The Nigel we need to talk about is Nigel Dodds. Mark the name. For within a few months, he is the Nigel who could be an absolutely pivotal player in the politics of our country. It is not impossible that he could even get to choose who becomes our next prime minister.It is a salutary reminder that Norn Iron remains part of the UK system, but I think he exaggerates the chances of Nigel Dodds playing kingmaker (not least because Nigel is himself at risk in North Belfast, though I expect he will win). The DUP's price will be modest:
...it’s not places in the Cabinet that we would seek. We ask for nothing for ourselves. We want outcomes that would benefit all of our people. We are not seeking to be part of any Government coalition, but, with an open mind, we are willing to sustain in office, a Government that offers policies and programmes that are in the best interests of Northern Ireland in particular, and the United Kingdom as a whole.That looks like cash to me, rather than any DUP-friendly constitutional tweaks (over which both Dublin and the Shinners would expect to wield a veto).
In any case, this is all pretty improbable. The chance of the extra 6-10 DUP members (let alone five or six Shinners) holding the crucial votes is not high, as Martin Baxter has so ably mapped out. Even his statistics disregard the fact that the SDLP, likely to retain at least 2 of their current 3 seats, take the Labour Whip, which narrows the zone of DUP relevance still further. Added to that, a Labour deal with the DUP which has the side effect of annoying the SDLP may turn out not to be worth it.
Rawnsley also raises the prospect, excitedly pursued by Brian Walker on Slugger O'Toole, that the five or so Sinn Féin MPs might take their seats in hope of picking up some coalition crumbs. This is vanishingly unlikely. I am sure that it is likely in the medium term that the Shinners will end abstentionism at Westminster, rather more likely than a united Ireland is to come about. But it seems improbable that the price they would demand would be easier for a minority government to pay than any conceivable price demanded by the DUP. The calculation is clear: buy off 8-ish DUP votes, and the Shinners stay away. Buy the support of 5-ish Shinners and the DUP (and maybe also the SDLP) move to the opposite column, for a net loss of at least 3.
Moving farther northeast, I do find it interesting that the current Tory proposals for Scotland are much more generous than the Labour equivalents. Of course the SNP must say "no deals with the Tories" for now; but if Cameron is smart (and I know that reasonable people disagree on that point), he will be preparing an offer that the SNP cannot refuse on 8 May, of radical constitutional reform in return for confidence and supply (like the DUP, the SNP have no interest in sitting in the UK cabinet). I am sure that Cameron at least has read Douglas Hurd's 1970 novel dealing with precisely this scenario...