Britain has just had elections for the three regional assemblies (Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) and for many local governments in England, as well as a national referendum on changing the voting system for Westminster elections to the Alternative Vote (AV)
Here are some random thoughts on these events – I’ll be adding to them over the next day or two as more results come in.
Labour’s Big Mistake in Scotland?
I don’t have any evidence for this, but was Labour’s biggest mistake in Scotland opposing the referendum on independence? The lesson from Canada/Quebec is that having such a referendum can put the issue to rest for years. When Labour’s Wendy Alexander proposed doing so, saying “bring it on” to the SNP, she was slapped down by Gordon Brown. Maybe that was yet another of Gordon’s mistakes – it does seem that a lot of people, including many who don’t want independence, nevertheless thought the Scottish people should be given the chance to decide for themselves.
If Three Were Nine?
There was a time when there were only three parties of government in Britain – Labour or Conservative at Westminster and the Ulster Unionists at Stormont. As we went to the Polls on May 5th 2011 there were ten parties in government – 5 in Ulster (DUP, UUP, SF, SDLP and Alliance), 1 in Scotland (SNP), 2 in Wales (Lab and Plaid) and 2 in Westminster (Con and Lib Dem). After the Polls this may drop to nine parties of government – it looks like Plaid have lost out in Wales.
At the height of the Conservative-Labour duopoly they could command between them 95% of the vote – now they are down to the 60s and this election result – where they have gotten just over 70% between them – is only a slight blip in the historic trend. We now live a highly fragmented polity, but it looks like we’ll be lumbered with a voting system suited to a two-party system that is at best on life support and probably dead.
Are Coalition’s Bad for your Electoral Health?
Well, they appear to be if you are the junior partner. The Liberal Democrats nationally and Plaid Cymru in Wales – both junior partners in coalitions – have fared badly in the elections, whilst their senior partners have done much better.
Of course, the situations in the Welsh elections and the various elections in which the Liberal Democrats have been hammered – none of which were actually for Westminster where they are in Coalition – are very different from one another. And there are plenty of local government coalition governments where I’m sure this ‘rule’ didn’t hold, but it would be surprising if supporters of both the Lib Dems and Plaid were not asking themselves if Coalition is such a good idea afterall?
Some Tories may be having the same thought as they survey their weakened junior partners. They may also look north of the border and see that a minority government is both feasible – the SNP managed it for four years – and can lead on to electoral success. It would be surprising if more Tory voices – there are already quite a few – don’t start asking whether they should engineer a divorce from the Lib Dems, and either rule alone or go for a snap General Election. If, as seems likely, they are only 2 points behind Labour in the overall vote on May 5th, this will be all the more tempting.