The SNP will surely not seek to govern England, Wales and Northern Ireland if it holds the balance of power at Westminster after the next election. So any coalition government with Labour is presumably off the table – as, it seems, is a deal with the Conservatives, judging from Nicola Sturgeon’s first speech as SNP leader yesterday. Her terms – more powers for Scotland, less austerity, no “new generation of Trident nuclear weapons on the River Clyde” – sound more like angling for a potential Confidence and Supply arrangement with Ed Miliband.
UKIP will surely not, in the event of it winning seats in addition to Clacton, seek to enter a coalition government with anyone either. Although Nigel Farage is now seeking to maximise his party’s push for both Conservative and Labour voters, and has thus left the door to coalition with both parties open, entering into a coalition with either would risk echoing the fate of the Liberal Democrats. Again, Confidence and Supply is more likely.
In the event of having the option of forming a government, David Cameron will want to re-form the Coalition if the numbers give him the secure majority that he otherwise lacks. But with fewer Liberal Democrat MPs likely to return to the Commons next May, that majority simply may not be there. And with a restive Party to contend with, Cameron might prefer to soldier on with a minority government (assuming no overall Conservative majority).
In the event of having the same option, Ed Miliband, again, might prefer a healthy majority in the lobbies if Labour is short of one. But the same consideration about fewer Liberal Democrat MPs applies. And Labour MPs have no love for the Liberal Democrats – a sentiment that reaches all the way up to the Shadow Cabinet. So Miliband, too, might opt for a minority government (assuming no overall Labour majority).
The logic of their position leads the Liberal Democrats to coalition. But logic isn’t everything in politics. Their new, smaller parliamentary party might find reasons for not going into coalition with either of the main parties. Furthermore, there are two extra hurdles for any coalition proposals to jump – a special conference, and the Federal Executive. So the Liberal Democrats might be left with no alternative to Confidence and Supply, either. It would also be a more likely arrangement for the Democratic Unionists to approve than coalition
Sturgeon’s speech yesterday was thus a reminder that though coalition in some form may happen after the next election – perhaps with more than two parties involved – there are many reasons why a Confidence and Supply arrangement is more likely, or Confidence-and-Supply-Light if the minor parties don’t want to get their hands too dirty.