Minor Parties

The UK, unlike the USA, has a large number of significant minor parties as well as the three main national parties. While never likely to win Westminster elections, they are important in a number of ways and often play a part in setting the political agenda.

During a televised debate in the 2015 general election campaign, seven parties participated. The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and the Green Party, two of these smaller parties, have gained prominence by advocating for specific issues. They do not anticipate winning enough seats to lead a government but aim to pressure larger parties to consider their agenda. These parties have operated more as advocacy groups than traditional political entities. The remaining smaller parties have a regional focus. Plaid Cymru, the Welsh Nationalist Party, was founded in 1925 and officially supports Welsh independence within the EU, although its main focus has been on preserving the Welsh language and culture. Plaid Cymru has never held more than four MPs in Westminster (in 2015, it had three) but has been more successful in the National Assembly for Wales. In 2007, Plaid Cymru became the Assembly's second-largest party and formed a coalition government with Labour until slipping to third place following the 2011 election.

However in 2017 Theresa May refused to take part in TV debates and in 2019  Johnson would only debate with Jeremy Corbyn. So so far the 2015 all party debates is a one off

The Democratic Unionist Party DUP

Who are the DUP?

Founded by the late Ian Paisley in 1971, at the height of the Northern Ireland Troubles, and now led by Arlene Foster, the DUP is the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly and is currently the fifth-largest party in the Commons - with ten MPs. The DUP nominally governs Northern Ireland with its republican rivals Sinn Fein as part of a power-sharing deal set out in the Good Friday Peace Agreement.

However, discord between the two parties means the Stormont Assembly led to a suspension of government in N Ireland form 2017 to 2020 .The DUP emerged as a force to be reckoned with in Westminster in the wake of the 2017 general election. The result left the then prime minister Theresa May politically weakened and unable to command a majority in Parliament, turning the DUP’s ten MPs into kingmakers in a “confidence and supply” agreement to prop up the Government. 

This is a position its members have leveraged to maximum effect, exercising their effective veto over the government’s Brexit negotiations to ensure there is no deal that could cut off Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. They also secured 3 billion in extra spending for N Ireland.

Domestic issues: The DUP has long opposed and voted against introducing same-sex marriage and more liberal abortion laws to the province.

Its 2017 manifesto also included retaining the “triple lock” on pensions, cutting VAT for tourism businesses, abolishing air passenger duty and reviewing the price of ferries between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

The DUP was also the only major political group in Northern Ireland to oppose the Good Friday Agreement – before finally entering into a power-sharing government in 2007.

Brexit: Although Northern Ireland voted Remain by a majority of 56% to 44%, the DUP campaigned  for Brexit during the 2016 EU referendum.

Above all, though, the party defines itself by its support for the UK. This insistence on keeping the union whole has set up a series of red lines on Brexit that both May and Johnson have found all but impossible to square with their own promises to take the UK out of the customs union while maintaining a frictionless border between Northern Ireland and the Republic in the south.

Foster has repeatedly stated her desire not have a hard border – but, for her and her party, continued economic and political alignment with the rest of the UK is key.

The party’s socially conservative and unionist policies have long made it a natural ally of the Tories, with the 2017 confidence and supply agreement formalizing this relationship. The election of December 2019 has reduced the importance of the DUP in Parliament and brought the agreement with the Conservatives to an end.

The Johnson government and the DUP have fallen out over the Brexit Deal which seem to offer the possibility of negotiating a separate arrangement for N Ireland- which the DUP is opposed to.Under Mr Johnson's deal, Northern Ireland will effectively stay in the EU's single market for goods but Stormont can vote to end that arrangement.

Mrs May's deal could have seen Northern Ireland enter a "backstop" arrangement which could only have been ended with the EU's approval. Whether the DUP use their veto will depend on the results of the final deal with the EU to be concluded by the end of 2020.

The significance of the Ulster parties was cast into the spotlight when the DUP ended up holding the balance of power in Westminster after the 2017 general election and struck a ‘supply and confidence’ deal with the Conservatives.

The Scottish National Party

The nationalist parties, especially the Scottish National Party (SNP), have strong concentrated regional followings. The SNP is the largest Scottish political party in terms of seats both at Westminster and in the Scottish Parliament. In 2019, the party won 48 seats and 45% of the total vote in Scotland. Without pressure from the powerful SNP, Cameron would almost certainly not have entertained a referendum for Scottish independence in 2014.

The Scottish National Party, established in 1934, is a center-left political party with the primary aim of achieving independence for Scotland from the United Kingdom. The increasing influence of the SNP led the Labour Party to adopt the cause of devolution prior to the 1997 general election. The Blair government believed that granting devolution would help Labour maintain its dominance in Scottish politics. The strategy was to grant the Scottish people sufficient self-governing authority to prevent them from supporting the SNP. This plan succeeded until 2007 when Alex Salmond, a skilled nationalist leader, formed a minority SNP government, later turning it into a slight majority in the 2011 election. This development significantly contributed to the UK government's decision to back the expansion of powers to the Edinburgh administration, including over taxation and borrowing, resulting in the 2012 Scotland Act and the referendum on Scottish independence in September 2014. As the referendum campaign drew to a close, the leaders of the three major parties agreed to halt Prime Minister's Questions at Westminster to show a united front in favor of maintaining the Union, despite the defeat of the independence option. Following the Brexit referendum in June 2016, new SNP First Minister Nicola Sturgeon argued that Scotland, facing potential removal from the EU against its preferences, had the right to hold another independence vote soon. An additional area of interest has been the SNP's ability to influence legislation at Westminster, particularly after the 2015 general election where it secured 56 out of Scotland's 59 seats. 

Unlike Scottish Labour MPs previously, the SNP's official stance has been to abstain from voting on matters solely concerning England to emphasize the nationalist viewpoint of non-interference in each other's internal affairs between the two countries. Since October 2015, the implementation of the English votes for English laws (EVEL) rule restricted the influence of all Scottish MPs at Westminster, Use of the EVEL mechanism was suspended in April 2020 to streamline parliamentary procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic. In June 2021 Michael Gove, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, speaking to The Times newspaper proposed the abolition of the EVEL mechanism, saying: "Ultimately, it's a convention which arose out of a set of circumstances after the 2014 referendum, where you had a coalition government... We’ve moved on now."

The 2019 election saw the SNP gain 14 seats and their dominance of politics in Scotland seemed  set to continue. However in the 2016 devolved Scottish election the SNP had lost their overall majority and had ruled as a minority government.

The SNP is a broadly center-left party with its identity and central narrative being progress towards independence for Scotland. The Green Party shared the aspiration for independence but held far more progressive positions on social policy than many SNP members. Two key areas of policy appeared to increase the tension between the Scottish Government and the Greens – gender services and climate change. On 18 April 2024, the Scottish Government announced that it was to scrap its 2030 climate change target and move to a system of 5-year carbon budgeting, with targets still in place to reach net zero by 2045. This decision was made despite Green opposition and led the Greens to call a general meeting to consider their deal with the SNP. On the morning of 25 April 2024, First Minister Hamsa  Yousaf held an unscheduled Cabinet meeting. Following that meeting, the Bute House agreement was, the First Minister stated at a press conference, “terminated with immediate effect”.  On the 29th of April, Hamsa Yousaf resigned as First Minister.

The fall of Hamsa Yousaf was ultimately the result of a decision to dump the Greens because of pressure from his more socially conservative members who feared the gender policies and environment policies of the Greens would lose them support among the traditional working class who had once reliably voted Labour. He had hoped to appear decisive but instead, the collapse of the deal with the Greens saw his support fall away.

A greater problem for the SNP is the loss of momentum for independence. While opinion polls show nearly half of Scots voters still in favor, support for the SNP has declined, and support for independence while high is static. This means another referendum is unlikely any time soon- without the promise of approaching independence, what is the SNP for?

The once-popular leaders of the SNP Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon had both been tarnished by scandals

The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

UKIP began as a fringe nationalist party in 1991, and by the 21st century was associated with one man — Nigel Farage — and one issue: opposition to Britain's membership of the EU. It owed its slowly growing national profile to a sense of dissatisfaction with the way in which the three

main parties seemed constantly to accommodate themselves to the quickening pace of European integration. In the 2014 European elections UKIP gained a total of 24 MEPs, making it the largest

UK party in the European Parliament. It won 3.9 million votes in the 2015 general election, although under the first-past-the-post voting system this total returned only one MP.

UKIP is a radical right-wing populist party, whose supporters tend to be older, more traditional people who feel left behind in a rapidly changing world. They are often people with lower levels of education and job security, anxious about what they see as challenges to their way of life. For many, immigration has been a major concern. UKIP supporters saw the arrival of large numbers of Eastern Europeans, following the expansion of the EU in 2004, as a threat to 'British jobs' and to the native British way of life. Unlike the older British National Party (BNP), which was associated with overt racial prejudice, UKIP seemed a more 'respectable' option. Its most prominent figure, Nigel Farage (party leader 2006-09 and 2010-16), was a charismatic individual whose chummy, outspoken persona was one to which many ordinary people could relate. By not conforming to the image of mainstream 'liberal establishment' figures such as Cameron, Clegg and Miliband, he appealed to voters who felt disillusioned with the three main parties.

The Green Party

The Green Party evolved from a party founded in 1973 as 'PEOPLE', later changing its name to the Ecology Party before assuming its present identity in 1985. The Green Party won its first seat at Westminster in 2010, when Caroline Lucas became MP for Brighton Pavilion. The party won more than one million votes across the UK in 2015, but failed to win any more seats.

The Green Party is a centre-left party that is not only concerned with environmental issues, but also with reducing social inequality

Reform UK (stylised as Reform UK: The Brexit Party from November 2023is a right-wing populist political party in the United Kingdom. It was founded with support from Nigel Farage in November 2018 as the Brexit Party, advocating hard Euroscepticism and a no-deal Brexit and was a significant political force in 2019. After Brexit, it was renamed to Reform UK in January 2021, and became primarily an anti-lockdown party during the COVID-19 pandemic.       in December 2022, it began campaigning on broader right-wing populist themes during the British cost-of-living crisis.