Westminster's political and media elite may speculate endlessly about the prospects for a hung parliament after 6 May. But Alex Salmond, Scotand's first minister,who runs a minority administration at Holyrood,prefers a less threatening adjective. He calls it a "balanced" parliament" and claims to be an expert at managing such a beast.
He may be bluffing. These are interesting, if risky, times for nationalists, including the BNP variety. They all see narrowing opinion polls as a rare opportunity to exercise disproportionate influence over central government, as do the Liberal Democrats, whose eternal hopes of being the powerbrokers are better than for 35 years, possibly 80.
But the nationalist parties are determined not to be left out. This week the SNP leader and his Welsh counterpart, Ieuan Wyn Jones of Plaid Cymru, staged a press conference in London to set out their terms for sustaining a minority Labour or Tory regime. They did not attract muchpublicity in insular Fleet Street, although they went live on Sky and were filmed by a Catalan TV crew.
Barcelona's post-Franco nationalistshave been squeezing extra cash from Madrid since 1980. That is what Plaid and the SNP seek to do as well. Each case is different. Salmond governs alone, aware that his Labour, Tory and Lib Dem rivals in Edinburgh will thwart him as much as they dare to do without provoking fresh elections this side of the due date, May 2011. Wyn Jones is deputy first minister to Labour's Carwyn Jones in coalition at Cardiff Bay.
Their "Celtic bloc" statement both ruled out formal coalition "with either Tweedledum or Tweedledee" at Westminster, not that either big party is likely to ask, and ruled in a shopping list of tradeable goodies: "fair" funding for the Celts; protecting local services and the vulnerable; help for a greener economy; and support for business growth. That wishlist could translate as a high-speed rail link from London to Swansea, an end to Trident and to ID cards, and something called "Barnettisation" of English public spending budgets, the Olympics and prison building for instance.
Barnettisation (named after then Treasury minister Joel Barnett) is the formula devised by a Labour minority government in the 1970s to boost spending in Scotland and, less so, in Wales. In the turbulent 1974 parliament Plaid had three MPs, the SNP 11. They mattered. So on small-ticket items, they did good business with the Callaghan government. So did the Ulster Unionists and then Liberals, who even formed an informal Lib-Lab pact in 1977-78, but took no ministerial posts.
In the economic crisis of 2010, deeper but also more global, the scope for small bribes for tacit support, or strategic absence, remains, but it is limited, financially and politically. If the SNP get 10 seats (recovering Scots Labour is currently ahead by 37% to 24%)and Plaid five, the Lib Dems are still likely to have at least four times as many. The Northern Irish are deemed more reliable. In any case the generous Barnett formula (20% higher per head) can also go down in a cuts crisis, though something called "negative Barnett consequentials" would mitigate the blow.
SNP strategists may favour a Tory government as helpful to independence. But David Cameron, like Gordon Brown, is a unionist at heart and not stupid – while Ireland and Iceland's financial plights alarm wavering Scots.
The chances are that a minority Cameron government, if there is one, would do as Salmond does, sail on alone. And what would be the issue on which the Celts could persuade the other unionist parties to unite to bring him down?
Friday, 2 April 2010
Regional hopes hang on a political deal
This is Michael White's Political Briefing (The Guardian) take on Plaid and the SNP's joint Press Conference on their terms for sustaining a minority government in power after the election. Welsh politics rarely touches the pages of the Guardian so I decided to reproduce the article in full:
Posted by Plaid Gwersyllt at 17:43