If the polls are to be believed (and they are variable and conflicting, to say the least), the Conservative Party is looking to be unlikely to command a majority in the House of Commons after 7th May – even in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, who are set to lose around 30 seats (including possibly even that of Nick Clegg). A House of Bishops’ nightmare coalition (Conservative/DUP/Ukip) is also unlikely to command a majority, so it looks as though Her Majesty will be summoning Ed Miliband to the Palace to ask him if he can form a government.
There is a lot of fuss and nonsense being talked about a (likely) Labour-SNP coalition, not least by the party leaders themselves. Nicola Sturgeon insists that this General Election is not about Scottish independence, and that the SNP will govern for the whole United Kingdom. “We will always seek to exercise it in the interests of people, not just in Scotland, but across the whole of the UK of the Westminster system,” she says. “We have a shared interest with you in making that system work better for all of us, in making it work for the many not the few.” But Ed Miliband is having none of it, insisting that he won’t share power with Alex Salmond (who will lead in the House of Commons; Ms Sturgeon, it must be remembered, isn’t a candidate). There will be “no SNP ministers in any government I lead,” Mr Miliband insisted. They won’t be calling the shots: “That aint gonna happen. That aint gonna happen,” he pronounced, like a world statesman.
But Nicola Sturgeon is lying, or at least being economical with the actualité. The prospect of the SNP governing in the interests of the United Kingdom is about as likely as Sinn Féin upholding the Protestant Constitution. Independence is in her DNA: every political decision she takes “for the whole of the UK” will be pre-ordained to the break-up of the Union. And Ed Miliband knows full well that he would most certainly do a deal with Sturgeon/Salmond – however fishy or far-fetched it might currently appear – if it means him getting the keys to No10 and eating a bacon-sandwich in style.
But then we get an awful lot of hysteria, not least from Theresa May in the Mail on Sunday. An ‘SNP-Labour pact would spark biggest constitutional crisis since the abdication of Edward VIII’, it seems. And certain Conservatives are insisting that such a coalition would be somehow ‘illegitimate’, destined (as it surely would) to rile the Tory heartlands (if not the entire English nation).
Yet in a parliamentary democracy (and according to the British Constitution) a government is legitimate if it may govern with the command of the majority of MPs in the House of Commons. This does need to be a formal coalition: it may a ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement. But the majority principle is inviolable. And since Scotland is (currently) part of the United Kingdom, and since the SNP is a lawfully constituted political party of the United Kingdom, every MP they return to Westminster is sufficiently legitimate to participate in the formation of a legitimate government.
There may be social(ist) and political consequences, but none that could conceivably be dismissed as lacking democratic legitimacy. For Conservatives, the great and ancient institution of Parliament may be reformed – incrementally – but its regulations and conventions may not be set aside by any élite hierarchy just because the people have decided not to give any single party a convenient majority. The authority of a Labour-SNP coalition would not be a psychic opera, but a reasoned and rational decision. It would not be formed by a neat ideological sleight of hand, but by appeal to the very order of nature to which all conservatives subscribe. If the concept of liberty means anything, it must embrace the ethical arrangement by which governments are formed which may inflict disharmony and sow discord. Assuming our elected MPs exercise their mental and moral faculties, their coalition or unity on matters of policy is both justifiable and desirable. Ultimately, we will get the government we deserve: it is a mechanism of spiritual power and divine judgment.