By Michael MacLeod
SCOTLAND’s former First Minister Jack McConnell says trust, rather than the economy, will be the biggest challenge to the new UK Government.
Mr McConnell says the Tory and Lib Dem coalition will have “life and death” decisions to make – but the key will be their relationship.
He praised David Cameron and Nick Clegg for “a great start,” but warned that head-to-head battles are inevitable and potentially damaging.
Political alliance has been a fact of life in Scotland since 1999.
And Mr McConnell, who governed Scotland between 2001 and 2007, says the deal his Labour party had with the Liberals was founded on trust and often compromise.
He told a weekend newspaper column he believed the new leaders had taken tips from how Scotland has done it.
He said: “Watching the events of the past week unfold, it is clear the civil service has learned from the Scottish experience.
The blueprint we used in Scotland in 2003, learning from the 1999 negotiations, was deployed to great effect.
“They dealt with the easier issues first, then compromised on the big policy divides, established the rules of engagement, brought on board parliamentary colleagues, and finally held a joint press conference to convey a collegiate atmosphere.”
But Mr McConnell says a cosy press conference does not guarantee rosy future.
Doubts at PMQs
He said: “Jim Wallace and I trusted each other from the outset and our relationship set the tone for ministers and staff.
“Cameron and Clegg have made a great start, but their mutual admiration society will need to survive far more than the occasional set-piece press conference.
“Trusting each other in, for example, Prime Minister’s Questions will be tough.
“The policy detail needs to be underpinned by a shared sense of purpose and values.
“The coalition needs to be clear about what kind of country it is trying to build.
“Each partner must have the maturity to give and take a little, and sometimes a lot.”
“Life and death”
Mr McConnell believes the economy must take precedence as the most important issue and warns that relationship issues must not stand in the way.
He said: “Strengthening the economy was undoubtedly the biggest challenge for the coalition government I led.
“The economy will be top of Cameron and Clegg’s in-tray too, but external relations may well be their biggest challenge.
“Cabinet discussions on public-sector cuts will be challenging, but the coalition should be able to reach agreement.
“The coalition will face decisions that have global, life and death implications and those judgments will test their values and relationships more than anything else.”