BBC News: Election 2010 BBC News

Page last updated at 11:43 GMT, Friday, 7 May 2010 12:43 UK

Governments, coalitions and border politics

By James Cook
Scotland correspondent BBC News

A hung parliament raises the prospect of rancour between Scotland and England.


houses of parliament
What will the new dawn over Westminster signal?

The answer lies in the arithmetic - while Conservative support in England jumped to 39.7%, the figure in Scotland only edged up to 16.7%.

Those statistics alone reveal a widening political fracture at the border - and two nations heading in different directions.

Or to be more accurate, one nation striking out on a new course while the other remains rooted to the spot.

For while the English electoral map has been redrawn, Scotland looks exactly the same as it did after the previous general election.

Yesterday's poll saw Labour regain two seats it had lost in by-elections since 2005 - Glasgow East and Dunfermline & West Fife.

But that was the only hint of movement in Scotland's 59 Westminster constituencies.

Labour are left with 41 seats; the Liberal Democrats with 11; the Scottish National Party with six; and the Conservatives with just one.

Makes for trouble

And while England clearly rejected Gordon Brown, with his party's share of the vote falling to 28.2%, Scotland leaned slightly further left with Labour's share rising to 42%.

Even Wales shifted to the right, with Labour support dropping sharply to 36.2%.

Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University thinks all this makes for trouble.

Labour - 41 (no change from 2005)
Lib Dems - 11 (no change from 2005)
Scottish National Party - 6 (no change from 2005)
Conservatives - 1 (no change from 2005)

TOTAL: 59 out of 59 declared

Scottish MPs would be "absolutely crucial" to any Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition, he says.

And if the Conservatives took power in London they would do so with only a single MP north of the border.

Whatever happens, at least one nation is going to feel disenfranchised.

Already Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, has questioned the Tories' legitimacy to govern Scotland - while at the same time authorising talks about talks with Labour.

"Fate seems to have dealt us a mighty hand" said Mr Salmond, who rules out any deal with the Conservatives on the grounds that they have been, in the words of a senior SNP source, "comprehensively rejected" in Scotland.

As this kind of talk gets louder, Prof Curtice says "we will hear the Conservative Party beginning to complain".

Mr Salmond's failure to advance towards his own target of 20 MPs weakens the Scottish National Party's negotiating position.

ballot papers
Counting in Scotland took place overnight in all but one seat

But it does not make the nationalists irrelevant.

Although they are maintaining that they will not enter into a formal coalition, SNP MPs could support a UK government vote-by-vote or on a "confidence and supply" basis - voting with the administration on votes of confidence and the budget.

But such a deal would require financial concessions for Scotland.

So, we could end up with three potent ingredients:

  • A Labour/Lib Dem coalition made viable by Scottish MPs.
  • Financial concessions for Scotland in an age of austerity.
  • Scottish nationalists supporting a government rejected by English voters.
  • It's a cocktail sure to provoke England's ire.

    After repeatedly rejecting Margaret Thatcher only to be be ruled by her anyway, Scots know better than most about the power of this kind of aggrievance.

    The repercussions of that disenfranchisement are still being felt.

    This time, the rumblings of discontent are only just beginning.

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