Regional two-party systems

Driving through the Highlands, where the roads at this point in the democratic cycle are adorned with yellow election posters for the SNP and the Liberal Democrats, made me think about how the UK to a large extent has regional two-party systems.

Basically, although many political parties that have a chance of winning at least a few seats somewhere in the UK, there are not many places where more than two of them have a real chance of getting elected.

In most places, two parties dominate: Labour and SNP in most of Greater Glasgow, SNP and LibDems in the Highlands, Tories and LibDems in the southern part of England, etc.

This is quite different from countries that use some form of proportional representation and where you’d expect to find posters for most parties everywhere, although not necessarily with the same relative frequency everywhere.

The effect on politics is interesting. In countries with proportional representation the parties have to distance themselves from all parties at the same time, but in the UK the LibDems have to be the anti-Tory party in one place, the anti-Labour party in another, and the anti-SNP party in yet another.

This makes it really hard to create coalitions, because the coalition partner will be regarded very differently in different parts of the country.

Of course you get the same effect to a certain extent in countries with proportional representation: If a centrist party enters a right-wing coalition, it will hæmorrhage left-wing supporters, and vice versa. However, this effect will happen nationally. In the UK, it’s like the centrist party’s right-wing supporters are all in one half of the country, and all the left-wing ones are in the other half.

Just another reason to get rid of FPTP!

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