SCOTLAND has developed a clear lead within the UK on how to manage hung parliaments. But the UK’s awkwardness in this is constricting our politics. If this general election produces a majority government, probably Conservative, the “problem” of hung parliaments may seem to have disappeared, at least for the moment. But it doesn’t look as though a majority Conservative Government is what the electorate wants and some of the drivers in the election are our collective alarm at what happens if no-one gets a majority.

There is some genuine distaste for hung parliaments. They are seen subliminally as producing devious, obscure inter-party deals with a hint of corruption, all a bit Continental. Our enthusiasm for government formation to be on direct drive from an election outcome has traditionally been seen as a strong argument for the first-past-the-post electoral system, justifying its often perverse results.

But our near neighbours in Europe, and our cousins in New Zealand, see real advantages in the deal-making that hung parliaments generate. The German constitution, which British experts helped draft, specifically aimed to minimise the risk of all political power falling to a single party – an objective warmly shared by most Germans. And Germany hasn’t done badly. Deal-making can have its sleazy side. In Ireland governments within one or two seats of a majority have occasionally succumbed to the temptation of surviving by giving crucial independents mouth-watering deals on hospitals and other local pet projects.

More often, deal-making means that one party can’t impose measures which most voters oppose and must make arrangements which have wider support, often offering longer-term stability. Scotland has seen both coalitions and minority governments work well.

New Zealand has refined the options further. I once saw Helen Clark, as Prime Minister, give a masterclass to some visiting Westminster MPs on the tools party leaders could play with: full coalition, even with one-seat parties if need be; and a range of confidence and supply deals, where another party agrees to the basics needed to keep a government in place, sometimes without promises to support anything else but usually in exchange for at least one thing on the smaller party’s wish list.

New Zealand arguably took this too far once, with a foreign minister who was part of a confidence and supply deal but not a formal coalition member: he was free to criticise the non-foreign policy measures taken by a Cabinet which he did not normally attend. Even that more or less worked – but is probably not to be recommended, and hard to see in Whitehall.

In this general election, suspicion of these compromises among many of the parties – and encouraged by them in the wider electorate – has hamstrung debate. Even Jo Swinson, leading a party supposedly open to coalitions and consensus-building, has felt bound to predicate her campaign on an assumption of winning a Liberal Democrat majority. This has damaged her credibility.

Fear of a Labour majority may be putting off voters who would like to see several Labour policies pursued, but in a context where other parties constrained their more exuberant policies. Nicola Sturgeon has won much (electorally useless) credit in England, Wales and Northern Ireland because her speeches and interviews don’t have to pretend that the SNP wants a UK majority. Almost alone, she is free to talk about post-election deals. If the others could do this more openly, we would be having a more sensible election.

Voters, let alone political parties, won’t learn to love coalitions by 12 December. But it might be good if the media, print and electronic, started to widen our perspectives.

George Fergusson is a former senior diplomat.