Don’t write off an impossible coalition just yet

So.  According to the Scotsman, a “senior SNP source” has made a tentative approach regarding a possible coalition deal with Labour after the Scottish elections.  Labour has leaked and scoffed.  And Tom Harris  indicated on the Westminster Hour that he and other Scottish Labour members are lobbying hard against a deal with the Lib Dems to form an administration.  Labour, apparently, is minded to form a minority government. 

Nice of them to bother to wait for a vote to be cast before they all start jockeying for position.

And that’s that then.  Though of course minds can and do change.  And while few might envisage the SNP and Labour ever working together, occasionally the burd likes to dream that narrow vested party interests might be laid aside for the greater good.  I’ve even seen it happen.

In the 1990s I chaired a working group on Beaufort’s Dyke.  This trench in the Irish Sea had started coughing up toxic waste in the form of barrels of munitions dumped during World War Two, scaring the bejesus out of beach walkers, holiday makers and local politicians all around the Irish Sea coastline.  Representatives joined the group from local authorities in Scotland, England, Wales, the Isle of Man, Ireland and Northern Ireland. 

It was hard to manage but the Northern Irish political groupings secured all the corners of the pre-meeting room, leaving the rest of us to mingle uncomfortably with the chocolate biscuits in the middle.  They eyed each other warily, spoke in whispered tones and huddled.  

When we actually got round the table, despite their best efforts, it became clear that total avoidance could not be achieved.  Thus, the Sinn Fein and DUP representatives found themselves sitting cheek by jowl, much to their evident discomfort and my poorly disguised amusement.

But then we got to discussing the matter at hand, and the impact on the communities they all served.   Everyone got to have their say and what emerged was almost unanimity on the nub of the problem and what could be done to resolve it.   The consternation on the faces of the Northern Irish councillors, particularly the Sinn Fein and DUP ones, was a joy to behold.  With the high politics left hanging on the coat stand, by focusing on issues that affected how their constituents went about their lives, they discovered they had more in common than they liked to think.

Some ten years later, Sinn Fein and the DUP surprised us all even more, agreeing to set aside longlasting enmity to work together to save the Northern Ireland peace process and its nascent devolved assembly.   Cue a shared administration, with Martin McGuinness and Rev Ian Paisley even earning the soubriquet, the Chuckle Brothers, such was their apparent ease on joint public platforms.

So when the political parties in Scotland issue vehement denials and proclamations about who is prepared to work with whom after next May, remember this.  The impossible can and does happen.  And if it’s good enough for Northern Ireland, it should be good enough for us.

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