Assuming the Conservatives were to fall short of an outright majority at the next election, which smaller party would they rather form a Government with, the Lib Dems or UKIP?

It’s an interesting question, possibly rendered redundant if one stops to consider whether the still-shell-shocked Lib Dems can afford to be shackled to the Tory party for another half-decade up to 2020. My answer to that is, probably not. They’ll do well to even be shackled to Nick Clegg for that long.

So Tory MP Michael Fabricant’s idea of some sort of electoral non-aggression pact with UKIP, whereby Nigel Farage’s party don’t stand against the Tories in key seats in return for a EU referendum, is not a totally bonkers one. That’s right, it’s only a little bit bonkers.

A smarter suggestion, or something that Farage might insist on perhaps, could be that UKIP do not stand in a wide expanse of nominal Tory seats and the Tories, in return, would not stand in Labour or Lib Dem nominal seats, allowing right of centre voters to coalesce around one candidate up and down the land. Except Scotland where barely anyone votes for either party anyway. Especially that loopy anti-EU mob, or UKIP for that matter.

Now, Cameron couldn’t be seen to be in favour of such a blatant democratic rip-off but he might arranage a small team to crunch the numbers and see if it’s worth doing anyway. After all, he must be mightily fed up with the Lib Dems by now, rightly or wrongly, quite rightly, and after all, if you can’t beat them join them. Or, in this case, if you can’t win with them by your side, send them somewhere else.

So, glossing over the inconvenient fact that this won’t actually happen, let’s consider how this might work in practice?

Well, Nigel Farage has a grand total of zero MPs within his party. You could say the only way is u(ki)p. He would surely be grateful to get a toe in the Westminster door any way he can, even if it’s challenging the Green party for 3rd spot in Labour and Lib Dem constituencies. Nigel can fight them on the beaches, but in Brighton rather than Bognor thank you very much.

Nigel’s chances wouldn’t be altogether terrible, and h is party desperately needs a similar impetus to that which the Green party gained when Caroline Lucas won their first Westminster seat. And jings, what an opportunity. This coming election may yet be something of a referendum on Europe, a dry run for the actual referendum itself. There’s no reason why 70-100 red constituencies across England might not vote against Europe rather than for Labour this time around. Bradford were so desperate for a change they voted in George Galloway for goodness sake.

Not that I’m saying UKIP can win 100 cosntituencies, or 70 for that matter, but 9 is a good number. It’s almost 10 better than last time, and would be infinitely superior to their current crop. Even winning 1 MP might be worth some sort of a deal for UKIP, particuolarly if it comes with an assurance that an EU referendum will take place. Is UKIP a party that’s in British politics for the long haul or just with the sole purpose of getting the UK out of the EU? The Tories putting a deal on the table would answer that once and for all.

Do UKIP have a chance in Labour/Lib Dem terrain? Well, a look at the European results suggests that they do.

Labour won 32 of the 53 seats in Yorkshire and Humberside in 2010 (the Lib Dems took a further 3) but UKIP took 17.4% of the European vote to Labour’s 18.8% the year before in 2009.

Similarly, Labour won 15 of the 46 seats in East Midlands in 2010 but only shaded UKIP 16.9% to 16.4% in the 2009 European elections (UKIP received 3.3% of the vote in the General Election, the Tories 30.2%).

It is easy to forget that UKIP came second in the 2009 European elections in the UK. Yes, I do mean second overall, the same number of MEPs as Labour but with a higher popular voteshare. This is with the added handicap of winning only 5% of the vote in Scotland to Labour’s 21%, and the further handicap of not having any well known personalities to work with beyond Farage (a trip to Strasbourg for anyone who can name the leader of UKIP at the 2010 General Election; travel, food & accommodation not included).

Let’s indulge ourselves further by letting ourselves get even further ahead of ourselves than is probably healthy. (Even Michael Fabricant would be shaking his head disdainfully at this post by now….)

Any emergence, by hook or by crook, of UKIP as a consistent ‘second-tier’ political party behind Labour and the Tories, and alongisde the Lib Dems and (humour me) the Greens, could be the beginning of a realignment of UK politics that is long overdue. If it is commonly understood that any future general election contest is between Conservatives/UKIP and Labour/Lib Dems/Greens(/SNP/Plaid Cymru), then voters can be more free to vote in their constituencies for the smaller parties without fear that voting left will allow the right wing in, or vice versa. This is commonplace in other European countries with populations far smaller than ours but with ballot slips considerably richer in options.

We are of course still saddled with First Past the Post which is a particular hindrance for those of us wishing to move away from two-party politics, but progress can still be made despite this and from the unlikeliest of circumstances.

In a way, you get two votes:

If you’re right of centre, you get to vote for a right of centre Government and also vote for whether you want it to be anti-EU (UKIP) or moderately pro-EU (Tories, for now at least).

If you’re left of centre, you get to vote for a left of centre Government (again, humour me) and also vote for whether it will be trades uniony (Labour), closer to whatever the Lib Dem policies happen to be that day (Lib Dem), green (Green) or Nationalist in flavour (SNP/Plaid, ‘… but Jeff, I thought we were all Nationalists‘. ‘Shoosht’).

I rather gnomically alluded to a ‘Green-UKIP’ alliance in the title there but it’s not too much of a stretch to see that the rise of Farage’s anti-EU, pro-business, climate change denying, right wing party can indirectly assist Natalie Bennett‘s pro-EU, progressive, climate change fighting, left-wing party.

It’s a funny old world and it’s a deal that Nigel Farage would be made not to take, so it’s probably not going to happen.

And what’s all this got to do with Scotland you ask? Well, nothing really…