping them to 'get real' (their task for the year). It gives them opportunities to advance on the List vote. However there are a number of circles to square: can the Greens' pro-environment approach sit well with the SNP's current pro-business line? Can the two parties' varying attitudes to oil (for the SNP it's black gold, for the Greens it's the spawn of Satan) be overcome? And of course, it could potentially burn one of the Greens' bridges: the 'traffic light' pact, in the event that neither (as I suspect will happen) the Lab-Lib pact nor the SNP-Green entente command a combined total 65 seats or more. In that case, we could see a Unionist pact involving Labour, the LibDems and the Tories.

Whatever happens, the next Election is shaping into a fascinating contest. So fascinating that I might have to create a spin-off blog for it.

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