I spoke too soon. Is there no combination beyond bounds in this election? The Financial Times (unlinkable due to copyright warnings) reports that David Cameron’s campaign team is exploring the possibility of a deal with unionist politicians in Northern Ireland and Scottish and Welsh nationalist MPs in the event of a hung parliament, in an attempt to avoid giving in to Liberal Democrat demands for electoral reform. This looks like a counsel of desperation for the party of the Union, which is also the party pledged to impose the most rigorous spending cuts.
Together the wee Celts will be lucky to elect 23 MPs in total, meaning the option of a motley “Celtic bloc” of rival unionist and nationalist parties could only come into play after a very particular election result – and even then it looks a very shakey proposition indeed.
How could an arrangment survive which supports cuts in England but exempts Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland from their full rigour?
However at the very least it may feed Sir Reg’s ambitions of “a seat in a British government.” But in this new situation, why not Nigel Dodds’- or even those of that fine man of government Mark Durkan?
As they’ve all made clear, the DUP the SNP and Plaid Cymru say the price of any support would be to protect their areas from the worst effects of any spending cuts – a tough demand on a government looking to reduce the £163bn deficit. But Cameron’s team believe it may be preferable to doing a deal with Nick Clegg’s Lib Dems, who say that electoral reform would be the price of any post-election pact.
The FT puts a new interpretation on the Hatfield strategy which we were told at the time was designed to avert an Assembly collapse. Now, a version of Hatfield might rescue Westminster from post-election turmoil.
SNP leader Alex Salmond has been coy about which of the two main parties the “Celtic bloc” of SNP and Plaid Cymru might support, telling Newsnight t that it was getting “very very difficult to tell Labour and Tories apart.”
Last month the Herald reported “secret talks” to create a Celtic bloc including all the NI parties. But in public, our MPs have never been mentioned as part of the bloc. Now it appears, it’s the Conservatives, not the SNP who are putting them back in the frame – if the story has weight. A wider Conservative courtship would affect the complexion of NI politics yet again. Would Peter Robinson who would exceed Salmond in seniority and probable numbers , seek to take over the driving seat?
And what after all that, would have been the point of Ucunf?
Perhaps in a while I’ll find it’s I who’ve been dreaming.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London