Iain McWhirter, a Scottish political commentator, has written in Comment is Free today about the possible outcome of the Scottish election – that even if the SNP is the largest party after the election they may not form part of the Scottish Executive after the election. This is another article in his ongoing attack on the Liberal Democrats and their policy that they would not be prepared to countenance a referendum on independence, and would not enter negotiations with the SNP unless the policy is ditched.
AT the Scottish election there are likely to be at least 5, possibly more parties with representation. There are 129 MSPs. A simple majority of MSPs is 65 members. There are three parties supporting the Union – Labour, the Lib Dems, and the Conservatives. Each of these parties is against a referendum on independence. Even on the basis of the current opinion polls the arithmetic is as follows: Labour are projected to have 39 seats; the Lib Dems 24 seats; the Conservatives 15 seats – leaving pro-Union parties (if a referendum were to be subject to a vote based on usual party lines) with 78 MSPs. This majority in favour of pro-union parties is reflected by the polls: yougov have Labour on 27%, Lib Dems 16%, Conservatives 13% ( a total of 56% – a figure which on the regional vote is down slightly to 54% (as a result of some parties appearing on the regional ballot paper but not the constituency ballot paper); System 3 show the total vote as 58% for pro-union parties.
If the SNP are seeking coalition partners there are pro-independence parties: the Greens, the SSP, and Solidarity are all pro-independence, as is Independent candidate Margo Macdonald. If these parties combined do not have the majority of the popular vote, or a majority of seats is it an unreasonable position to say that a commitment to a referendum should not form part of the government programme?
We have after all seen such negotiations before – albeit not on “constitutional” issues: for example, Labour were the only party against free personal care for the elderly – but the other parties supported it. In preparing a programme for government the Labour party ditched its policy as part of the realisation that when all parties are minorities some compromises must be made to enable government to continue.
The referendum issue is then, I think, a red or gold and black, herring in this debate – and we know from the noises off from the SNP that they know this too. Indications have been given that this is negotiable (see past posts), and indeed a successful 4 year programme of SNP led government may actually result in a majority vote for independence supporting parties in 2011, or at least bolstered support for the SNP and the possibility that (due to judicial circumstances beyond their control) there may be a reunified independence-supporting left.