Sunday, May 09, 2010

Beware nationalists bearing gifts

Regardless of how a coalition is cobbled together, this election result spells trouble for the future of the Union. If a Conservative-led - or a Conservative minority government emerges, one fears a return to the eighties when nationalism with a small 'n' was used as a stick to beat a government pursuing deflationary policies. So far, so obvious.

But nationalism will also do for the 'progressive majority' option now being championed by various Guardianista types. Forming a government under these circumstances would be the West Lothian Question with bells on: not just Scots and Welsh MPs occasionally deciding on matters that only affect the English but actually forming a government with this problem at its very core. It's just another reason why the 'progressive majority' option isn't terribly realistic. There's another problem too: even if this were tolerable, the sums don't quite add up. The only commentator I can find who has spotted this obvious but overlooked arithmetical point is this gentleman here:
"For such a government to have a majority it have to obtain at least the acquiescence of the SNP and Plaid Cymru. Both parties, however, as a matter of principle do not vote on English matters. This means that (assuming they can rely on the support of the DUP) the Conservatives would be able to defeat any measure brought forward by a putative anti-Tory coalition that applied only to England. On the other hand, even with a minority of seats in the UK as a whole the Conservatives would be able to rule England. This fact has been rather overlooked amid all the talk of deals and Parliamentary arithmetic, but it is really quite basic and obvious."
The nationalist parties could always abandon this principle of course - but this would serve only to undermine their own arguments about governments lacking mandates in the Celtic parts of the UK. It would certainly be the source of anger amongst some English MPs and voters - and would therefore serve to be another nail in the coffin of the Union. What ever else he might be, Salmond is not stupid so it is likely that all this has occurred to him. It is for this reason Brown and the Labour party would be wise to ignore the advice of Guardian journalists - although my advice is hopefully superfluous, given that the hierarchy of the Labour party are rather better acquainted with these matters than people like Jackie Ashley and Will Hutton.

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