Thursday, May 06, 2010

Problems in ethnofederalism and quasi-federalism

There are a few possible outcomes for today's election in Britain that would be of especially great interest for students of ethnofederalism and quasifederalism.

1) If the Tories gain a plurality but not a majority-- and could get over the top with the help of a Celtic party. It's improbable that they would get such help-- except for the UUP, whose candidates are standing as part of the Tory caucus this year, the gulf between the Tories and the non-English parties is substantial.

But this would also mean that Lib-Lab plus one or two Celtic parties would add up to a majority.

Imagine a hung Parliament in which the Tories have two more seats than Lib-Lab-- but Tories + SNP would be a majority, or Lib-Lab + SNP + Plaid Cyrmu would be a majority.

SNP and PC, like the Bloc Quebecois, are generally committed to not being in the business of deciding who runs the whole state. But at that point (like in the aftermath of the last Canadian election) the pressure on them to pick a side could be ratcheted up. So could the inducements offered to them to do so.

If you're David Cameron under these circumstances, do you open negotiations with the SNP? Or do you rely on the pious hope that they can be left out of the calculations, because Lib-Lab won't do a deal with them either?

Now imagine if Tory seats = Lib-Lab seats precisely. If you're the SNP, can you really resist the chance to play kingmaker, to start a bidding war, to name your price?

2) If the Tories gain a plurality, but Lib-Lab together gains a very slim majority, a different set of problems arise that has nothing to do with the Celtic partiesand everything to do with the West Lothian question. This outcome would mean that the Tories had won a majority of seats in England, given party distributions elsewhere. But the government would be Lib-Lab.

Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland-- but not England-- have and regional self-government of varying degrees. England is still ruled directly from Westminster. There has been contention over whether Scottish MPs should be able to vote on individual pieces of legislation that affects England (or England and Wales) but not Scotland. But I think this election result would put the problem in a new, sharper, light. A government that has authority over English-- but not Scottish-- domestic policy would have been decisively chosen by Scottish votes, in the face of an English majority in the other direction.

I could imagine that result being inflammatory; it might finally succeed in igniting widespread English interest in the West Lothian question. That would, I think, pose more dangers for the Tories than it would offer advantages-- as a generation of conflict over Europe showed, identity questions can fracture the Conservative Party, and its leadership has little skill in finessing them. But this outcome would offer a very powerful incentive to the Tories to start playing the Little England card.

See also Chris Lawrence.


We're right in the thick of condition (1)-- and it's amazing how invisible the SNP and PC are. The Bloc Quebecois doesn't enter into governments in Canada-- but it's willing to negotiate its price for tacitly supporting minority governments.

In Britain, the only choices are:

Tory-LibDem coalition, or at least arrangement to keep LibDem from voting down a Queen's Speech;

Tory-Labour grand coalition, which is never going to happen;

a minority government that could be brought down with a sneeze or a stiff breeze, whether Conservative or Labour or Lib-Lab;

or that somebody talks to the SNP and Plaid Cymru and gets their agreement not to vote down a minority government (the SNP, at least, will not take part in government.)

Thisarticle says that the SNP has begun talks with Labour. But that fact isn't being reported anywhere else, and it has the potential to be decisive.