Ruling out cross-party cooperation does not help democracy

By Savi Hensman
May 1, 2015

It is impossible to be sure who will win the UK general election. Yet it is almost certain that a sizeable majority of voters will back parties which publicly oppose further harsh cuts in public services such as the NHS and social security benefits.

This is all the more remarkable given the willingness of much of the media to repeat government claims unquestioningly, however inaccurate these are. What is more, the people worst affected by the most damaging policies are less likely to vote.

So the will of the public would be best reflected if a new government were led by a left-wing or centrist party, or several such parties working together. Most adults in the UK do not want ongoing rule by politicians committed to further enriching the wealthiest at the expense of ordinary people and the economy.

Yet Labour Party leader Ed Miliband has come under pressure to rule out even an informal pact with the Scottish National Party if he failed to get an absolute majority. He has declared that he is “not going to have a Labour government if it means deals or coalitions with the SNP.”

Many who are not SNP supporters might echo the response of its leader, Nicola Sturgeon. She said, “I hope I’m wrong about this because I think people across Scotland and the rest of the UK would be appalled if I’m right – he sounded as if he was saying that he would rather see David Cameron and the Conservatives back in government than actually work with the SNP.”

Sections of the media have been echoing alarmist warnings by David Cameron, the current Prime Minister, about the possibility of Labour cooperating with the SNP. “It would be a very dangerous alliance”, he said, claiming that “you would have people having a decisive say over the government of the UK who don’t want it to exist, don’t want it to succeed.”

This makes it sound rather as if the SNP were a somewhat extreme anarchist group rather than a staid party committed to parliamentary democracy. Whether or not one agrees with its policies, it has been part of the UK system for many years.

During a recent referendum in Scotland, the SNP campaigned for independence, a matter on which people have differing opinions. In the event, there was a narrow majority in favour of staying in the UK. But whatever one’s views on the pros and cons, holding a vote on the issue was agreed to by the UK Prime Minister.

He and Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister and a Liberal Democrat, wrote in 2012 that “we will not stand in the way of a referendum on independence: the future of Scotland’s place within the United Kingdom is for people in Scotland to vote on.” Presumably it was their view that, whatever the outcome, it would not have been catastrophic, or they would not have agreed.

In contrast, the current government’s ideological commitment to austerity, despite the heavy economic and human cost, poses a clear threat to the UK as a whole. Ongoing weaknesses in regulating the financial sector increase the risk of another economic crash. Refusal to take firm action to counter climate change makes matters worse. In addition, privatisation of, and cuts to, public services could seriously hinder any response to a national emergency.

In any case, Nicola Sturgeon made it clear that, from her point of view, “This election is not about independence or a referendum; it is about making Scotland’s voice heard and then using that strong voice at Westminster to stand up for progressive politics and to argue for an end to austerity, protection for our public services and the investment in our economy that we need to get people into jobs.”

Such concerns are shared by people across the UK. Scaremongering about the SNP should not derail the chances of a government which promotes a more just and sustainable society with greater security for those on low and middle incomes.

* More on the issues in the 2015 General Election from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/generalelection2015

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© Savitri Hensman is a widely published Christian commentator on politics, welfare, religion and more. An Ekklesia associate, she works in the equalities and care sector.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.