Nick Clegg has ruled out an SNP deal - but not one with the right-wing DUP
Nick Clegg has ruled out an SNP deal – but not one with the right-wing DUP

On the 25th of April, Nick Clegg made it clear that he wouldn’t work with the SNP under any circumstances. Shortly after, Ed Miliband did the same. I definitely don’t believe Clegg. Even if he’s still an MP, he may well not be Liberal Democrat leader for long after the election. But there’s a more important point here – and that’s that all of these parties are still angling for support from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

I think that, in a democracy, you need a really very good reason to not work with another party. The claim by the Liberal Democrats is that the SNP are the wrong type of nationalist. Liberal Democrats are British nationalists, the SNP are Scottish nationalists. That, in Clegg’s eyes puts the SNP in a position where they must be outcast from UK politics. Yet the DUP’s health minister made a deeply homophobic comment before Clegg’s choice to rule out working with the SNP.

Rumours circulated at Westminster that the last-day antics trying to make it easier to oust John Bercow as Speaker of the House of Commons was part of a Conservative strategy to offer the position to the DUP in return for support. The DUP are ideal coalition partners – economically right wing, yet easily bought off with money to sort the mess they’ve made in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

It is deeply distasteful that a party that includes sexists, homophobes and racists is making demands of UK parties, but there’s something deeper here. In 2010 the DUP lost East Belfast to the Alliance Party (the Northern Irish member of the Liberal International). East Belfast had been DUP since 1979, and had been held for that period by Peter Robinson, who was first Deputy Leader to Ian Paisley, then Leader and First Minister of Northern Ireland.  Robinson helped establish Ulster Resistance, a paramilitary organisation.

The loss of East Belfast stung the DUP very badly. In 2012 they chose to highlight Alliance’s decision to support the flying of the Union Jack from Belfast City Hall on the days it flies from British Government buildings, rather than every day. The proposal was a response to Sinn Féin’s proposal to remove the Union Jack completely from Belfast City Hall. The DUP delivered 40,000 leaflets to houses in East Belfast blaming Alliance for removing the Union Jack from Belfast City Hall. In line with the traditional DUP tactics of lighting the fuse, then running away as the explosion approaches, this produced widespread civil unrest. It also resulted in Alliance Party offices being burnt out, their representatives being sent bullets in the post and widespread intimidation of Alliance representatives.

I don’t expect solidarity amongst Liberals. But I find it extraordinary that Nick Clegg is willing to work with a group that has done so much to physically endanger his fellow Liberals in Alliance. It shows just how obsessed Westminster parties have become with their British nationalism that they would rather work with a party who have been involved with paramilitary organisations and intimidation of their political opponents than the SNP.