Are we sleepwalking into a constitutional crisis? Asks our Director of Transport, Steve Bramall
With a week to go to polling day, the opinion polls tell us that Labour is in with a good chance of being the largest party on 8 May and, should Ed Miliband so chose, will be able to run an effective majority administration propped up by Nicola Sturgeon and her Scottish National Party. Ed Miliband claims he will not do a deal with the SNP but when the chips are down, he may have little real choice.
Over the past few days David Cameron has increasingly been warning of the dangers of a Labour / SNP alliance. Some have claimed that he is deliberately fostering division between Scotland and England. Fair enough. But in practice does such an alliance not raise really significant constitutional and democratic issues which even David Cameron has not fully touched on?
Whether the SNP achieves a clean sweep in Scotland or not, it is clear that the party could return at least 45 – 50 MPs. If it does win every single Westminster seat in Scotland, as one poll suggests, that would be a truly remarkable achievement. But let’s consider the consequences.
The Lib Dems, while only returning 56 MPs in 2010, still had a legitimate right to form a coalition and be part of government because the Lib Dems are a UK-wide party, and every voter has the ability to cast their vote for the party. Perhaps more importantly the electorate can express its view on the record of the Lib Dems in government at the election on 7 May – and looks set to do so.
This simply does not apply to the SNP in the same way. Just as UKIP’s raison d’etre is withdrawal from the European Union, so the SNP’s raison d’etre is Scottish independence. OK, that is not the basis on which it says it is fighting this election campaign and it does not feature as an objective in its manifesto. But that is hardly the point. The primary purpose of the SNP is independence. A vote for the SNP on 7 May could well be seen as a putative vote for independence.
More to the point, most of the UK electorate cannot even vote for the SNP – ever. Yet the party may well get to influence what kind of legislative programme a Labour-led government can take forward and what kind of Budget and economic polices a Labour Chancellor can deliver. And unlike the Lib Dems, most of the electorate will never get the opportunity to express its views on an SNP influenced legislative programme and economic policy through the ballot box.
Nicola Sturgeon is not even standing for election to Westminster but is leader of a party that, in her words, intends to give Westminster “the biggest fright of its life”. She is already behaving like a Deputy Prime Minister in waiting and will no doubt instruct her MPs in Westminster how to vote on each and every occasion, but she has no seat in Westminster itself.
This would surely be stretching democratic legitimacy to the limit.