Posted By: November 05, 2014

 Brian Feeney.Irish News (Belfast). Wednesday, November 5, 2014 

 MUCH talk of Sinn Féin being the most popularparty in the south on 26 per cent despite the onslaught mounted against them by the Irish Independent and the Irish Times in the aftermath of the Maíria Cahill accusations. The poll which placed Sinn Féin in the lead was conducted over the most intense 10 days of the onslaught but obviously voters in the Republic were more concerned about water charges and cronyism in the coalition than what the IRA were up to 17 years ago. Whatever the explanation, the other parties in the south were badly shaken. No doubt the attacks on Sinn Féin will be renewed but probably will now ignore what the IRA did in the north. Just as Sinn Féin in the south rarely mention the north and have found concentrating on southern matters beneficial, so the other parties are likely to follow suit. Bad as the shock was of Sinn Féin coming out ahead of all the other parties it was as nothing compared to the consternation an Ipsos/Mori poll in Scotland caused last Thursday. The poll showed Labour in Scotland practically obliterated with the SNP taking 52 per cent of the vote and winning 54 of Scotland’s 59 Westminster seats. Labour would be left with just four in this scenario. The Conservatives would lose their only seat. Jim Murphy, the front runner for the position of leader of the Scottish Labour Party would be one of the casualties as would the party’s shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander. Of course the poll comes after one of the worst couple of weeks for the Scottish Labour Party with the resignation of its leader Johann Lamont and her attack on Miliband. It’s unlikely the result next May will be so awful but nevertheless all the indications are the result will be bad because the percentages were well clear of the margin of error. However the fate of the Labour Party in Scotland (and some Scottish papers were predicting the death of ‘New Labour’ in Scotland) is a serious matter for the composition of the next Westminster parliament. Labour used to be able to take its bloc of Scottish MPs for granted. Presently they have 41. With the polls showing Conservatives and Labour neck and neck the consequence is a hung parliament. The latest figures give Labour 295, Conservatives 283. If the Ipsos/Mori poll is anything near the final result that 295 will be much fewer. On the other hand, the unknown quantity is UKIP. How many seats will they take from Cowardy Custard Cameron? How much below the 283 will he fall? The extraordinary possibility is that the SNP will replace Labour as the majority Scottish party in Westminster. Could they imagine a coalition with English and Welsh Labour? If it comes to being in the British government then of course they could, even if relations would be fraught. What would that mean for devolution here? Quite a lot, because the SNP would drive a hard bargain on devo-max to go into a coalition. They’d be quite happy to hand powers to here and Wales. One good aspect of the instability in British politics with UKIP damaging the Conservatives and the SNP damaging Labour, in both cases to an unpredictable degree, is that it makes the repellent DUP irrelevant. In any present prediction their eight MPs will not be enough to save Cameron and place them in a position to twist his arm on concessions about the north that suit them. Whatever the outcome next May it’s clear there will be strange bedfellows in both Britain and the Republic after the next elections because the sea change in British politics makes coalition the norm just as in the Republic. What remains to be seen is how the junior partner is each coalition avoids the usual consequence which awaits the Lib Dems in Britain and the Labour Party in the south. How do you avoid being wiped out at the next election after being used as a mudguard by the larger partner? In that respect the SNP might be safe because they will be advancing the interests of Scotland and their English partner would be likely to allow them.