Last night’s debates revealed with stark clarity that Labour will not work with the SNP in any way to create a government. It was the single most important statement Miliband or any of the other leaders made. This step is hugely significant especially when we couple it with the one thing in this election that the polls show is conclusive: that the election result will be inconclusive.
Despite slight moves in the polls, Labour and the Conservatives are still neck and neck, and never more than 3% apart. Perhaps the most famed pollster in the world, Nate Silver, told BBC’s Panorama this week that there would be no outright winner based on his polling analysis, thus supporting every single national opinion poll taken and also the patchwork of constituency polling helpfully shared by Lord Ashcroft for months. Indeed, for the record, Silver predicted only three seats to switch hands in Wales next week – Labour picking up Cardiff Central and Cardiff North, and Plaid gaining Ceredigion back from the Liberal Democrats.
Thus the attention of the media has, quite rightly, shifted to the shape of potential governments and potential coalition partners. This process of course has been fuelled by the parties themselves as some of them seek to rule in or out potential partners with the instant like or dislike tendencies of a political version of Tinder.
And in that context, Labour’s decision to rule out any sort of arrangement with the SNP, who are likely to be the third biggest party in Westminster, is a major step. Clearly both the SNP and Plaid Cymru are furious at this decision, but surely for Labour such a step is a no brainer. There is no way they can make any sort of deal with a resurgent SNP which will, in a week’s time, have taken scores of Labour seats north of the border and thus denied them any opportunity to form a government. Indeed, it’s only if the SNP do badly – which they won’t – that will allow Labour to make any sort of deal with them. When the SNP is this strong, Labour simply can’t work with them because that strength will have come from weakening Labour.
Thus the possibility of a minority government is now very firmly on the table, even if it has merited little attention so far. It is almost as if such a situation were not possible or workable, but on a number of occasions it has indeed been so.
Outside the UK such a government exists in New Zealand now, and was also present in Australia under Welsh-born Julia Gillard. And in the UK context we can draw on a number of examples too. The ones we keep forgetting to think about are the periods of Labour minority government in Wales 1999-2000 or 2005-07, or the SNP minority government in Scotland between 2007 and 2011 which was certainly stable enough to govern effectively. Further, Harold Wilson formed a minority government without partners in February 1974 and carried on for over six months before voluntarily calling an election on his own terms.
Therefore a minority government is a viable proposition and for my money I think that is where the country is heading, though I am not sure which party will comprise that government. I am also convinced that a second general election will follow well within five years in such circumstances. And in making such a prediction I am also aware that in the case of Wilson in 1974, and especially Salmond in 2011, a minority government went on to produce a majority one.
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