Travelling home from Glasgow on a May day our train climbs Highland mountains frosted with snow. The sun has visited here, but not yet enough to melt the ice of a long, deep winter. I am reminded of the Winter of Discontent in 1979. Dissatisfaction with government policies to manage inflation and freeze pay led to huge public unrest. Staff in key public services, including ambulance staff and refuse collectors, went on strike. The Labour government struggled for survival and was supplanted later that year by the Conservative party and Margaret Thatcher, the first female Prime Minister in the UK.
This year we have had another long winter, with rumblings of dissatisfaction from the electorate. The UK has been led since 2007 by Gordon Brown, a Scot who was not elected by the public but came into Prime Ministerial office after a decade as Chancellor. This was a man who did not have the presidential charisma of his predecessor Tony Blair. A hard working, highly intelligent man, but not one who always found it easy to say the words people wanted to hear. On becoming Prime Minister he was handed both the leadership crown of his kingdom and the poisoned chalice of a history he had helped to write.
Scotland did not vote for the Conservatives in the recent General Election. The Scottish people’s votes were for Labour who gained 41 seats. The Liberal Democrats, whose star had seemed to shine so bright before the election, gained 11 seats. The Scottish National Party (SNP) gained 6 seats and the Conservatives only one. So Scotland would appear to have said no to David Cameron, the new UK Prime Minister who is leading a coalition with the Liberal Democrats into unknown territories.
The UK hung parliament has forced political parties to engage, negotiate, talk to rather than at each other. The election was preceded by 3 televised debates between party leaders – a seemingly new and innovative initiative, for surly it was risky for all concerned for them to have to talk directly to each other...
Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader whose party held the balance of power has been dubbed “Kingmaker” during recent negotiations with both Conservatives and Labour. He has negotiated an alliance which includes his new title of Deputy Prime Minister and several Liberal Democrats, including Danny Alexander as Scottish Secretary, in the Cabinet. Will the coming years see a merging of parties of different colours and persuasions as they learn to talk and work together? Or will we see, as has often happened historically after a hung parliament, unrest and frequent changes in leadership and government? A Scotland ruled largely by a party it did not elect may look for more devolved powers, independence and a return to its own kingmaking.