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'There is an alternative'

Nick Robinson | 14:37 UK time, Saturday, 8 May 2010

That is the message coming from the leader of the Scottish National Party, Alex Salmond. He's calling on the Liberal Democrats to join him and Plaid Cymru and Labour in a "progressive alliance" instead of doing a deal with the Conservatives.

Mr Salmond says: "The assumption of a Tory/Liberal Democrat pact is not correct. There are alternative and more progressive options available if politicians have the will to seize the moment. The SNP and Plaid are indicating that we do."

An arrangement between Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP and Plaid could command a majority in the House of Commons (see the figures below). The nationalist parties would, of course, extract financial and political concessions from Westminster.

The key question Liberal Democrats have to consider is how stable such an arrangement would prove to be. Legislating for a referendum on electoral reform, staging it and implementing the necessary boundary changes could take over two years. So, if PR is the main goal for many Lib Dems they'd have to be sure that "the progressive alliance" would last that long.

If it does come about it would highlight one little talked about but significant development in this election - the growing gulf between England and the rest of the UK. In England the Tories secured almost 40% of the vote and 297 seats whilst Labour got just 28% and 191 seats.

Now you might think that the nationalists would want a Tory/English government at Westminster cutting public spending, since it would increase support for independence.

However, both the SNP and Plaid are now in government facing elections next year and would prefer to be able to say to the electorate "look how we protected you from cuts/extracted money to pay for Scottish and Welsh jobs".
The DUP in Northern Ireland may well make the same calculation.

If all joined together in an anti-Tory alliance they would have a comfortable majority - with 340 votes in the Commons - although comfortable is not how the arrangement between Labour and its traditional nationalist foes might feel to them or many Conservative voters in England.

If you like the detail, here are the figures :

No party has enough seats to win votes in parliament without the support of members of other parties.

The Conservatives are the largest party with a total of 306 seats in the Commons - which would go up to 307 -- if they win the delayed election in Thirsk and Molton - until now, at least, a safe Conservative seat.

If they tried to govern alone they would, in theory, face a combined opposition of 343 MPs.
In reality it's somewhat different. Sinn Fein won 5 seats - and they don't take their seats in the House of Commons - so the opposition benches reduce to 338.

A Con/Lib Dem coalition would give them a total of 364 - enough to govern comfortably.

A looser arrangement in which the Lib Dems agreed not to vote against a Tory Budget or the Queen's Speech would mean 306 or 307 Tories facing a depleted opposition of 281 (that's 338 - 57 Lib Dems)

If a Lib Dem/Conservative deal fails, Gordon Brown will try to form a government.

If Labour and the Lib Dems joined forces - the extra 57 votes are not enough to make them the biggest force even with the support of the Northern Irish SDLP (who sat on the government benches in the last parliament) and the one new Alliance MP who is allied to the Lib Dems. Together that's 319 votes.

With the support of the nationalists from Scotland and Wales they would reach 330.

If the DUP joined too and the independent unionist and the new Green MP this alliance would have 338 votes in the Commons.


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  • Comment number 1.

    Has no one recognised that under PR we would now have 12 BNP MP's, true democracy but surely not a result those advocating PR would desire! Or would their votes not count?

  • Comment number 2.

    lib dems shd support tory minority govt by abstaining. get cameron to make some promises on lib dem priorities, and publicly promise not to call an election for 2 years. then leave osborne free to wield the axe.

    separately, lib dems should then put together a constitutional working group with labour, snp, plaid and sdlp to agree (i) electoral reform (based on labour's preferred alternative vote format), (ii) elected lords (using p.r.) and (iii) greater devolution for wales, scotland and n. ireland.

    after 2 years, the "progressives" bring down the tory government, triggering elections under the new rules. lib and lab then campaign in election on basis they will form a coalition afterwards.

  • Comment number 3.

    A number of commentators allege that people have clearly spoken for consenus politics with the election result, and the only way forward is PR. Nonsense, people voted for their party allegiances and the result was a hung parliament. It is disingeniuos to imply this is a vote for political change / reform.

    The election result is a clear rejection of Brown (if not Labour policies) but given the low base of the Conservative position not decisive enough. Surely the very thought that consensus politics could return an incumbant, unelected PM who was clearly rejected or indeed if Brown is replaced with a 'better' Labour leader to have another unelected PM - should inform voters that these backroom deals are worse.

    Better to start with equal size constituancies with FPTP and have the 2nd chamber elected on the proportionality of the votes cast.

  • Comment number 4.

    btw, just so everyone is clear, cameron has very little incentive to make any arrangement with the lib dems work. he will calculate that if he goes back to the polls (so long as he can blame clegg for forcing him to do this), he will get returned with a bigger majority, same way wilson did in the 70s.

    the important point is that under our existing electoral system, the big parties have very little incentive to cooperate and to make a coalition work. therefore, if the agreement between the tories and lib dems collapses, this does NOT mean that a proportionate electoral system (which would always result in coalition governments) is somehow a bad thing. because a proportional electoral system is the only thing that would create a permanent incentive for political parties to work together.

  • Comment number 5.

    Very strange that a party leader who has made no secrete about his wish to break up the union that is the UK should now be asking to be included in a UK government!

  • Comment number 6.

    England says noooooooooo.

    I think we are more likely to win the World Cup than this.

    In fact, I think Scotland are more likely to win the world cup than this.

  • Comment number 7.

    This would be a short term solution...the markets would go nuts...further election before end of the summer

    So oblivion awaits if Cameron and Clegg can't agree

  • Comment number 8.

    It is important that last Thursday's farce should be last UK election conducted under first past the post.

    Since another election may be only months away, the Liberal Democrats should insist on immediate legislation to introduce ATV. The Labour Party leadership said before the election that they favoured this system, so if they were genuine, this should not be difficult for them. Only those Labour MPs who happen to hold 3 way marginals should be worried by this change and the party could look forward to winning seats which are presently held by Tories on a minority vote, with Labour second.

    The question of going further and introducing a proportional system could be considered later.

  • Comment number 9.

    Clegg has a difficult problem - support the Tories in the national interest and sell his voters down the river by letting electoral reform stay on the backburner, or join a progressive alliance that will be less stable but will probably deliver PR or something closer too it.

    I voted LD partly because I wanted Clegg to have maximum leverage in electoral reform but I fear he may not use it. I hope my fears are not realised.

  • Comment number 10.

    Nick - you allude to one point about Tories having a majority of English seats. I have made this comment elsewhere but no one in the media is picking it up, but will the Tories try to use this issue to gain political leverage?

    Their policy of English votes on English Laws will be even more attractive now, and I wonder if they will now claim they have a 'mandate' to introduced English Votes on English Laws and thus be able to exclusively govern on 'domestic' English issues? Given devolution and the higher salience of discussiosn about political legitimacy, I am surprised the Tories have not deployed this argument sooner as it is very difficult for the other parties to argue against.

  • Comment number 11.

    "There is only one potential stable majority available. That is a combination of the Conservatives and the Lib Dems." is the message being repeated by David Cameron.

    A progressive alliance comprising SNP, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and Labour sounds an excellent alternative to the stable majority being sought by the conservatives. Suitably unstable this would at least more accurately reflect the mood of the people - how anyone can consider our current electoral system is working well when a pre election poll reported that 40% of those polled were still uncertain who they would vote for the next day is bewildering.

  • Comment number 12.

    It sounds good having a UK party pact but not a catchy title LAB/LIB/SNP/PC et al. But I can't see them getting in a room together as the Con/lib pact (or governing arrangement) will be consummated in the coming days, when they agree the Pre Nup! (insert jokes)
    What do people think if we have an election in the Autumn will Labour fair better with a new leader?

  • Comment number 13.

    Nick Robinson is hung up on stability - he thinks that Nick Clegg is factoring long term stability into his choice of pact.

    The only thing Clegg is hung up on is getting PR on the books. He wants a pact which will last long enough to deliver PR. That is as far as his wish for stability goes.

    Once he has that, he is the enemy of stability. He will choose instability and trigger an election so that he doubles or trebles the number of his MPs. Then he is kingmaker for ever.

  • Comment number 14.

    A coalition of five or six parties would be basically unworkable, wouldn't it? But if it brings electoral reform then I'd grudgingly support it.

  • Comment number 15.

    I guess the way the lib dem go will come to the subject of voting reform and the question of PR depends on how PR is exercised. I have always spoken against it because although it is a useful tool to allow the smaller voice be heard it can allow the ugly voice too. Presumably it would be exercised in a regional manor or in a constituency using something like stv however if the system is as simple as allocating seats purely by percentage then we must beware - the SNP is a legitimate party and while I have some doubts about independence in europe for Scotland (I'm a scot living in england) I do see the benefits of to my family of devolution. Having received 1.7% of UK vote they got 6 seats not 11 seats (1.7% of 650) so I am not surprised they argue for PR! But on the other hand there was a party that across the UK that gained a higher percentage of popular vote than the SNP but thankfully did not win any seats I am referring to BNP - having got 1.9% they could argue for 12 seats were the parties to be allocated seats on national percentage terms. I know it wouldn't be done nationally so this is a simple argument, but regionally allocated PR could still allow some to be elected. STV would presumably avoid this as would various other schemes. Any scheme must surely also take in the Tory equal sized constituency/region proposal else the system will still be unfair - even with PR.

  • Comment number 16.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 17.

    The alternative you suggest is electoral suicide.

    At the next election the tories would trumpet how the largest party was not able to govern and how the english had for several years to pay millions to 'foreign' political parties to keep labour in power.

    The result would be:

    a) Tory landslide in England and
    b) Tories would slough off scotland and leave them to their own devices.

    Note the phraseology.

  • Comment number 18.

    Nick Clegg: If you try to please all, you can please none! At this time country doesn't need more internal issues. Put internal differences aside n get along n get going to put government up n running by Monday. Markets would only put sterling down if you must not act! Act in national interest!!

  • Comment number 19.

    " ... one little talked about but significant development in this election - the growing gulf between England and the rest of the UK"

    At last someone points to the elephant in the room.

    Quite apart from voting patterns, Scotland, N Ireland and Wales are over-represented in any case, as their parliamentary constituencies are 15-20% smaller than England's - but no-one seems to care.

    Quite why the Conservatives persist in trying to placate the Scots is a mystery to me (one can see the advantage for Labour and Lib Dems of course).

  • Comment number 20.

    Thank you for correcting the assumption of a 650-member legislature. I hadn't realised the SDLP and Alliance were so close to their counterparts across the water, which makes a Lab-Lib deal even more workable than I'd assumed - 319 potential seats out of 645 even before throwing in the Nats and Green.

    I'm curious about today's reported Labour rebuff of Salmond's offer. Is some unnamed Labour hack trying to make a Cameron-Clegg deal the only viable option in the hope of its breakdown and a post-cuts 2011 Labour landslide?

  • Comment number 21.

    What we require from any alliance or deal is a full and genuine commitment to serve the citizens of the United Kingdom - can any 'nationalist' party make such a commitment?

    What they do within devolved government is one thing, but ALL those who sit in the Mother of Parliaments have a clear duty towards the citizens of the whole of the United Kingdom, not just their own little bit; just as any MP must look beyond the narrow confines of his own constituency and consider the good of the country as a whole.

    Without such a commitment, any such action on the part of 'nationalist' parties is unacceptable and must be rejected.

  • Comment number 22.

    The Tories should offer a vote for Scottish independence. That would sort out the whole issue for once and all.

  • Comment number 23.

    Scottish MP is willing to offer his services in the interest to keep a failed PM in office.

    Go on then Nick, just for a laugh ask Alex Salmond what his hourly rate is and does he include extras?

  • Comment number 24.

    If Clegg is in anyway motivated by convictions rather than power then he'll be talking to Labour by the middle of the week.

    In which case, David Milliband to become the next PM - currently 38/5 at Bet Fair - then sit back with a glass or two and read the Tory blogsters.

  • Comment number 25.

    We have voted for Gordon Brown to go, so whatever the rules might say, he has no mandate from the British people.

    Certainly, we in England did not vote for Alex Salmond and as we seem to have been ruled (to our great detriment) by a bunch of Scottish MPs for the last 13 years, it's time to let the English have a go at ruling ourselves. Why should Scotland or Wales have a greater say in the running of Britain than the English?

    It may in fact be time to split up the UK once and for all, wave bye bye to the militant, independent minded Celts and then lets see if we ever get another progressive left government.

  • Comment number 26.

    The key question Lib Dems have to consider in my constituency is - Will any of the 22,000+ who voted for the Liberal Democrats on the Isle of Wight ever vote the same way again if Nick Clegg does a deal with the Tories? I certainly wont!

  • Comment number 27.

    The seeds of this mess were sown by Blair rushing through devolution without a proper solution to the West Lothian question. Any electoral reform must solve this imbalance *before* making any changes to the voting system.

    In the unlikely event that Labour were able to hold together such a disparate coalition, will we be faced with the proposition of Scottish and Welsh MPs imposing legislation on the English for matters that are devolved in their own constituencies?

  • Comment number 28.

    As a committed Scot Nat, I am very surprised at Salmond's comments here.

    Personally I think if Labour think of the bigger picture they have to take their medicine and sit on the opposition benches. If they try and squeeze out a deal to hold onto power I think they would face a hammering at the next election.

    Obviously Salmond has calculated that by apparently 'saving' Scotland from a Tory government he wouldn't have much to lose politically in Scotland as the electorate may be grateful for that.

    However I just can't help thinking that this is a big risk, and also with potentially 5 parties involved in an anti-Tory, left-wing alliance the Labour and Lib Dems would face too great a risk of electoral wipe-out in England.

    Labour must know privately the game is up. They will need to get a new leader and perhaps force an election in 18 months or so once the Lib Dems realise the Tories are not the party of change.

    I don't think the electorate would be content with another election this year. It would scream of the politicians throwing their Toys out the pram.

  • Comment number 29.

    One thing is clear - the people of England don't want Brown or Labour.

    If the LibDems keep Brown in power there will be trouble. If the SNP and Plaid keep Brown in power there will be double.

    The people of England deserve the same levels of funding, recognition and representation that the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish have.

    English parliament now *

    the re-establishment of the English parliament...

    +Will save money, not cost more money. An EP would make the Commons obsolete - get rid and replace with a small federal UK parliament
    + Needs no new building.
    +Doesn't require more politicians - just different politicians - dedicated to serving the English people. In fact it could lead to less politicians.
    +Does not create another tier of governance as it removes the need for the commons.

  • Comment number 30.

    By far the surest way to split the UK and expose the democratic deficit of the poor English voter. Again the possibility of a Labour government kept in power by Scottish and Welsh voters.

  • Comment number 31.

    Alex Salmonds proposal is very Scottish, in that Labour are strong in Scotland. What it will mean is that an alliance of rag tag parties keeps the main party (Labour) in power even when it has been firmly voted out of power. Yes - they can choose to do it. But it is utterly contradictory to the election result.

    Furthermore, having wasted so much money over the past 12 years, Mr Brown would be in a position to continue borrowing "to get us through the crisis" - every household is already in hock by £65K (borrowings and commitments in addition to running any public services). It's madness.

  • Comment number 32.

    There is an alternative?

    I am quite sure in addition to Alex Salmond liking this alternative there are several other politicians who would find it agreeable.

    Take your pick from any unreconstructed right wing Conservative figures who would love to see this outcome.

  • Comment number 33.

    What about Sinn Fein - surely they would like to join this anti English coalition?

    Nick, ironically, Alex Salmond has come up with a coalition that is every Right Winger's wet dream

    Could it ever be brought about in the first place, it would be doomed to fail, ensuring in the process that any of its members were exiled to the electoral equivalent of Narnia.

  • Comment number 34.

    Well this comment should generate a host of anti-Celtic remarks from people who think that England subsidises the others: despite the actual tax, GDP and Oil revenue figures suggesting otherwise.

    It will also infuriate the 'we want Cameron' brigade. Are you trying to ruin their Saturday night Nick? Well done.

  • Comment number 35.

    There's no question this would be the best option for the country. And as it would command a majority of seats and votes, there's no chance that anyone in their right mind could claim it to be "undemocratic".

    Anything which doesn't include Labour or the nationalists disenfranchises a large swathe of the United Kingdom.

  • Comment number 36.

    A Labour/LibDem/SNP/PC/SDLP would be the final insult to the people of England. A discredited Labour party clinging onto power using the LibDems and nationalist parties to govern over a country were their votes would not affect their constituents because of their own devolved assemblies

  • Comment number 37.

    This situation is exactly why hung parliaments are a disaster: instead of focussing on what the country wants and needs, i.e. the economy, the debt, etc., we have the unedifying spectacle of Labour trying to stitch together the above. No policies or unifying vision, just a visceral desire to keep the Tories out at any cost, even if it means selling their grandmothers and the English down the river.

    When you consider that Labour only have the number of seats they have because the electoral system is still stacked against the Tories, their lust for power despite having the weakest mandate looks even more craven.

    Labour shld think carefully: if English hard work and money yet again bails out the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish, we would notice and punish those involved accordingly where we could the next time round.

    Labour's attempts to retain power at pretty much any cost are contemptible. As is their arrogance and refusal to heed the message.

    The Tories should be given a chance to run a minority Government and, if it doesn't last more than a few weeks, we should vote again. Having seen the mess of a hung parliament and reflected further on this result, I suspect a more definitive answer will be forthcoming.

    Most importantly, we need to crack on with sorting out the debt etc. Taht is what people really need and want.

  • Comment number 38.

    In England the Tories secured almost 40% of the vote and 297 seats whilst Labour got just 28% and 191 seats.

    The fact that ENGLAND voters, who have clearly voted for the Tories, can have their wishes set aside by Scottish voters - who do not like the Conservatives - is totally wrong.

    The UK parliament cannot vote on Scottish issues, but Scottish MPs can vote on English issues. This is something that also needs sorting out. We currently have a Scottish MP as Prime Minister, and another Scottish MP as Chancellor.

    If the MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, with the help of the Lib Dems side against the Conservatives then that arrangement flies in the face of England voters. Totally unacceptable.

    Labour was comprehensively defeated at the polls. Being , as Gordon Brown so often points out, the son of a preacher where is his honour. He should have resigned yesterday.

  • Comment number 39.

    The simple truth is the majority of UK electors did not vote Tory. This is a once in a life time opportunity for that majority to govern and change the broken electoral system once and for all. We should also remember that Scotland, Wales and NI are part of the UK and having a government which includes all these different interests is good not bad. Politicians working together - isn't that what everyone wants?

  • Comment number 40.

    This offer would perhaps suggest the possibility of a superficial similarity with the 1852 parliamentary session. The liberals/Whigs were in theory the largest 'party,' but there were deep divisions between the various groups of aristocratic Whigs, middle class radicals, and Irish nationalists. As such, the Protectionist Tories formed a minority government. Once they'd been in power for a while, the Liberals remembered that they actually disagreed with the Tories more than they hated each other, so formed a broad coalition under the Peelite Lord Aberdeen.

    Perhaps we'll now have a brief Tory minority government, before Labour, the Liberals, and the Nationalists remember how much they disliked Thatcherism and form a broad coalition?

  • Comment number 41.

    There is a alternative to a Tory-Lib deal as outlined by Niok - but it would be fatal for the Libs and Labour as well, and I say this as a Labour supporter.

    Any Lib-Lab-Nat deal would be inherently unstable with about 6 parties involved, plus it would either have to stick with the unpopular Brown or a new Lab leader who hadnt been voted in by the electorate. This arrangement would have no legitimacy. Like or not Cameron has the most (but not total) legitimacy to govern. Secondly the next factor is the markets reaction to such instability - very adverse, making the economic situation and the cuts required deeper. A stable govt is absolutely key and is what the public want.

    Those who argue for a deal say that Labour are offering a referundum on PR - yes indeed but would it won in the present climate ?. The mass of the public are concerned with jobs and services much more than PR. Many would take a dim view of the Liberals would could be perceived as putting party interest before the national one of having a stable government - this may not be fair, but the media would give them hell. With the Tories and a chunk of Labour campaigning against PR, in this economic climate there is a good chance that the vote would be lost.

    Labour should admit defeat, move into constructive opposition and elect a new leader. They have done better out of this election than many thought and with 258 mps are in a good position to challenge next time. A Tory-Lib coalition could be ideal for them given the unpopular decisions to be made.

    Nick Clegg and the Libs are in a difficult position but they need to play the long game and tie the Tories into a 2 year deal, even without firm promises on PR. The Tories are a much better position to fight another election in 6 months time than either Lib or Lab and the slogan of give us the tools to finish the job would be very powerful and put the Tories in with a large majority in the autumn. Helping the Tories to provide a stable govt while moderating the right-wing bits of the their manifesto (eg Inhert tax) would be good for the Libs standing. Believing in PR means believing in coalition govts - so the Libs should try to make it work.

    In a couple of years Libs/Lab will be in a much more advantageous position to defeat the Tories and build a Lib-Lab progressive alliance, including political reform. Cameron has the right to govern, and we need a stable govt - so let him try. Any weak coalition of many parties led by Labour would be doomed to failure and a big Tory win sooner rather than later. Thats what we (left-centre voters)dont want - so Nick, dont listen to the purists, grit your teeth and do a deal with the Tories.

  • Comment number 42.

    No Labour led coalition could deliver favoured nation status for Scotland,Ireland and Wales.It would not be politically possible and would send a signal to the markets Labour was not serious in cutting the deficit.

    What could be offered,in addition to PR,would be the guaruntee on front line services already in place in England,and a commitment not to single out the Celtic regions for deeper cuts because government employment is greater there as Cameron has proposed.

    There is also the relationship between state and national economy.Forget the 5 billion,it`s a signal for deep and immediate cuts if the conservatives form the government.Precisely the combination that will increase the deficit and risk of a sovereign debt crisis.

    Finally,the conservatives only won an English election.They lost in all other regions of the UK.This provides the basis for an alternative coalition if talks between Clegg and Cameron fail.

  • Comment number 43.

    There seems to be an awful lot of Lib dem ill informed supporters Demanding PR -- are they aware that such a sytem will allow parties like the BNP, to claim PR as well !!! Something that sickens me. We must reform the system as suggested by the conservatives. That would benifit the lib dems in the long term but keep out the BNP and parties like them. Under the new conservative any one who gets 40% of the vote will govern anyway (including the Lib dems) - see the BBC seats calculater. surely with this sytem its fair and allows us the voters to kick out any Govment we, the public do not want.

  • Comment number 44.

    :05pm on 08 May 2010, Neil wrote:
    "Has no one recognised that under PR we would now have 12 BNP MP's, true democracy but surely not a result those advocating PR would desire! Or would their votes not count?"

    The BNP are a joke,fascism is too philosophical for the English as Mosley discovered.Griffin is not the reincarnation of Hitler but Screaming Lord Sutch.

  • Comment number 45.

    What does David Cameron and his Party know about the lives of ordinary working families and single parents etc ? The answer is nothing at all. All he cares about is being Prime Minister - it's his ultimate ambition. He and the rest of the Conservative party are extremely wealthy and don't they look smug? If that remark has shocked you - just have a look at them. They've got millions in the bank or investments that will see them and their families OK for the rest of their lives. He says we are a broken society. Rubbish, there will always be people who tip over the edge and do mad/bad things and more often than not this cannot be predicted. The vast majority of people are fine and law abiding. It seems to me that Mr Cameron is approaching this from the point of view that the landed gentry and have the answers to keep the rabble down. The big society which will empower neighbourhoods etc - my hat - will the law abiding folk in Moss Side in Manchester be popping round to the problem families there to tell them they are 'the broken society' and that they must mend their ways? In reality, it is odds on that they'd end up in a dumpster somewhere.

    The Lib Dems have been working successfully in Government with Labour in Scotland since 1999. Now the UK Lib Dem party are cosying up to the Tories. What a sell out. The Tory Party now is no different to the Thatcher one before it. Scotland says we don't want you Mr Cameron. Mrs Thatcher saw to that by imposing the Poll Tax on us as an experiment before trying it nationally. She got her answer and was eventually run out of town. Labour is the better coalition option because hate him or not, Gordon Brown is already taking us out of the recession. Pulling £6 billion out of the econoy now must impact heavily on people's jobs - it cannot simply be pure waste that doesn't affect someone's job. The Tory emergency budget will be the true Tory Party standing up. They're too rich to feel the impact and anyway, it'll not be the rich that get clobbered to repay the debt, it'll be the ordinary folk in ordinary jobs. They'll claim it's the hard decisions they knew had to be taken. In truth, it's just what they'd have done anyway only they can use the economy as an excuse and blame Gordon Brown for everything. You have been warned!

  • Comment number 46.

    Sounds like a plan to me Nick. About time you noticed that this is a genuine alternative. The arithmetic might be tighter but there is no reason why we can't have a government formed with this type of coalition. Especially as there are many areas of natural ideological and policy agreement between these parties.

    A Lib Dem/Tory parnership is so politically unlikely I just can't see it.

    I mean think about it - The likes of Charles Kennedy, Simon Hughes and Chris Hughne having to walk into the voting lobbies alongside Andrew Rossendale, John Redwood and Iain Duncan Smith.

  • Comment number 47.

    YET AGAIN Nick Robinson misses the point. Why should Scottish and Irish MPs vote on legislation that only affects England? Please deal with this issue Robinson.

  • Comment number 48.

    The time for reform of the electoral system has come.

    Sign the petition today. Share on facebook and twitter.


  • Comment number 49.


    Brown is going to go Clegg cannot do a deal with him or he will suffer massively.

    So the alternative is for Clegg to go into coalition with another unelected PM Milly who would be head of a party that lost the election.

    I feel that this horse trading is dragging our democracy through the mud. The people are not deciding who is prime minister Clegg is, how is that democratic?

    This shambles would happen every time we had an election under PR.
    So the will of the people is warped by the minor parties to get their support.

    So the most democratic system in theory in reality delivers the most undemocratic outcome. The losers decide who wins?????????????????????

  • Comment number 50.

    1. At 3:05pm on 08 May 2010, Neil wrote:
    Has no one recognised that under PR we would now have 12 BNP MP's, true democracy but surely not a result those advocating PR would desire! Or would their votes not count?


    There are reasonable systems of PR or even combination systems which would have avoided that: Similar to the German system or only slightly different to the EU elections one we have already.

    No one is advocating a pure PR system - where % votes is divided between list MPs nationally. I am sure someone can do the analysis of how many if any MPs the BNP would obtain based on the propsed systems of PR, I think it would still be zero.

    e.g. Use a mix of constituency and regional/county etc basis - you can elect contituency by FPTP and balance the vote share with regional representatives - as I beleive is the system in Germany a 5% share is required to be eligible for the balancing. This easily takes care of the BNP who are an insignificant minority.

  • Comment number 51.

    The answer is simple - dissolve the UK and let the Tories govern England and the rest govern their own patch. The Tories have 55% of the seats in England and we get the worst of all worlds a Parliament run by Celts. Get Brown out now!

  • Comment number 52.

    7. At 3:32pm on 08 May 2010, Kevinb wrote:
    This would be a short term solution...the markets would go nuts...further election before end of the summer

    So oblivion awaits if Cameron and Clegg can't agree


    Absolutely agree.

  • Comment number 53.

    The only thing that will provide stability for the next few years is an agreement that the Lib Dems will not vote down to a minority Tory government - at least in the short term.

    The major concession has to be on voting form. If this campaign has been worth one thing it has highlighted to everyone that we do not have a functioning democracy where the majority of people's views are represented.

    There are two ways the Tories can be forced into this: one is a referendum on reform (which they need not support if they want to be anti-democratic); the second option is for a new Government to commit to allowing legislative time for Parliament to consider a Bill on PR or voting reform. This is where the 'progressive majority' theory post-election would be tested - if Labour, Greens, Nationalists and Northern Ireland parties backed it there would be sufficient support regardless of the views of a Tory minority government.

  • Comment number 54.

    I think Nick Clegg should accept Alex Salmonds proposal.He has no chance of getting anything from the tories,other than a seat in their cabinet,which,will mean nothing.He will also be abandoning his ,so called,principles.

  • Comment number 55.

    Why has the magic number suddenly become 338? What happened to the magic 326 everyone was talking about on election night?

  • Comment number 56.

    Leave Brown as a caretaker waiting for his taxi and let's have another election. This can all be done and dusted within the next 6 weeks.

    The national interest is not defined by endless fudge and muddle policies, stretching for years into the future.

    Ask the people again..........I bet the politicians get a different answer!

    The British people want strong decisive Gov't and FPTP gives them that!

  • Comment number 57.

    Alex Salmond's offer is a welcome intervention, also Billy Bragg's pro PR demonstration, which shows the passions and pitfalls of a clegg sellout to the tories. It's crunch time. Either sell out and have a pact with the devil Cameron, which will serve neither the national interest or the Lib Dems and give them only 30% of what they need and not PR which is truly essential. Or a SNP-Labour full coalition which will give them 90 % and PR. The problem is lack of seats in the commons. Here's the solution. Force the tories to vote against a progressive coalition of National Unity and hint or threaten an LIB LAB ELECTORAL PACT. This carve up emulating what happened in 1918 with Lloyd George's Coalition government would scare the Conservatives to their marrow since they would be facing a united coalition with 52% + of the vote, they might even be scared into 5 years of feeble opposition rather than bring down the electoral deluge. The alternative for the Lib Dems is to sell out for nothing and get blamed by everybody (including their own w
    supporters for every austerity measure and everything bad in the next 5 years. And not get PR. Clegg needs to grow up and quick before he blows it. Time to call Gordon

  • Comment number 58.

    I can't recall the Tories ever being English Democrats. In Fact Cameroon (one quarter Scot I think) is a Unionist.

    I notice the Tory Attack dogs go on about the JGB being unelected. I assume this refers to him being elected Leader of the Labour Party since Prime Ministers are NOT elected. Well I voted for him: He was elected unopposed. He was of course invited to form a government of the resignation of Tony Blair by the Crown. A new constitutional convention might be established to enable the House of Commons to have a confirmatory say. It would suit the present circumstances.

    Incidentally in the last 110 year several prime ministers have not have not been 'elected'

  • Comment number 59.

    Nick, Whilst I acknowledge the concerns in previous comments about giving a voice to extremist parties, I feel viewers/readers etc should be reminded that had the election taken place under perfect PR the result would have been something like; Tory 235, Lab 189, Lib/Dem 150 and Others 77. To put it another way, under our antiquated system, around 19.3 million votes translated into 565 seats whilst the remaining 10.3 million voters managed only a derisory 85 seats to represent their views! Something surely needs to change.

  • Comment number 60.

    This is a good election to lose. Given the tough and unpopular decisions that a new government must face, I have a feeling that winning may be a poisened chalice, especially with an unstable alliance to keep together.

    Maybe David Cameron may just thank his lucky stars in a few months if he cannot form a government.

  • Comment number 61.

    1 Neil

    "Has no one recognised that under PR we would now have 12 BNP MP's, true democracy but surely not a result those advocating PR would desire! Or would their votes not count?"

    This is indeed true, but how many people are aware of this ? Or is it to be PR for all, but only if we agree with you ?

    Alex Salmonds comments on being involved in a "progressive" alliance including the LibDems who are committed to PR make interesting reading. If you look at the numbers of votes cast and seats won for the follwoing minority parties :

    SNP 491,386 giving 6 MPs
    Plaid Cwymru 165,394 giving 3 MPs

    Then we have

    UKIP 917,832 (more than SNP and PC together) giving 0 seats
    BNP 563,743 giving 0 seats

    Nearly 1.5 million people with no apparent representation...... (not that I am likening UKIP to the BNP I hasten to add.)

    I realise the the number of candidates put forward is a factor, but in terms of PR, I think the electorate, and Alex Salmond, need to think very carefully about what they really want ....

  • Comment number 62.

    Incidentally were the Cameroon really an English Democrat I am sure he would not appoint a Scotsman to run English Education.

  • Comment number 63.

    I completely agree with the other contributors who rightly point out that under the so called 'fair votes' systems we would now be enjoying our very own home-grown fascist MPs. A lovely thought on the anniversary of VE day.

  • Comment number 64.

    I loved this story in the election about the 14 year old boy who voted, and he had the following to say :

    Alfie went to his local polling station before school on Thursday, wearing a trench coat, glasses, jeans and smart shoes so officials would "think I was a Tory".

    "I knew they wouldn't suspect an under-18 for voting Tory," he said.

    Alfie said he was "very serious" about politics and socialism, but decided to vote Liberal Democrat as a tactical option.

    He said: "There's not a socialist candidate in our area and unfortunately even if there was it would be a wasted vote. I've looked into it and the best option for a socialist is the Liberal Democrats.

    "I did want to make a difference - unfortunately I didn't."

    Trench coat glassess and smart shoes, now we know how to spot a Tory !!!

  • Comment number 65.

    I keep seeing this argument that since the majority of people didn't vote Tory, they should be excluded from government. This argument is intellectually deficient. By the exact same logic an even bigger majority don't want Labour and more still don't want Liberal Democrats.

    I am heartened to see that Gordon Brown has rejected the SNP's opportunistic offer of involvement. For a unionist party to be so desperate to cling to power that they hand power to separatists would be crazy.

  • Comment number 66.

    Clegg spectacularly lost the election but is now strutting about like Billy Graham evangelising and putting out his party election rhetoric once again.

    For the sake of decorum, fairness and democracy our country's vote put the Conservatives as the largest party on their manifesto and they should be the rulers. Not Clegg, no Brown.

  • Comment number 67.

    44 bryhers

    The BNP are a joke,fascism is too philosophical for the English as Mosley discovered.Griffin is not the reincarnation of Hitler but Screaming Lord Sutch.

    I don't remember 563,743 people voting for Screaming Lord Sutch's Monster Raving Looney Party in a general election .......

  • Comment number 68.

    This is an excellent opportunity. In the Scottish context firstly: All four non-Tory parties in Scotland, (SNP, Labour, Libdems, and Greens - this would rub off on the Scottish greems if Lucas joined) would get credit for such an alliance. It's really a no brainer, if the libdems are truly a progressive force. Salmond may not be so demanding of the UK government as one would think, since he is not intending to ask for a westminster initiated referendum on independence, he thinks that should be a matter for holyrood, and he's certainly patient. Given that the FM is an economist to boot - it's not only Vince that's an economist - then there's a competence argument.
    Time for a bit of pragmatism, SNP voters know perfectly well that independence isn't just round the corner, but a more symmetrical and comprehensive constitutional settlement that's fair to England too might be just round the corner, including fiscal autonomy - the emerging differences in party systems between Scotland and England make these reforms necessary, as Scotland will just not put up with Tory government for long. Even if it's purported to have a human face. Thursday's message from the Scottish electorate was a clear and disciplined one, and it was not simply down to alignment with Labour - the significance is much deeper than that. So stability yes, but not Cameron's stability please. lets conduct the business of our islands in a dignified manner now.

  • Comment number 69.

    As a proud ENGLISHMAN, can we please have an English prime minister and a English parliament?.Let Scotland, N.Ireland and Wales go their own way.

  • Comment number 70.

    i cant believe we have protestors outside the tory lib meeting place. what are these people protesting about? we have sensible people trying to sort out a agreement without any violence or trouble, and these people protest about it.or are these people the rent a mob that you see at every protest!!! yes me thinks.

  • Comment number 71.

    Actually, for a non-Tory coalition - because the speaker can only vote when there is a tie and then only for the Govt - there can be a two seat majority with 323 MPs as Sinn Fein don't take their seats.
    Labour + Liberals + SDLP + Welsh Nationalists make 323. Plaid Cymru is already in coalition with Labour in Wales and the SDLP take the Labour whip anyway.
    It might well be that a full Labour+Liberal coalition committed to a referendum on PR could rely on the Nationalists not to vote against them. So, one could have a Labour + Liberal coalition and an agreement from say SNP/PC/Greens and Alliance not to vote against them on matters of confidence for two years.
    This would be stable, inclusive and could build both a fairer electoral system and deal with the deficit whilst protecting the most vulnerable. That really would be a win/win for the parties involved and the country.

  • Comment number 72.

    The Mandelson formula would keep outside the SNP and Plaid - somehow in the hope that they would not dare to bring down a government? Safer to have them in I would say. I wouldn't leave this to Mandelson, he doesn't see the long term implications of his strategies, he's much better at the short term tactics that involve psychology and immediate response calculation, more than long term calculations to do with political culture and the tectonic plates shifting of it all. He's a short termist. SNP and PC exclusion for the sake of it would play badly.

  • Comment number 73.

    I completely agree with Parselmouth.
    David Cameron won the election Gordon Brown and the rest of the Labour Government should go. The labour cabinet agreeed with everything Gordon Brown has done and there is no-one in the labour party at the moment who should be voted leader by the unions which has brought this country to its knees. I for one will not be happy should labour,libdem and the scots and welsh and NI get together to form a government it will be a catastrophe for this country.
    David Cameron and Nick Clegg should do what is right for this country.

  • Comment number 74.

    An alliance made up of many minority parties that WORKS including the lib dems, would surely strengthen the argument for PR . They could always use the party whip with the small parties, and say. Look if you want PR to work in the long term YOU the parties have to show that when we next go to the nation it worked. The electorate would then vote for the LIB Dems in massive numbers on a mandate for PR for the UK. Game over.
    The minorities would then in turn have their wish for better representation forever and ever. Assuming no party gets 51% and tries to change the constitution.

  • Comment number 75.

    Great stuff, Nick, but I think a number of voters might raise their eyebrows at the exotic spelling of their very fine Yorkshire town of Malton...

  • Comment number 76.

    Let us remember the Government as the executive governs the country and Parliament produces the legislation.It seems to me that the Lib Dems should act in the national interest in working with the Tories in governing the country and at the same time work with the so called 'Progressive Alliance' in Parliament to achieve electoral reform

  • Comment number 77.

    If Nick Clegg signs up with the Tories, he will lose millions of Lib-Dem voters who dont want another Tory Government, and Labour voters who went over to the Lib-Dems this time round, thereby creating this hung Parliament.

    I hope Cameron goes to the country in a few months hoping for a majority, I hope he wont get.

  • Comment number 78.

    I know that Labour have the right to try and keep themselves in the game but every Labour politician I have heard interviewed keeps trying to present Thursday's result as some kind of draw. It wasn't a draw-Labour lost. It would have been a draw only if Labour and Tory had gained the same number of seats or the same share of the popular vote and as we know that didn't happen.

  • Comment number 79.

    I've really got to chuckle at the attempt now being made to suggest that any non-Tory coalition is by definition both un- and anti-English, not to mention undemocratic. It would carry more credibility if it was backed up by historical and constitutional fact as opposed to a desire to allow the Conservative Party to re-assert its natural place i.e. in government. How is it that the same people who scream loudly for a government of national unity are very often the same voices raised to rubbish and denigrate their fellow citizens not of the Home Counties.

  • Comment number 80.

    The main problem with PR is not the number of seats the BNP would get but how you deal with Northern Ireland and Scotish Nationalists. For instance Sinn Fein that has 5 seats for only 172,000 votes. They would be big losers with PR which would be unacceptable.

  • Comment number 81.

    It strikes me as funny that a labour has apparantly been "firmly voted out of power" at 29% of the electorate, whereas a Tory party has "a strong mandate" at a measly 35 %. Any allaince with one of the main parties will represent more than 50 % of the electorate, making it a real mandate, the fact that labour needs the scots and welsh as well is a function of a strange and archaeic voting system. Everyone allso seems to forget that electoral reform would actually mean that being a Scottish Tory would no longer be an exersize in futility- They might actually get in.
    And yes proportionat representation would give the BNP 12 seats in parliment, where no other party would talk to them- it doesn't give them power (unless of course there is another hung parliment, where they matter- but I think both major parties would rather fry in hell than take THAT coallition)

  • Comment number 82.

    A possible solution.

    On the face of it rather unwieldy, but no more so than trying to make any other combination work with the larger parties which may suffer from dissent within their own ranks on an issue by issue basis.

    The SNP has always maintained a policy of not voting on English only legislation and I would be interested what concessions they could extract to continue this policy, full fiscal autonomy for Scotland would be desireable but would probably be rejected out of hand by all of the unionist parties. It would certainly go some way to easing tensions on both sides.

    Unfortunately Labour appear to have dismissed it out of hand, apparently even in a hung parliament smaller parties are irrelevant, we shall see.

    Also nteresting reading some contributions that do not like the smaller nations of the UK holding the balance of power, it has happened on several occasions to them whether they had voted for it or not.

    Will this force the unionst parties to acknowledge the constitutional situation as it has ramifications for each of the four nations, probably not and people should really begin to ask why that is.

  • Comment number 83.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 84.

    Are you counting or discounting the Speaker and his deputies in these calculations?

  • Comment number 85.

    The true division is between the south and south-east that's Tory and the provinces of northern and south-west England and the nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that are not.
    Areas comprising more than half our country dissent from Tory cuts and Tory tax handouts for the wealthy. Tory representations are minor.
    Maybe those areas should get together?

  • Comment number 86.

    1. At 3:05pm on 08 May 2010, Neil wrote:

    Has no one recognised that under PR we would now have 12 BNP MP's, true democracy but surely not a result those advocating PR would desire! Or would their votes not count?


    In a straight PR system they would get seats. If we were to have PR it is a price that would have to be paid, as much as I despise the BNP.

    There are other methods though, and I doubt very few people want simple PR. A transferable/preference vote for example? If no candidate takes an outright majority in the first round of counting the votes of the candiates who fail to reach a certain threshold (5% of the turnout?) are removed and given to the second prefered candidate.

  • Comment number 87.

    Dear Nick,

    Electoral reform is key for all of us! Potentially a deal braeker for the LibDems. Accordingly, their talks with the Tories may break down.

    What are your thoughts re: a LibDem/Labour coalition, plus SNP and Plaid Cymru. Achievable only with a new Labour leader, namely David Miliband as Prime minister?


  • Comment number 88.

    Britian used to be great for it's ability to work hard, try different things and face problems head on - not hide behind them or be so pessimistic. We were a country people got excited about and looked up to for our ability to take the bull by the horns in unusual circumstances and create great things.

    So what if a coalition of Lab-Lib and Nationalist parties is not in keeping with the Status Quo. Surely now is the time to see if we can work together as the United Kingdom on reducing deficit and rebuilding our economy amongst other things?? I mean Marks and Spencer, J Sainsburys, Tesco, Morrisons, O2, Dyson and other british retailers/companies didn't become as successful as they are today through adversarial relationships.

    I still have my health, enough wealth and my positivity. Come on Britian - it's not that bad!

  • Comment number 89.

    I know this has been said before, many times, please let’s stop anyone who wants to be a politician ever being a politician.

    We live in what used to be a great country courtesy of the entrepreneurial nature of those that created Great Britain – once we did rule the waves and a good proportion of the world along with our European neighbours in Holland and Germany.

    Yesterday there was no choice. None of the leading political parties has the commercial acumen or experience in its leadership or back office to run a corner shop, let alone UK PLC.

    At what point did we all agree, and by that I mean the British electorate, to put the person with the least ability in charge?

  • Comment number 90.

    PR can result in strong government
    Everybody seems to be agreed that we need a strong government and that means a government that has an overall majority in Parliament. The basic problem is that a proportional system for electing MPs must then be turned into a decisive ”YES – NO” system for deciding government business. Any vote in Parliament must either pass a bill or not; we cannot have a vote for nuclear missiles where, because only half the MP’s voted for it, we get them but with only one submarine.
    This is easily achieved in a PR system and without the horse-trading currently going on which gives minor parties disproportionate power as the Lib Dems are now wielding. It works like this:
    MPs are elected by any system of PR. They then fairly represent the electorate and any party has the opportunity to be the largest if they have the widest popular support. What is then necessary is to turn this into decisive government. The party with the most seats forms the government and, if short of a majority, is then given an additional number of “virtual seats” so that it commands an overall working majority. Bingo. In any vote the government tally is topped up by these virtual seats.
    In the current situation, David Cameron would become Prime Minister and then get thirty virtual seats so that he has a working majority of about ten votes. We get the results the parties say they are trying to achieve without the “you can have nuclear missiles if we can have PR” haggling.
    With this system, nobody should fear PR which is fair and, with this simple change, decisive and all government business can be scrutinized in the proper way as for any government with a modest majority.

  • Comment number 91.

    There is more chance of Cameron persuading individual MPs to cross the House than there is of this Grand Alliance happening.

    Where is that bloke who is always saying "CALL AN ELECTION"

    For that is what we need.

  • Comment number 92.

    And when we do call an election, perhaps it should be a run-off between the top two parties?

  • Comment number 93.

    Brilliant. Every party that lost votes and seats gangs up to form a coalition to keep the party that won the largest mandate out. At a time when the debt (the total we owe) and the deficit (the rate by which that amount increases each year) are spiralling out of control we could eventually get a fudge government that will do nothing to halt this. "Dont cut spending in Scotland/Wales/NI or we pull out and bring down the government". Pork barrel politics at their purest !

    If this comes to pass the UK's credit rating will plummet, interest rates will rocket - the government will fall and then we might get a proper government.

    I always thought the best argument against a hung parliament was that Alex Salmond wanted one. Westminster is a grown-up parliament with real financial responsibility not a wee shouty-house!

  • Comment number 94.

    13. At 3:37pm on 08 May 2010, Holman321 wrote:

    "Once he [Nick Clegg] has that [Proportional Representation], he is the enemy of stability. He will choose instability and trigger an election so that he doubles or trebles the number of his MPs. Then he is kingmaker for ever."

    Indeed, and the Tories HAVE to accept that the UK is going to have at least an 'AV' and more probably a PR voting system, any minority government (whether bolstered by a coalition or abstention agreement) is going to be short lived - probably much short the more parties are involved - so the Tories have to decide if they listen to their old guard, cutting their noses off to spite their faces, or if they woo the Libdems by giving them what they will get anyway.

    Of course the Tories could be aiming at becoming a minority government on their own hopping that neither Labour nor Libdems will want to bring the government down and face having to fund another election campaign so soon.

    Interesting times indeed, never mind firing up the Audi Quarto, more like the Ford Escort Mexico, it's back to the (once) smoked filled rooms, beer and sandwiches, of the the 1970s!

  • Comment number 95.

    48. At 4:46pm on 08 May 2010, Voice_of_Reason wrote:
    The time for reform of the electoral system has come.

    Sign the petition today. Share on facebook and twitter.



    No just the losers in the election deciding who gets power as will happen every time with PR.

    PR In theory democratic BUT in reality the most gross warping of the decision of the electorate with the small parties given the power to decide the Government..

    Democratic Topsy turvy.

  • Comment number 96.

    Alex Salmond is endorsing this idea of a "progressive alliance" so he can get more money for Scotland. He is so transparent and has no positive motivation to help the UK.

    If this election has shown anything, it is that the idea of a British vote is a misnomer: the constituent countries of the UK each need to run their own affairs. England needs its own parliament so we don't impose ourselves on Scotland and Wales and so that they do not gain decisive influence over England.

  • Comment number 97.

    The Tories do not want electoral reform.
    The Tories seem to have a penchant for some MPs with strange belief systems
    The Tories have one MP from Scotland
    THe Tories have become friends with a very strange bunch of right-wingers in Europe
    The Tories are determined to go all out to increase unemployment and will then most likely blame the unemployed for daring to be the victims of Tory capitalism.
    The Tories have too many MPs who seem to be homophobic.
    The Tories stopped the Debt relief bill in the last parliament thus vulture funds continue to come to the UK and and use our courts to outrageously rip off the poorest countries in the world.
    The tories are the party of deregulation. If you think that is fine, then take one look at the mess of the Gulf of Mexico right now caused by a compnay that either ignores employment, environmental laws in the US, negotiates exemptions or pays for lobbying to bring about reduced regulation.
    The Tories will not protect our NHS.
    The Tories will not work to reduce crime.
    The tories favour financial penalty for those who dare not to marry.
    The Tories have MPs who believe in god and just may hear the voice of god, ala W Bush. But who in their ranks is able to support science, engineering and technology?
    The Tories have their very own Palin - Mad Nad! Nick, you know you should run a mile don't you!
    One seat in Scotland. Will Nick Clegg form an alliance that will place the Union in jeopardy?
    Those right-wing friends in Europe. Will Nick Clegg form an alliance that will jeopardise our relationship with Europe, our rights to paid holiday, or rights to paid sick leave, our rights to benefits for those who as a result of government policy can not find work, our very human rights?

    Nick Clegg and the LidDems must go with the majority of voters in this country. The majority voted against the Tory party. Or is he really not interested in a new kind of politics?

  • Comment number 98.

    So now the Welsh as well as the Scots want to rule England do they?

  • Comment number 99.

    Labour have had 13 years, and we are fed up with them. They have lost, what don't they get about that?! The only places they won in the East of England was in Luton, and we all know why that is!! Labour, sod off!

    Lib Dems & Conservative 2010!

  • Comment number 100.

    The SNP talk about this England divide, but the only seats Labour lost in the North East of England were in Teeside where people were livid about the lack of government help over the closure of the Corus plant and other local issues.

    I think it is more a divide between the people who will never vote for the Tories after Thatcher and the rest. Many of those people happen to be in Scotland and Wales, many are also in the North East (which has a population very similar to that of Wales).


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