Scots Would Bring Down Minority Conservative Government

British prime minister David Cameron and Scotland's first minister Alex Salmond shakes hands in Edinburgh, October 15, 2012
British prime minister David Cameron and Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, shakes hands in Edinburgh, October 15, 2012 (Scottish Government)

The Scottish National Party would vote down a minority Conservative government, its leader, Alex Salmond, has said.

In an interview with the New Statesman, the former Scottish first minister vows that his pro-independence party would vote out Prime Minister David Cameron if he tried to form a minority government after the next election.

“So if Labour joins us in that pledge, then that’s Cameron locked out,” he said. Read more “Scots Would Bring Down Minority Conservative Government”

SNP Could Pull Labour to the Left, UKIP Conservatives to the Right

Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond attends a meeting in Sacramento, California, June 19, 2012
Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond attends a meeting in Sacramento, California, June 19, 2012 (Scottish Government/Feature Photo Service/Matt Petit)

Scottish nationalist leader Alex Salmond and the United Kingdom Independence Party’s Nigel Farage suggested on Sunday they could pull a next coalition government in a respectively more left- or right-wing direction.

In separate interviews with the BBC’s Andrew Marr, the junior party leaders, who are both expected to do well in May’s general election, staked out positions to the fringes of the two major parties.

Salmond predicted his Scottish National Party would “hold the power” in another hung parliament and use that position to advance “progressive politics” across the United Kingdom.

Polling by the Conservative peer Michael Ashcroft last month showed the Scottish nationalists, who already commands a majority in the regional legislature, winning fifteen out of sixteen closely-contested seats currently held by Labour.

Extrapolating Ashcroft’s polling results, May2015, an election website from the New Statesman weekly, estimates that the nationalists will win 55 out of 59 Scottish seats in the next general election.

Labour is projected to win 271 seats in the House of Commons where 326 are needed for a majority.

Ed Miliband, the Labour Party leader, last week ruled out a coalition with Salmond but left open the possibility of a looser “confidence and supply” arrangement.

Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, similarly told The Guardian newspaper earlier this month that her Scottish National Party could support a minority Labour government on an “issue-by-issue basis.”

Sturgeon said she would no longer condition policy support in Westminster on the removal of Britain’s nuclear submarine fleet from Scotland — a longstanding nationalist demand — but Salmond on Sunday criticized Labour for accepting many of the spending cuts the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have made in the last four years, suggesting that a future Labour government would need to relax its deficit targets in order to enlist the nationalists’ support.

Farage, by contrast, criticized the ruling coalition for not reducing the deficit fast enough and keeping taxes too high for low and middle incomes.

If you look at the last five years, virtually nothing has been achieved. Because we’re still running a £90 billion per year deficit.

Under Britain’s first-past-the-post voting system, Farage’s Euroskeptics could win only a handful of seats despite polling around 15 percent support nationwide. But with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats projected to win under 300 seats together, the support of small right-wing parties like UKIP could turn out to be crucial in keeping the left out of power.

Beyond cutting foreign aid and Britain’s £8 billion net yearly contribution to the European Union budget as a consequence of altogether leaving the bloc — which UKIP advocates — Farage struggled to make clear where he would cut to bring down the deficit faster while financing tax relief at the same time.

Salmond was similarly vague in justifying higher public spending, saying only he favored raising taxes for the rich.

Britain’s Conservatives Ahead of Labour in Recent Polls

British prime minister David Cameron in Newmarket, Suffolk, February 20
British prime minister David Cameron in Newmarket, Suffolk, February 20 (The Prime Minister’s Office/Arron Hoare)

Relatively small shifts in the polls have put Britain’s ruling Conservative Party within reach of winning May’s general election.

Whereas Prime Minister David Cameron’s party had come in second to Labour in most surveys since early 2011, the last few weeks have seen it ahead of the opposition in two-thirds of the polls, May2015 reports.

The website’s polling average puts the Conservatives 2.1 points ahead which would give them a plurality of anywhere between thirteen and 28 seats.

The party is still not projected to win an outright majority but neither is Labour.

At this rate, despite five years of campaigning, Labour are barely going to win more seats than Brown did in 2010 when he won 29 percent of the vote.

Cameron’s liberal Democrat coalition partners are expected to lose around half their seats but they would still be the fourth largest party in Britain’s House of Commons.

The country’s first-past-the-post voting system rewards the two major parties but it also allows small parties with a strong regional basis to win more seats than they likely would under a system of proportional representation.

The system especially benefits the Scottish National Party which could win 56 out of the region’s 59 seats in Westminster despite winning only 4 percent support nationwide.

The Scottish nationalists have said they could support a minority Labour government on an “issue-by-issue basis.” However, even if they do as well as some polls project, the two left-wing parties would still fall almost a dozen seats short of a majority in May2015‘s calculation.

The same goes for the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats although they could possibly win the “soft” support of Nigel Farage’s United Kingdom Independence Party — which will probably win only a handful of seats despite polling as the third largest party — and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party.

Similarly, the Greens, who are polling neck and neck with the Liberal Democrats, and Northern Ireland’s Social Democratic and Labour Party could win just enough seats to give Labour and the Scottish nationalists a razor-thin majority. But such an arrangement would be even less stable than a right-wing pact, given the Scots’ refusal to formally join any national government.

Nuclear Submarines No Deal Breakers for Scottish Nationalists

A British Trident submarine departs Her Majesty's Naval Base Clyde, Scotland, August 15, 2007
A British Trident submarine departs Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde, Scotland, August 15, 2007 (JohnED76)

Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon told The Guardian newspaper last week she would no longer condition policy support in Westminster on the removal of Britain’s nuclear submarine fleet from the region.

That takes away a major obstacle from a potential coalition with the Labour Party which is opposed to moving the Trident submarines from Faslane, a naval base west of Glasgow.

The nationalists are projected to win as many as 56 out of 59 Scottish seats in May’s general election. 41 of those are currently held by Labour.

Such a victory for the nationalists could deny Labour the opportunity to beat Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives although they are likely to fall short of an absolute majority as well.

If the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, who currently rule in coalition, fail to defend their majority in Parliament, Labour could possibly form an alliance with the Scottish nationalists who share its left-wing economic and welfare agenda.

In her interview with The Guardian, Sturgeon played down the prospect of a coalition.

“It’s more likely to be an arrangement where we would support Labour on an issue-by-issue basis,” she said.

Labour Party leader Ed Miliband has refused to rule out an accord but would be hard-pressed to meet the nationalists’ demands even if they don’t insist on canceling Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent.

Despite losing a referendum on independence last year, the Scots want more powers from London.

The major national parties have already agreed to give the Scottish Parliament control over air passenger duties, housing credits, income taxes and winter fuel payments. It would also get additional welfare competencies. These reforms, if enacted, would represent the biggest transfer of power to the region since the Scottish Parliament was originally set up in 1999.

Britain Needn’t Fear More Coalition Government

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte welcomes his British counterpart, David Cameron, in The Hague, March 24, 2014
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte welcomes his British counterpart, David Cameron, in The Hague, March 24, 2014 (The Prime Minister’s Office)

With neither the ruling Conservatives nor the opposition Labour Party likely to win an outright majority in May’s election, Britain’s electorate seems unusually undecided about what sort of government it wants.

Under the first-past-the-post voting system, the two major parties will probably still take around 80 percent of the seats in the House of Commons. But they could win only 65 percent of the votes together. The Greens, Scottish nationalists and United Kingdom Independence Party have all seen their support increase. Include the Liberal Democrats and it looks like Britain is turning into a continental, multiparty democracy that requires coalitions to govern.

This needn’t be the disaster some British commentators predict.

The Economist worries that neither of the three insurgent parties has a plausible economic plan. “Nor are they likely to be forced into coming up with one by the sobering experience of a big role in government,” the magazine warns.

That seems unfair. Continental European democracies have repeatedly absorbed newcomers who were forced to learn on the job.

When Germany’s Greens first joined the federal government in 1998, they were barely more mature than their British counterparts yet they governed in coalition with the Social Democrats for seven years and helped enact remarkably liberal labor market reforms.

Conservative and liberal parties were able to govern with Euroskeptic and anti-immigration outfits in Denmark and the Netherlands without pulling out of the European Union or closing their borders.

The New Flemish Alliance was only founded in 2001 but now leads Belgium’s coalition government — which has embarked on just the sort of labor and pension reforms The Economist would advocate.

Why should British parties be uniquely incapable of making compromises?

The Economist is also afraid that Britain, “unaccustomed and ill-adapted to multiparty politics,” will get “weak, unstable governments” if neither the Conservatives nor Labour are able to govern on their own anymore.

Another comparison with neighboring European countries suggest otherwise. Yes, coalitions routinely collapse before their mandates expire. But so do single-party governments.

In the sixty years since the end of World War II, the Netherlands has held twenty general elections. Belgium has held 22. Supposedly more stable Britain has held eighteen, the same number as Germany. Whether a country has only two major parties or several really doesn’t seem to matter that much.

One-party government can be more decisive than a coalition. But as Janan Ganesh writes in the Financial Times, British governments are rarely decisive when the country hasn’t made up its mind.

If [voters] favor continuity, nothing a politician does can buck their will. And if one tries, like Ted Heath with his proto-Thatcherite confrontation with the trade unions in the 1970s, the country rejects the attempt as a body rejects a foreign object.

One-party governments, when supported by a sizable majority of the population, can make radical changes. But most of the time, voters want their country “tweaked but not turned upside down,” as Ganesh puts it.

Coalitions are better suited to that. Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands have had fairly consistent economic and welfare policies for decades. Big change happens when there is a clear consensus for it, not when a single party gets 50 percent plus one of the vote. This means people’s lives aren’t turned upside down after an election. It means the predictability businesses and families need to plan for the future. It means just the sort of stability The Economist is afraid of losing.

Europe Referendum “Red Line” for Britain’s Liberals

British deputy prime minister Nick Clegg delivers a press conference in Whitehall, London, January 16, 2012
British deputy prime minister Nick Clegg delivers a press conference in Whitehall, London, January 16, 2012 (Cabinet Office)

British deputy prime minister Nick Clegg would rule out another coalition between his Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party if the latter insist on calling a referendum on European Union membership.

Prime Minister David Cameron, the Conservative Party leader, has promised to call such a vote by 2017 if he wins the election in May. Read more “Europe Referendum “Red Line” for Britain’s Liberals”

Nationalists to Wipe Out Labour in Scotland, Polls Show

Statue of a unicorn in Edinburgh, Scotland, March 11, 2014
Statue of a unicorn in Edinburgh, Scotland, March 11, 2014 (byronv2)

Scottish nationalists could win by far most parliamentary seats in the region in May’s election, polls released on Wednesday showed, depriving Labour of any chance to beat Britain’s ruling Conservatives.

Polling by the Conservative peer Michael Ashcroft revealed the Scottish National Party, which already commands a majority in the regional legislature, would win fifteen out of sixteen closely-contested seats currently held by Labour. Read more “Nationalists to Wipe Out Labour in Scotland, Polls Show”

Labour Party to South England: “Drop Dead”

The Scottish Labour Party’s proposal to fund an expansion of health services in the region by raising taxes on expensive homes could eradicate the vestiges of the leftist party’s support in the south.

Jim Murphy, the Scottish Labour Party leader, said he would pay for 1,000 extra nurses in Scotland “not by increasing taxes and the pressure on the working class but by introducing a new tax — a mansion tax on houses worth over £2 million most of which is in London and the South East. It’s a real win-win for Scotland.”

Less so, obviously, for those English living in expansive homes, many of whom might not be rich but have simply seen the value of their houses increase in the last few decades.

When asked whether Labour Party leader Ed Miliband supported his policy or not, Murphy admitted, “I didn’t ask him. I have no idea. I am sure he probably will.” Read more “Labour Party to South England: “Drop Dead””

Left or Right, Britain Likely to See More Coalition Government

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom deliver a news conference at 10 Downing Street, London, December 21, 2010
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom deliver a news conference at 10 Downing Street, London, December 21, 2010 (The Prime Minister’s Office)

Next year’s general election in the United Kingdom is unlikely to give either the Conservatives or Labour an outright majority. Coalition government, with the Liberal Democrats or Scottish nationalists, seems the more likely outcome.

A continuation of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition that took office after the 2010 election is far from improbable.

Although the two ruling parties have recently taken aim at each other’s policies — with Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg saying the Conservatives are “kidding themselves” and British voters “if they are claiming that it is possible to balance the books, deliver unfunded tax cuts, shrink the state and support public services in the way that everybody wants” and the Conservative chancellor George Osborne insisting the junior party’s budget numbers simply don’t add up — these criticisms should be seen as electioneering, argues George Eaton at the New Statesman.

The Liberal Democrats need to demonstrate their independence from the Conservatives if they are to retain a majority of their seats. “By talking up the dangers of a future Conservative government,” Eaton believes the party aspires “to persuade left-leaning voters that the safest option is to vote for them.”

The Conservatives, on the other hand, seek to persuade voters “that only a majority Cameron administration can be trusted to maintain economic stability, cut taxes, reduce welfare spending and control immigration.”

For all the criticism back and forth, the parties have been careful not to rule out compromises. Osborne has not altogether rejected the Liberal Democrats’ housing tax, which differs from his own in that it would be levied annually rather than when homes are sold, while the liberals won’t quite dismiss a sales tax increase.

The only red line drawn by Prime Minister David Cameron is not to lead a government that won’t deliver a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. The Liberal Democrats, far more pro-European than their coalition partners, don’t want such a referendum, fearing the outcome will compel Britain to leave. But they “privately signal that they would be prepared to accept it in return for concessions such as House of Lords reform and the introduction of proportional representation for local elections,” reports Eaton.

The liberals are far less eager to support a Labour government in any event. They see the party as “irredeemably tribal and impervious to compromise.”

Coalition talks in 2010 collapsed when Labour would hardly give in on any issue while the Conservatives were prepared to make far-reaching compromises.

Should the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats fail to win a majority between them, Labour — which is likely to fall several dozen seats short of a majority — might find a better partner in the Scottish National Party.

The nationalists are expected to take over many Labour seats in Scotland and the two parties are ideologically close. Both reject austerity and cuts to health and welfare and both seek wage increases for low-income workers.

Although the nationalists want more autonomy for Scotland than Labour is prepared to give, they would, “for a price, be prepared to vote with Labour on English legislation, reports The Spectator‘s James Forsyth.

An alliance with the Conservatives, however, is something the Scottish National Party will simply not contemplate.

A final option, a coalition between the Conservatives and the United Kingdom Independence Party, may be a bright prospect for many on the right who sympathize with the second party’s anti-immigration views and its call for Britain to leave the European Union. However, it is extremely unlikely to come about. Even if the polls are right and the Euroskeptics get between 15 and 20 percent support nationwide, Britain’s first-past-the-post voting system makes it almost impossible for them to win any seats in Westminster.

Clegg, Osborne Criticize Each Other’s Budget Plans

British deputy prime minister Nick Clegg is interviewed in Paris, France, October 30
British deputy prime minister Nick Clegg is interviewed in Paris, France, October 30 (UK in France)

British deputy prime minister Nick Clegg sharply criticized his Conservative coalition partners on Sunday, saying they were “kidding themselves” if they thought they could simultaneously balance the budget and reduce taxes.

The Liberal Democrat leader’s criticism came after the Conservative chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, had accused the smaller party in The Sunday Times of having no credible tax plan.

“While they sign up to deficit reduction, they want more tax rises rather than spending cuts,” he wrote.

But they shouldn’t pretend to people that the sums required can be achieved by their homes tax alone. If you want higher taxes to do the heavy lifting, you’d also need to increase taxes such as income tax or national insurance.

Clegg said on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show later in the day his party would like to raise taxes on expensive homes. His proposal seemed awfully similar to the one Osborne announced in his budget statement this week: for homes to be taxed more progressively.

Osborne said buyers of homes under £250,000 would pay a 2 percent tax while the rate for homes over £1.5 million would be 12 percent.

The key difference between Osborne’s plan and the “mansion tax” Labour and the Liberal Democrats support is that the first tax is only paid when homes are sold whereas the other parties would tax houses every year.

Clegg also left the door open to further income tax increases for the rich after insisting his priority was reducing the tax burden for lower incomes.

He would not admit that such a policy makes it very hard to balance the budget but did say the government should take advantage of low interest rates to finance investments in the economy, suggesting he would be in less of a hurry than Osborne is to close the fiscal gap.

Clegg’s criticism — that Conservatives are “kidding themselves” and British voters “if they are claiming that it is possible to balance the books, deliver unfunded tax cuts, shrink the state and support public services in the way that everybody wants” — is not unfair either. Beyond further reductions in welfare, Osborne has yet to make clear what cuts he would make to reduce the deficit from £91 billion next year to zero by the end of the next parliament. With the National Health Service exempt, it is difficult to see how other departments, such as defense, education and police, wouldn’t be seriously affected.

But there’s more to this than numbers that don’t add up, Isabel Hardman writes at The Spectator.

Beyond the obvious — “there’s an election on the way and no party wants to appear to be an annex of another one” — the electoral strategies of the two ruling parties are at play.

The Liberal Democrats, polling at just 6 percent in the latest YouGov survey, down from 23 percent in the 2010 election, seek to persuade voters they’re still relevant because they are the only ones who can temper the Conservatives.

The Conservatives, on the other hand, polling at 32 percent — not enough for a majority — make the case that only a majority Conservative government can deliver fiscal discipline and tax relief.

So Osborne argues in his piece that the LibDems have the wrong attitude toward the economy while Clegg wants to argue that he’ll bring a new level of honesty to the debate by claiming the Tories are kidding themselves.