20 October 2008

The Hung Parliament Debate

I'm going to do something a little different here: rather than issue my opinion as usual, I want to know what you think first. I'll post my reflections as things develop.

It seems that the latest slew of opinion polls seem to be heading back in the direction of a hung parliament. And that got me thinking: back at the Riccarton Conference, Alex Salmond said he wanted the SNP to win 20 seats at the next Westminster election, "to make Westminster dance to a Scottish jig". But surely that's contingent on no party getting a majority, so needing those 20 SNP MPs to make the difference? For a party in the SNP's position to be effective, they need to have something that another party wants: the right level of support for the larger force to make things happen.

Now, speaking from an SNP perspective, I'd like there to be as much yellow on the map as possible - an election result that makes October 1974 look like a big disappointment - and a Hung Parliament, in which the SNP hold the balance of power. Conversely, the scenario I don't want to see unfold is one where the SNP advance stalls and either the Tories or Labour secure a clear majority.

But what if we had to choose just one aspect from our ideal scenario, and work with that?

And for the LibDems, the 1997, 2001 and 2005 elections produced results for the party (or its predecessors) not seen since the 1920s. But those record seat hauls came with two Labour landslides and a strong enough Labour majority that it was only called into question on issues of massive controversy, or following a cock-up by the Whips' Office. Conversely, just 13 Liberal MPs secured a Lib-Lab pact with the Callaghan Government. So are the LibDems at their strongest now, given their numbers, or were they stronger in the 70s, when they had Jim Callaghan over a barrel?

So for the SNP and LibDem supporters among us, which would you prefer if you were forced to choose: to have a large group of MPs, but have to deal with a stable majority Government; or have a smaller group that finds itself holding the balance of power in a Hung Parliament?

For Labour and Conservative supporters, how would you like to see your party behave in a Hung Parliament? If you're the largest party, would you prefer to try and find Coalition partners, or try to go it alone? If you're the second largest, would you want to try and build a majority anyway (if the arithmetic allowed it), or would you think it wiser to sit in Opposition while the larger party tried to get it together?

And for Others/Non-aligned/Don't knows, what you want to see from a Hung Parliament? Would you want to see one at all?

Readers, the floor (well, the comments section) is yours...


Anonymous said...

What a good question.

For the LibDems, the answer is easy, being in a balance of power situation is preferable to a large but ultimately ineffectual group.

For the SNP, the rules are different because it is already in power at Holyrood. A large group of MPs would represent further progress which, in turn, would offer the theat of further progress at Holyrood next time.

I actually believe that the SNP don't need to be in a balance of power situation to get the Scottish Jig underway. The thought of the SNP taking a stranglehold at the next Holyrood election would undoubtedly concentrate minds in Downing Street.

Further, if a large group of SNP MPs, maybe even the majority of Scottish MPs, and the Scottish Governemt takes a position contrary to that of the Westminster Government wouldn't that demonstrate the democratic defecit of the Union most effectively?

northbritain said...

The SNP getting the majority of seats at Westminster has always been taken as the trigger for Westminster to consider independence for Scotland.

Michael Forsyth confirmed that in a letter as Scottish Secretary in 1995:

"If the SNP were to secure a majority of Scottish seats at a General Election, then Parliament would have to give consideration to the position of Scotland within the United Kingdom. Following this consideration, it might then be appropriate for discussion to take place which could lead to the electorate of Scotland being consulted in a Referendum"
HL Deb 04 July 1995 vol 565 cc1003-65

I'm sure the 20 seat target was Alex Salmond just being modest, as usual.

Stephen Glenn said...

The Lib Dems will continue to use the Westminster election rules to acquire as many MPs as we can. Being second to Labour and the Tories in a number of key seats across the UK means that if the polls swing one way we are likely to lose some in to one party put possibly gain from another.

If we end up with another majority government with less than 40% of the popular vote however it is a sham of democracy. However, as we saw over the two terms of coalition government in Scotland the larger the share of the coalition you have the more sway you can have. So should a hung parliament exist we'd be looking for as many as possibly with a balance of power, to push through some key issues.

Ideally our next step is to break down the illusion of two party politics that the media, Labour and the Tories wish to express for their own various self interests.

Adopted Domain said...

It seems to me that the it doesn't really matter what the absolute numbers are, so much as what you do with it. The Greens with only two MSP's have been able to push their agenda well with the SNP administration, by being constructive and clear about what they will and won't support. This stands in contrast to the Libdems and Labour who've been useless in opposition, despite the Holyrood arithmetic, which I thought would favour more horse trading.

In Westminster things are different. Not least because a simple majority of Scottish seats would give the SNP the moral high ground necessary for a referendum on independence to be taken seriously, regardless of the rest of the maths. And I suppose, they wouldn't even need a majority of Scottish seats to make the other parties take them more seriously in London.

James said...

What Adopted Domain said, only noting also that we had seven Green MSPs until May last, and the numbers meant we achieved a lot less.

Would I rather there were more of us, if the alternative was being in a position to make actual change? No way.

The difference is that there's only one thing the SNP want Westminster for, a negotiating partner: we Greens have policy matters we're interested in at both levels.

Anonymous said...

I agree with west-world that, for the SNP, winning a large number of seats is much more important than being in a balance of power situation. First reason being that for the SNP credibility as an electoral option was historically a serious problem. That problem has now been overcome to a large extent by the May 07 result, but repeating that performance in the context of a general election would finally cement it. Secondly, given the anti-Scottish venom displayed by the English press, Labour or the Tories would simply be unwilling to countenance a pact with the SNP.

From a Lib Dem point of view, ending up in a position to force some form of PR onto the other two is the only thing that matters. It would be worth a short-term hit in numbers, as in a fairer electoral system they would prosper anyway.

Anonymous said...

Forget elections, because they change nothing. Policies are determined by far more important individuals then elected no bodies.

If the establishment wanted an independent Scotland we would already have one. If the dont we will have an SNP government with extremely cold feet. Which is exactly what we have. This could change but I doubt it.

What the establishment wants is what we have.

Which is a situation where the BRITISH NATION is nationally divided at the great unwashed level and completely united and controlled by multi-national corporate interests at all the other levels. Which self apparently suits the BRITISH establishment very well indeed.

There is simply nothing the establishment love more then the ordinary people at each other throats as much and as often as they can cleverly manage. Except at times of war when they much prefer we get painfully slaughtered under one flag.

The English people are not the enemies of the Scottish people. Now or at any time in the past. We only fight each other because the powers that be from the Romans to Edward 1st onwards want us to , for the furtherance of their own personal Imperialist ambitions.

We are, and certainly should be the best of mates. There is plainly far far more that unites us as a people then divides us. It is them and only them, who are our common enemy.

Atlas shrugged

Will said...

Leaving aside anon's contradictory and irrelevant rant, the contributions to this post have been interesting.

I'm fascinated by the idea that for the SNP, leverage is not all, and it's numbers that are the most important. Now, electoral credibility seems to be the biggest reason for that, but I'm intrigued that the SNP's aims of trying to stand up for Scotland and further the Scottish interest don't make the option of holding the Westminster balance of power - and so being better able to put those aims into practice - don't make the Hung Parliament option more tempting.

I'm also fascinated that for the LibDems, the reverse is true, that it's not seen as important for them to brandish their seat numbers in the same way, perhaps because PR will bring those numbers up to what they should be, and a Hung Parliament could deliver that. But it does present the image of the LibDems as the perpetual junior partner. Is that how we really see them?

And I can't help but feel, Stephen, that you've glossed over the point of the post. Yes, we all want the most seats and the most advantage through a Hung Parliament, but what I was asking is that if you could choose only one of those, which would it be? It sounds like you'd prefer the latter but it wasn't clear. Perhaps you'd like to confirm (or deny) that?

The comments from the Greens here were the most fascinating, as they've got the best direct experience of this very question from last year's elections. And the conclusion that they made in terms of Holyrood wasn't overly surprising. What did raise my eyebrows was how a distinction was drawn between the two Parliaments. Would those distinctions still apply if the next Westminster election produced no majority for any party, as has happened every time at Holyrood? Is Westminster just too archaic, too confrontational, too geared towards two-party politics that it can't handle considerations like this?

Keep talking folks...