Political Quarterly – Coalition and Minority Government in Scotland: Lessons for the United Kingdom?

I have an article out in Political Quarterly’s next issue. The journal can be accessed here (or you can read a version of the article here). The title is ‘Coalition and Minority Government in Scotland: Lessons for the United Kingdom?’. In a nutshell, it argues that strength and stability in Parliament may come at the expense of strength and stability within Government. In other words, UK and devolved governments tend to prefer coalition governments because they provide them with a parliamentary majority and therefore strength in numbers (commanding the parliamentary vote) which ensures relative stability (since, for example, they are not vulnerable to motions of no confidence in Parliament). Yet, coalitions also complicate the machinery of government, whereas a minority government may be able to operate in a more cohesive manner. This certainly seemed to be the experience of the SNP from 2007-11 and its resultant strong image of governing competence is one part of the explanation for its huge win in the 2011 election (see other posts below). However, that huge win has made part of my article look a bit silly. It goes like this (in the conclusion):
“The United Kingdom … has no equivalent to the Scottish Conservatives: content to make deals in opposition because it has a minimal chance of being part of government (and because it may help the party’s profile in Scotland). Instead, it has a single kingmaker in the shape of the Liberal Democrats, which might analyse the Scottish experience and find no incentive to remain in opposition”.
At the PSA conference, Nicola McEwen was – quite rightly – sceptical about the ability of the Liberal Democrats to stop a minority government being formed. In a minority situation, they would have to combine with another party to elect an alternative First Minister or, at least, threaten to do so. Yet, this may not be successful. They may also have little hand when it comes to threatening a vote of no confidence later on because no party in Scotland wants to be seen to be responsible for an early election. Nor can parties afford to finance an extra election. Of course, that discussion became largely redundant when the SNP formed a majority government. That is the silly part – the Liberal Democrats are no longer the kingmakers in Scotland (unless you count selecting Willie Rennie as their new leader, of 5, in the Scottish Parliament). Instead, they have been relegated to the backbenches of the Scottish Parliament. It just goes to show two things: (1) I really need to avoid discussing the future (academics are better at explaining the past); and (2) journal articles are always vulnerable to being dated quickly when they discuss current events. I wrote this thing in January and it is already cracking by May!

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