Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Dangling from a Scottish rope

The one Tory attack that has really stuck this election is that a minority Labour administration would be dependent for its survival on the support of the SNP. It has stuck so well that Ed Miliband has been forced to disavow, in very clear terms, the idea that Labour would do a deal with the SNP. In fact, this is what he said:
he was “not going to have a Labour government if it means deals or coalitions with the SNP”
That's a very wide-ranging thing to say. No coalitions is one thing, but no deals? He went even further on the Today programme on Monday, saying that he wouldn't even have conversations with the SNP. I think I can see what he's driving at, but it's a very risky strategy. What he wants to convey is that his administration would not be dependent on the SNP; what he wants to promise is that he won't make any deals to get his Queen's Speech through. The problem is, of course, is that governing requires more than this - there are hundreds of bills that need to pass, and Labour would need SNP support for each one. The idea that this can be done without deals being cut (let alone without even talking to them) is absurd.

Labour are pinning their hopes on the line put by George Eaton:

The Nationalists’ leverage, however, would be weaker than they and the Tories suggest. Their pledge never to prop up a Conservative government automatically restrains their bargaining power. Roy Hattersley, who served in Callaghan’s cabinet, draws a contrast with the Liberals’ position at that time. “The only pressure on the Lib-Lab pact was from the Liberals in the country. The Liberals in the country didn’t want them to prop up a Labour government,” he told me. “The Scottish National voters desperately want a Labour government. Therefore the pressure is on them to come to a compromise with Labour in a way it wasn’t under David Steel. The trump card that Ed Miliband has in his hands is that Nicola Sturgeon will never be forgiven by Scotland if she’s instrumental in there being a Tory government.”
Labour, in other words, can put SNP support in their pocket and not worry about it. Unquestioning loyalty is guaranteed because, if the SNP don't support Labour, they put the Tories in. I'm not Scottish, and I find the surge in SNP support fairly baffling, but I don't think the SNP can be taken for granted like this. The key difference between the upcoming scenario and the Lib-Lab pact days is that in the late 70s Labour had a majority over the Tories. For Labour to fall, it needed the Liberals and the SNP to vote with the Tories to bring them down. If Labour have fewer seats than the Tories, then all that would be needed is the SNP's abstention.

A positive vote with the Tories to get rid of Labour would, I can see, be a stretch for the SNP. Merely refusing to keep propping up a failing Government? That's a much easier thing to imagine. And if Labour think they can avoid this without talking to them then they have another think coming.

So, it's a Labour budget, and the SNP have made noises that they might not be able to vote for it, because it doesn't give enough to Scotland. Does Miliband try and make concessions? His words above make that very hard. Does he ignore them and push on regardless? He risks losing the budget. He's painting himself into a corner that might prove very tricky to break free from...


Blogger Recusant said...

George Eaton - and others who are spinning the same line - is plain wrong. In the long run, the SNP are interested in the break up of the Union and a little bit of chaos - and even a 'Tory' government - will serve that purpose. In the short run, they have elections to the Scottish Assembly to contest and will need to demonstrate that they have not let Labour have it their way. George Eaton seems to think that the SNP's mind will be on Westminster rather than Holyrood.

12:18 pm  

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