If there is still a place for such a thing as "Emergency Resolutions" on the agenda of the SNP Annual Conference this month, there should be one which addresses the issue of how the SNP will behave, if they have a substantial presence in Westminster after the next general election. With the latest polls showing Labour in melt-down in Scotland, the problems with Ed Miliband's leadership of the Labour Party and the Scottish "branch office" facing its own leadership contest, the election prospects for Labour in Scotland do not look good. One poll showed their Scottish MPs reduced to 4, losing the other 36 to the SNP. The thought of that actually happening gives me no end of pleasure but, realistically no experienced follower of Scottish politics expects it to happen. However, if the current mood in Scotland continues to the next general election in May 2015, the SNP looks likely to take a substantial number of constituencies from both Labour and the Lib/Dems, giving them anything up to 20 seats in Westminster. That is 9 more than the 11 seats the party won in October 1974 and, depending on the seats won by the other Westminster parties, including UKIP, some commentators, as well as more enthusiastic members of the SNP, have speculated about the SNP holding the "balance of power".
We have been here before, prior to the election of 1987, when the "hung parliament" scenario of Alex Salmond and his infamous, " if Parliament is to be hung, let it hang by a Scottish rope", persuaded the SNP to run that central campaign theme, talking up the Labour vote in Scotland and leading to the loss of Western Isles and Dundee East to Labour. This time the speculation may be a bit more realistic but it throws up its own problems for the SNP, some constitutional, others strategic and tactical which go to the heart of what the New SNP actually stands for. On 2nd November, Alex Salmond said, "I certainly think there is no chance whatsoever of the SNP ever going into coalition with the Conservative Party..." "I think it is unlikely (to go into coalition) with Labour, but who knows?" He went on to say it would be taken on a "case by case basis" if Labour wanted SNP support. Alex Salmond has still not said whether or not he will stand for Westminster, although every man and his dug expects him to do so, therefore making any comment whatsoever, about the likely strategy of the SNP's Westminster group, could cause difficulty both for them and more importantly, his successor Nicola Sturgeon.
Of even more importance, it raises serious questions about what New SNP means by independence, the message it sends to the thousands of new members. Salmond also said, "Labour will not be forgiven or forgotten for a generation in Scottish politics....because of their cooperation with the Tories on the Unionist side in the independence referendum....they will pay a heavy price for many years to come." Not if the SNP keep it in power in Westminster it won't, in return for what? Callaghan preferred to risk defeat in a general election in 1979, to granting any concessions on devolution. He was more responsible for the Thatcher years than ever the SNP was. Will the current Labour party be any different? What is the purpose of the SNP, is it to get independence or make it easier for Westminster and Devolution to work? After a generation of the "Gradualist" approach of demonstrating ability and competence in devolved government, the SNP failed to win independence in the referendum, which was the promise held out, in return for unquestioning support for the gradualist strategy. For the SNP to keep ANY Unionist party in power in Westminster must cause enormous concern and strain among the members, but to keep Labour in power would be to breath life into the one party in Scotland which has betrayed the interests of the Scottish people more than any other. The upsurge in SNP membership is a direct consequence of Labour's perceived betrayal in the referendum and those new members want Labour to be punished, not kept in office.
In his new book, "Scotland. The Battle for Independence", Gordon Wilson, the man who led the SNP for eleven years, commented, he was "struck by the ambition of many delegates who wished to have a career in the devolved parliament now that the list system made this a realistic proposition". In other words, the Ministerial Mondeo syndrome. Gordon was commenting on the period when Gradualism was adopted by the party and independence came TENTH on the party's list of ten priorities. Since Salmond announced he was standing down as both leader of the SNP and First Minister, I have spoken to a number of party members, most of them full of enthusiasm for the future, although bitterly disappointed with the result of the referendum. Inevitably, discussion included the strategy of the referendum campaign itself, as well as hopes for the future. The future obviously included the new leadership of Nicola Sturgeon, as well as the candidates for the Deputy Leader. As usual, I stressed the inconsistencies, to say nothing of the contradictions, in New SNP's policies, some of them of long standing, particularly on the question of the EU.
"Independence in Europe" was always a nonsense and became even more of a nonsense as EU centralisation increased. But the SNP has been nothing if not consistent in its total inability to see the contradictions in its policies on the EU. At its National Council in March 2000, the party agreed to support the euro, with control of monetary policy, interest rates etc passing to the European Central Bank. In the same motion, it also emphasised its support for the EU as a Confederation. That this was an impossibility passed them by, and despite the EU's increasing centralisation, SNP support for the organisation has also increased. The three candidates for the Deputy Leader's post in the SNP, appeared on Scotland Tonight and were asked what their attitudes were to a number of SNP policies which had been highlighted during the referendum. On immigration both Stewart Hosie and Keith Brown favoured controlled immigration but also emphasised that membership of the EU is "essential". It is inconceivable that two Ministers in the Scottish government do not know that members of the EU cannot control immigration. They also still favoured the currency union which caused so much of a problem for the SNP and the Yes Campaign during the referendum, and which they were told was "incompatible with sovereignty" by none other than the Governor of the Bank of England, as well as numerous other economists.
A large Westminster contingent of SNP MPs will inevitably cause tension if their handling of strategy and tactics there, does not find favour with the leadership in the Scottish Parliament. At the same time, the leadership in Scotland will find it difficult to micro-manage events as they unfold in both Holyrood and Westminster. Keith Brown said he wants to ensure that the new members are allowed to play a part immediately, in policy formation in the SNP. Delegates to Annual Conference will have been decided long ago, by the branches and constituencies, therefore are unlikely to include many new members. A great many of those new members are going to be more than a little disappointed if the campaign slogan for the next Westminster election is to be "Vote SNP - And Get Labour"