So, in the scenario outlined in the previous post, with neither Conservative nor Labour gaining the necessary half of Westminster seats +1 required to form a majority government, the LibDem vote is projected to collapse, with the SNP supposed to replace them as the third largest party in the Commons.
In this regard I should at this point say that I am unmoved by the stats showing 40+ seats going to the SNP (never mind Ashcroft proclaiming 56 out of 59 Scottish seats), no matter how rock-hard the polls saying this have been over the last 5 months. Don’t get me wrong, I think it would be excellent (and, conceivably – an excuse to dust down and repurpose my ‘We are the 45+’ badge – but I doubt the ability of the public to hold firmly to their expressed voting intention, in the face of the incessant BBC onslaught, no matter how firm their beliefs. For whatever reason, Gordon Brown seemed to come out of the Referendum campaign with at least an initial bounce of support, so even though his constituency seems under some kind of threat, I find it hard to believe that people are going to wake up and smell the coffee, after so many years and even his profound negligence on Dalgety Bay has not triggered sufficient alarm bells for them not to oust him beforehand…and one has to concede that ‘feelnothing factor’ may carry on to his successor.
But given our starting point was a likely Conservative/Labour/SNP seat breakdown of 273/273/49, let’s go with the flow for the sake of argument. This count leaves two prime scenarios, one of which has Nicola Sturgeon as KingMaker, and the other one which we will deal with in the subsequent post.
How would such a scenario play out with the rest of the UK? Certainly, the attack posters have been using the idea of a deal with the SNP as a major weakness for Ed Miliband’s Labour Party – vote Labour, and you’ll get the SNP, has been the narrative down south. (Somewhat ironic, given that competing campaigns from Labour and the Conservatives in Scotland have been arguing, respectively, ‘Vote SNP Get Tories’ and ‘Vote SNP Get Labour’…) Which is a little bizarre, given the numbers that would be required to get any significant legislation through for Scotland, with a simple ganging up of some Conservatives and Labour, never mind the LibDems, able to block anything with some ease. And then there would be the unlikely gauntlet of the (avowedly SNP-free) House of Lords to be run…does anyone really see any progressive legislation promoted by the SNP surviving to get through that legislative chamber unscathed?
Sharp-witted readers will realise that this of course is the very same gauntlet that any Smith-derived legislation would need to progress through, with a similar unlikelihood of safe passage. Unless, of course, one of the coming together (if not ‘red line’) issues in any SNP and Labour deal was the abolition of that self-same House of Lords. I doubt that ‘Red Ed’ has a single socialist concept in his body, but I suspect that even he sees a strong argument for that body finally being abolished, before it finally does outstrip the National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party as the single largest unelected legislative body on the planet. Now that would REALLY start to free up the Westminster system from its moribund shackles…
But surely giving such an influential role to the SNP would be enormously unpopular – if not suicidal – for the Labour Party in England, in particular? One need only look at polls like the Future of England Survey, which showed that 71% of voters in England (and 62% of those in the UK) believed that Scottish MPs (of whatever hue) should be prevented from voting on England-only laws. Surely this is an indicator of a xenophobic opposition to Scottish (especially SNP) involvement in the UK government?
Apparently not: Comres polling for (everyone’s favourite oil rag) the Daily Mail has shown that 57 per cent of people in England believe the SNP should be able to play a part in government after the General Election.
I am, of course, using the term ‘deal’ between SNP and Labour, as Sturgeon ruled out any coalition with Labour last year: everyone has seen what a poisoned chalice such a relationship has been for the LibDems (and, historically, for any party as junior partner in a Westminster coalition), and noone wants to lead a resurgent party that has just broken through the 100,000 members threshold down that self-destructive pathway. This did not stop many coalition government ministers howling for Miliband to repeat Sturgeon’s assurance of no coalition pact between them, which he finally managed to do last week. And it is clear that his party are very far away from wanting to rule out any deals with the SNP. Two polls on 14th March show that most Labour supporters do NOT want to rule out a deal with the SNP – 63% of respondents on the LabourList site (with only 15% wanting to rule out any deal whatsoever), perhaps reflecting the 48% of Labour members who want unilateral disarmament. The other poll covered those that voted Labour in the Scottish elections, and shows a much smaller majority for a deal, with Labour 2010 voters split 63/23 compared to those intending to vote Labour at Holyrood split 47/41. One could argue that this reflects a different perspective – in the UK as a whole, the SNP being seen as something to drag Labour’s principles back towards the left, put some steel into their words on protecting the NHS and remind them of the large support for getting rid of Trident. In Scotland, those who support Labour now are largely down to diehards, who most likely blame the SNP for all of their woes in the world.
At a time when the expression of UK-wide disillusionment and frustration with the Westminster-system is in danger of being thwarted by two nuanced shades of right wing parties, it may well be that it falls to Scotland to act as the Moral Conscience of the UK, promoting the unfashionable values of protecting the NHS and removing nuclear weapons.
“The plan for a stronger Scottish Parliament we seek agreement on is for nothing else than a modern form of Scottish Home Rule within the UK.” (Gordon Brown’s Loanhead Miners’ Club speech live 50 minute BBC broadcast)