One way or the other?
Why are the coalition discussions so problematic?
Because political opponents are involved. They have fundamental differences, one with the other.
Why are the Liberal Democrats still in negotiation with the Tories?
Because, together, they can command a relatively stable majority. Plus the Tories heavily outpolled Labour across Britain. Take your cue from the word "Democrat".
Why then are the Lib Dems also talking to Labour?
One, to examine, seriously, an option.
Two, to placate their concerned backbenchers who fear that the Tory talks are too narrow.
Three, to put parallel pressure on the Tories to up their offer (or, four, if you listen to Sir Malcolm Rifkind, because they are untrustworthy).
Why then are the Lib Dems anxious about a possible deal with Labour?
Do they really want to be the party which countermanded the expressed opinion of voters in England?
Why are the Scottish Lib Dems so anxious about a deal with the Tories at Westminster? (it's a big day for anxiety).
They do not want to face jibes at the Holyrood elections next year that they are the subset of a party which is unpopular in Scotland.
Why are the SNP not dealing with the Tories?
Because, one, they are not needed, arithmetically, in any Tory/Lib pact and, two, because they have ruled out any agreement with the Tories (see above re Scots Tory unpopularity).
Why then has Labour said that it will not deal with the SNP, that it cannot envisage such an agreement?
Because Labour politicians, especially in Scotland, loathe the SNP.
But, seriously, why?
Same answer - plus they do not envisage that the SNP would vote to bring down a Labour/Lib Dem coalition.
They would, in effect, defy them to do otherwise. They believe they would not need them formally signed up to a deal.
Were the SNP contacted by a Labour cabinet minister?
I believe so, yes - very informally, not with an offer of talks.
Not one of the names mentioned by Douglas Alexander when he described an absence of contact.
Have the SNP met the UK civil service?
Yes. But that simply means that they have been sounded out with regard to their position. No more, no less. To be fair, Alex Salmond has never said anything other than that.
Can Labour and the Liberal Democrats govern without any other chums in their coalition?
Yes - but without a confirmed majority.
They might collate support from the SDLP and the Alliance in Northern Ireland - while assuming that the SNP, Plaid and the solitary Green would mostly vote with them. See above.
What will Alex Salmond say if his party is ignored in a Labour/Lib Dem deal?
That his rivals are not serious when they talk about consensual, progressive politics.
And what will he say if there is a Tory/Lib Dem deal?
That the Lib Dems have ignored the wishes of the people of Scotland and imposed a Tory government upon them.
What will he say, either way? Vote SNP. (for the avoidance of doubt, the other parties will also attempt to foster undying loyalty for their squad).
Why, finally, are these talks seemingly so intractable?
Because the new UK government will have to deal with a toxic level of debt. They will have to do nasty things, unpopular things.
And rather soon at that.