Henry Hill

Why a ‘Unionist alliance’ will never work in Scotland

(Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

When a commentator first referred to the ‘Ulsterisation’ of Scottish politics, he was jumped on by people keen to take offence at the parallel.

But whilst Scotland does not stand on the brink of civil war – and the coiner of the phrase did not claim otherwise – there is no disputing that Northern Ireland offers an insight into what politics looks like when it gets polarised around the constitutional question.

It is not hard to see parallels with the Ulster Unionists, for example, when the Scottish Conservatives put their short-term electoral interests ahead of what’s best for the UK by parroting the SNP’s central election pledge (‘Vote for us to get another referendum’) on their own literature, to such an extent that it is undermining their efforts to criticise the Nationalists for focusing on independence.

But by far the worst artefact of capital-U Unionist politics to have been dragged into the Scottish debate is the idea of a ‘Unionist unity’ pact.

This is one half of the grand electoral wheeze which was originally supposed to be All for Unity’s justification for existing. The idea was that the three major pro-UK parties would divide up the first past the post constituencies between them and then abandon the lists to A4U, thereby maximising the overall number of anti-separatist MSPs.

The blunt truth is that the total combined vote of the pro-UK parties is not a perfectly fungible Unionist vote.

Both halves of this idea are deeply, indeed fatally, flawed. But a proper examination of the problems with the list half – which involves tangling with the complexities of the D’Hondt system and examining a lot of assumptions that dramatically change what you get from the data – will have to wait for another time.

The problems with an FPTP pact, however, are obvious.

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