Ian Swanson: Likely outcome at General Election

David Cameron and Alex Salmond. Picture: Ian Georgeson
David Cameron and Alex Salmond. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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WITH just over 100 days to go until the general election, it sounds like coalition playtime for the Westminster 
politicians. Alex won’t have anything to do with Dave, Ed won’t say if he’ll play with Alex. And Nick will join with anyone who will let him into their game.

No-one knows, of course, what the outcome of the election on May 7 will be, but that has not stopped rampant speculation, much of it focusing on the possible permutations for power-sharing if no party gets an overall majority.

The SNP has made it clear it will do no deals with the Tories, but former leader Alex Salmond is excited by the prospect of Nationalists holding the balance of power and demanding big concessions from Labour in the shape of “devo max” powers for Scotland in return for helping Ed Miliband’s party into power at Westminster.

Mr Salmond even joked that he could be Deputy Prime Minister – until the SNP stressed there would be no formal coalition with Labour. Rather, the Nationalists would be likely to agree a “confidence and supply” deal – backing Labour in any confidence votes and ensuring they got their Budget through.

Mr Miliband was asked on television at the weekend if he would do a deal with the SNP and, to the annoyance of some anti-Nationalists, refused to rule it out.

But in many ways, it would not be a difficult agreement to reach. Aside from the major differences over Scotland’s constitutional future, Labour and the SNP have a lot in common when it comes to policy.

The parties’ politicians and activists may be constantly at loggerheads and view each other as the main enemy, but many voters find it relatively easy to switch between the two.

Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy has defended Mr Miliband’s stance.

He said: “The politicians that expect and plan to form the government do not get involved in speculating that under what circumstances this or under what circumstances that.

“Myself and Ed have the same approach – we don’t expect, we don’t need, we don’t want and we’re not planning for a coalition with the SNP or anyone else.”

That’s the obligatory position for the big parties to take ahead of an election they want to win outright.

And it may be either Labour or the Tories do end up with an overall majority. Just because it’s not clear now who will win in May does not mean no-one will be able to. There are previous elections when pundits have predicted hung parliaments only to see a single party win through.

The Liberal Democrats, having tasted power for the past five years, are keen to stay in government, whether it’s with the Tories again or with Labour. It may look promiscuous – and a bit cheeky, given widespread predictions of a big slump in Lib Dem support – but Nick Clegg’s party bases its claim on the idea it can moderate the “excesses” of either major party.

But, in the end, the only thing that will matter will be the arithmetic.

The SNP could sweep the board in Scotland in May, but if Labour or the Tories have an overall majority, all those MPs would still not deliver Mr Salmond his much-coveted role of king-maker. On the other hand, the Nationalists – or the Lib Dems – could emerge with just a handful of seats and yet wield massive power if those few MPs were enough to make the difference between stalemate and a majority.

It’s all in the hands of the voters and no-one will know until after May 7.