I was reading the BBC Have Your Say today, having decided to venture onto it and thus putting my blood pressure at significant risk of raising to quite dangerous levels, and stumbled across the “debate” on a hung Parliament in the UK and whether it would be a good thing.
The first thing that grabbed my attention is that this came off the back of comments made by Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland. It would appear that those commenting know little about the Scottish National Party (SNP). The SNP have a policy of not voting on any issue that does not have a direct impact upon Scotland. SNP MPs don’t and will not be voting on health, education, policing and other such matters that have no effect on Scotland. The SNP want to see Scotland independent and while it is not, wants to see the legislation coming out of Westminster that has an impact upon Scotland being fair and right for Scotland, and not just England (or the Westminster government, as much of what comes out of there is good for nobody). This is a legitimate position to hold, after all they are the Scottish National Party, and the name suggests that their main interest lies in Scotland. Also, their policy of not voting on English only matters gives them much more credibility in supporting a hung Parliament. It also puts Mr Salmond’s comments into a different light when one has knowledge of what the SNP at Westminster actually get up to: they are only interested in Scotland and representing what they believe as being the views of the people of Scotland in matters which affect Scotland. I am by no means a fan of the SNP (mainly because of their stance on Scottish independence, but that is another matter). I thought I’d share that last sentence in the interest of fairness and impartiality.
Secondly, a hung parliament would be a very good thing. It means that Governments cannot railroad through policies which are unpopular or ill thought. It opens legislation up to much more scrutiny. As it will inevitably take longer to pass legislation, it will slow down the speed at which pointless and poorly thought out legislation comes out of Parliament and inflicts all its unintended consequences on everybody. We see this in Scotland where the SNP have failed to get legislation through Parliament or have had to negotiate changes in the proposed Bill to secure its passing through the Scottish Parliament. Furthermore, parliaments where there is no overall majority work perfectly fine elsewhere in the world. The SNP have been governing in Scotland in a minority position since 2007 and there have been no problems here.
There are plenty of examples of minority governments in the UK. According to an article on the Financial Times Website published 7 February 2010, “half of all the country’s governments during the 20th century were minorities or coalitions (six minorities and four coalitions, out of 20 governments)”.
Other examples of minority Governments working come from Sweden, where it was a minority Government that led its fiscal stabilisation programme in the 1990s. New Zealand currently has a minority Government that is working quite effectively.
Since it came back into existence in 1999 the Scottish Parliament has never come out of an election where one party has had an overall majority, but coalitions have usually been formed (except following the 2007 election where the SNP went it alone as a minority). All have run to a full term and the current Government looks set to continue to govern strongly until the next election is due to be held in May 2011.
A hung parliament would benefit Britain greatly, providing the main parties can get out of the majoritarian mindset and get used to having to work together more. This will mean less legislation (most of what we get is pointless), what legislation we do get will be scrutinised much more and when it is passed be more likely to do what it was intended to do. It will mean that the Government will be forced to listen more, rather than just doing what it wants – we all get annoyed when things get forced through Parliament that we don’t want.
Whether it works in practice comes down to those elected into Westminster grasping the concept of compromise and meaningful cross-party dialogue. There are no logical reasons as to why a hung Parliament cannot work in the UK, so please stop trying to suggest that there are. The only weakness in a minority Government is the individuals forming the Government through their inability to work with the other parties.
Finally, the world will not come to an end if we do not have one single party in overall control at Westminster. A hung parliament would at least partially restore democracy to the UK, and this is a good thing!
I’m all for a hung Parliament and find it much more appealing than having a single party in charge having an effective dictatorship for up to the next five years!