Looking forward to May 2011 and the Scottish Parliamentary election, I think the smart money is probably on a minority Labour administration (assuming current poll figures and mentalities within the ‘Scottish’ Labour party – and also a backlash to the lack of a referendum, though I seem to be in the minority in thinking this). Nevertheless, here’s a concept I’m floating, in the main because it seems so crazy: a Labour-SNP administration.

It’s crazy right? I mean, at the grassroots level they hate each other. Their campaigns are aimed at drawing votes from the other, most often in negative slogans and attacks on policies; their representatives have engaged in such Punch-and-Judy politics (see, Foulkes, G. who could not even bring himself to congratulate Nicola Sturgeon on her marriage) that you can’t even imagine them sitting next to each other in the canteen never mind around a government table; and, well, they won’t even engage with each other (see budget negotiations 2008, 2009, 2010). They also have the added distraction that at the moment their combined parliamentary representation would total 93 of the 129 seats in Holyrood – 28 more than required for a minimum-winning coalition. A coalition of these two parties on this scale would be utter madness.

But… it’s not like we’ve not seen this before. Remember the 2005 German Federal election? No?  I forget you’re not all geeks like me. Well, it resulted in the first Chancellorship of Angela Merkel. The two largest parties – Merkel’s (Christian Democratic) CDU/ CSU (226) and former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s (Social Democratic) SDP (222) – won 448 of the 614 seats in the Bundestag.  Neither an SDP-Green-PDS (left) nor CDU/CSU-FDP (liberal) coalition was workable, so after some negotiation, the two largest parties formed a coalition which lasted until the 2009 election.

Rhodri Morgan and Ieuan Wyn JonesAlso, in Wales – which I guess is a more similar case – Labour and Plaid Cymru decided on coalition in 2007, despite reservations among their respective memberships and similar tension to that between the SNP and Labour at the grassroots level. Combined, they have a total of 41 of the 60 seats in the National Assembly and have worked together to establish the All-Wales Convention as part of the coalition agreement, as well as leading the charge for a referendum on expanding the powers of the Assembly.

So from the two examples above we can see that a) dominant parties in particular systems can work together and b) Labour can work with nationalists. And a Labour-SNP (or SNP-Labour) coalition would have its advantages. For a start, they could combine to offer a much stronger, united, Scottish voice against the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition at Westminster. Whatever else they are, Labour are pro-devolution (of sorts), and would like the Scottish Parliament to have more powers while the SNP… well, a gradual increase in powers is better than nothing for them. Also, for Labour, this may be their only chance to have meaningful power in the UK for the foreseeable future (opposition beckons at Westminster for a long-ish time while the Welsh Assembly hardly has the levers of power Labour are used to). And both parties are “social democrats” (in loose terms James – don’t batter me for that definition!) so their policy formulations are not too dissimilar.

I know. I know. It’s crazy talk.  This is politics we’re talking about.  The negatives of such a deal would always outweigh the positives. And I guess one thing I should have mentioned about the German case is that the SDP got slaughtered at the next election. So there’s always a big loser. But in so many ways this makes sense. It’s just a shame that ‘sense’ does not always dictate how politics works.

NB – This post was written before James’ post (and, indeed, before the Sunday polls came out) but after Hamish Macdonnell’s Cal Merc piece (which I never read until James’ post cited it).  It was also written before yesterday’s debate on the dropping of the referendum bill, which doesn’t quite render the idea irrelevant, but means it is moving in that direction. It probably also directly answers/ comments on Andrew BOD’s comment on James’ post.