16 December 2006

Scaling back ambition

Nicol Stephen appears to have done this: recently he was talking about becoming First Minister himself, but now he's got dragged into the row over whether the LibDems should support Jack McConnell's re-election as First Minister. This comes on thwe back of McConnell's gloriously barking prediction that Labour can get 55 or more seats, enough to ditch the LibDems and form a viable minority government, which he considers the preferred option to a three-party Coalition with the LibDems and the Greens. Stephen has made the schoolboy error of accepting the premise of McConnell's argument (that the LibDems are more likely to join a government than lead one), and so his earlier predictions are now wiped out.

Even if you leave that aside, this is a major own goal for Nicol Stephen, who has already painted himself into a corner by insisting that he would not go into an Executive that a) was led by McConnell and supported nuclear power, or b) was led by Alex Salmond and included a referendum on independence. By saying that he will actively vote against Jack McConnell's candidacy for the FM post, and all Labour nominations for ministerial positions if Jack goes it alone, Stephen is forced into either a U-turn on his new-found hostility to Labour (which will last until 4 May, one day after the Elections), or his position on independence. It also increases the likelihood that Labour will look to the Tories for support. While they reacted to this development by criticising the LibDems, they have not rejected the idea of supporting Labour. In fact, in the past, a number of key figures have advocated that as a means of preserving the Union.

And of course, this whole debate centres on 1) whether Labour will be in a position to form a viable minority government (unlikely); and 2) whether Labour could form a stable majority with either the LibDems from within the Executive or the Tories from outwith it (unlikely at the present time). The electorate can still turn any row on its head.

In other news, Davie Hutchison is reporting that the race to succeed McConnell as Labour leader has already begun, with backbenchers jumping on bandwagons to support prospective candidates Andy Kerr and Tom McCabe. If this is true, it seems that the only person who still believes that the First Minister can hang onto his job is the First Minister.

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