Now we have all the manifestos. We've had all the debates. We've had more hustings than in normal years. I've had over 10 in my constituency and some candidates in other seats have had over 20. We've had independent and "independent" reports. It is now decision time.
I know that I had planned to report on the various manifestos, but having seen this post manifesto drama play out over the past few days, it has become clear to me that NONE of the parties can implement their manifestos in full and that ALL manifestos are more likely Talking Points for coalition negotiations. What we are seeing are not set-in-stone manifestos, but pre-negotiation posturing. That is an observation I hold as a candidate who is not from the world of career politics. Obviously all parties have their Red Lines and things they will not compromise on, but hey, if all stay rigid on everything, there will not be a government formed unless there is a single party majority which we know will not happen! Manifestos made sense when there was single party government, but in this new world, unless parties fight elections as coalitions with a common programme, individual manifestos can be seen as starting points, no more, no less. I think any business or any individual who has ever gone into any negotiation of any kind will understand this simple reality. Whatever else any party leader says is just part of the script of electoral theatre!
We can only know what levers any party can use when the final figure of votes and seats is known. Any party that sits in opposition or refuses to negotiate to form a government will have NONE of its manifesto commitments implemented. This is a message not only to Liberal Democrats, but to any voter or activist of ANY party who may be wedded to a particular manifesto commitment or any voter who pretends that some party that will not participate in government formation will magically achieve its objectives just by being there in parliament! I say this knowing fully well that we are not only electing the next government but also the next opposition, we are not only electing an individual to represent the constituency but also someone who may play a substantive role on many parliamentary committees, the work of which is as important if not more important than the work of governments and oppositions. Finally, the power of an individual voter is limited to voting for one person. It is then up to a collection of such elected persons to decide who will form the next government and the next opposition.
We are entering a new phase in our democracy. Gone is the 2 party state. We are now a multi-party democracy. It may not feel that way to a reader who is in a safe seat, but where I'm standing, Edinburgh South, it has been marginal for years! This time, thanks also in part to local factors, the seat could well be a 4 way marginal with the balance tipping only if tactical voting comes into play. A state of affairs that shows how unfit our First Past The Post system is for a multi-party fight. Strangely enough, it is that very system, which was designed for a two party fight and one party rule that has brought this about! But it has brought with it the spectre of tactical voting, which means that we can never really truly assess what people want or the parties and policies they really support, and we have to go more by what they DON'T want or their lesser of the evils choice. Surely, a big failure of our democracy. In Scotland, there is the likelihood, as much as I hate the idea, of tactical voting in favour of the SNP by voters who voted YES to independence, and tactical voting in favour of the party best positioned to defeat an SNP candidate by voters who voted NO in the referendum. Can you even imagine the pain on the faces of Labour and Conservative voters facing the prospect of voting for each other's candidates?
What I'm also seeing is support for coalition. I could never have imagined that there would be so many Conservative voters so keen to vote for me, a Liberal Democrat. It does help that I stand for fiscal responsibility and that I'm strong on defence, but what I see is a possibility that moderate Conservative and Liberal Democrat supporters have warmed up to each other due to the shared experience of coalition. We have travelled together a long way these past five years and though there remain fundamental and wide differences on many issues, there is recognition of the fact that the coalition has worked for the country and we have surprised ourselves and each other on our ability to work together in the national interest, setting aside differences and making the necessary difficult decisions. I'm sure that there may be Conservative candidates in other seats that have seen some reciprocity too.
This spirit of co-operation and consensus is to be welcomed and I do hope that the next government, whatever its combination of voices can work in the same way.
I will give you a post match analysis next weekend, but for now, I have voters to meet!