Thursday, 22 January 2015

Could A Coalition With Labour Split The SNP?

The official election campaign for the May Westminster election has now been launched, at least by the major parties. The SNP actually launched their campaign, "unofficially" as soon as the Referendum was over last September, and when Alex Salmond, although no longer the SNP leader, announced the SNP would never deal with the Tories at Westminster "under any circumstances" but would certainly be prepared to prop up a Labour government in a "hung parliament". The significance of that statement, as opposed to the statement itself, has been almost totally ignored by the mainstream media. I have already commented that the SNP and Yes Campaign did not fight a nationalist campaign and in some respects, not even a campaign for independence and, with Salmond's simple assertion, the SNP gave notice that it intended to continue with its class campaign until May. Any one unfamiliar with the voting patterns in Scotland, could be forgiven for assuming that there would be only one significant social class - the working class - in an independent Scotland. By the same token, any one of a conservative bent, could be forgiven for believing there would be no place for Conservatives or even the middle classes who support them, in an independent Scotland.

There has been substantial "policy creep" by the SNP since last September as the willingness to "prop up" a Labour government in Westminster has now become preparedness to have a full-blown coalition. Again, according to Alex Salmond, who is still not the leader of the SNP or the leader of the SNP's Westminster group or even a Westminster MP, the election in May is not about "independence" or even another referendum. Scots who voted "Yes" last September and joined the SNP in droves in the aftermath, who have kept the demand for "independence" at boiling point ever since, are being told to expect no better than "Home Rule" at best, and no matter how many MPs are elected under the SNP banner. The latest Mori poll suggests the SNP will not only take 55 seats next May, it will also have the majority of the popular vote, while Labour will have 4 MPs and the Tories and Lib/Dems will have none. There was a time when such a result would have been considered as a mandate for the SNP to negotiate independence and present the results to the Scottish people in a referendum. It would be wonderful if it happened but not even the most blinkered Nationalist believes it will, although more realistic expectations still suggest the SNP will be the biggest party in Scotland after the election in May. If that were to happen, is it realistic to expect "Home Rule" to be granted by a Labour government, albeit one which is in a coalition with the SNP?

I firmly believe it is about as realistic as to think Labour in government, even a coalition government, would be prepared to get rid of Trident and nuclear weapons. Why do I think that? Perhaps it would be instructive to look at the inherent contradictions in the SNP's current statements and policies, and the potential effects they will have on the electorate.

* The New SNP would no longer call itself a Nationalist party, given the number of the higher echelons who claimed the Referendum campaign was "not about nationalism" not "about identity". Scottish culture was dismissed by some as "kilts and haggis", as the campaign degenerated into a class war rather than a desire for the rebirth of a Scottish nation/state.
* To say there will be no dealings with the Tories "under any circumstances" is to dismiss as of no account, the feelings and aspirations of almost 17% of Scots who voted Tory as recently as 2010, when 412,855 Scottish electors voted Tory. That was an increase of over 43,000 on the number who voted Tory in 2005. In 1997, 493,059 voted Tory, which was almost 2,000 MORE than voted SNP in 2010. Given the tenor of the Referendum campaign and subsequent statements by the SNP leadership, what incentive is there for anyone of a Conservative bent to vote SNP? Will Tory voters use their vote to support whichever party has the best chance of defeating the SNP?
* A political party, which claims to be "the Nation's party" but which cannot straddle the social classes, and seems prepared to write off the support of over 400,000 or 17% of the electorate, will find great difficulty in making a "national" argument or appealing to a feeling of "nationhood".
* The attacks on the Labour Party by the SNP and its adherents since the referendum, many of them justified, have been made in some instances, in such a ludicrous manner as to make any suggestion of a coalition between SNP and Labour quite laughable. Jim Murphy has been vilified as the Devil incarnate and has been greeted with cries of "traitor" and "quisling" when he appears in public but he will be one of Labour's Westminster MPs (assuming he holds his seat) the SNP want to put into government. After Labour voted for the Tory austerity cuts, Pete Wishart, SNP MP for North Perthshire, tweeted - "Get them out" - . That was followed by a chorus from other SNP MPs, appealing to Scots to "get rid of Labour". Why? - so that the SNP MPs that take their places in Scotland, can then put Labour in power in Westminster? That message does no more than invite derision.
* Nicola Sturgeon has made Trident a "red line issue" and has claimed no deal would be done with any party that supported Trident. That automatically excludes Labour, at least on current policy, from any coalition deal, but funny things tend to happen on the way to office. The Labour Party may find some way to keep the equivalent of Trident but call it something else, after all Jim Murphy has managed to persuade himself he is not a "Unionist"; but under no circumstances will they denude the UK of nuclear weapons. The SNP's "red line" will likely morph into a very pale orange or even yellow, if it intends to "keep Labour in power".

I find it incredible that any Nationalist party in Scotland (SNP) would announce months before the election in May, it will enter a coalition with a Unionist party (Labour), in the hope of being given more powers for Scotland. To also announce no deal would be made "under any circumstances", with the only other Unionist party likely to garner enough English votes to form the next UK government (Tories), either on its own or as the senior partner in a coalition, removes the bulk of the pressure from the SNP's intended partner. Assuming the SNP will keep its intention to have no deal with the Tories, why would the Labour party feel particularly threatened or under any pressure to offer the SNP any more powers than are already on the table from the Smith Commission? For this to happen, a number of assumptions are being made, some of which almost beggar belief. It is assumed:-

* The SNP will increase its representation substantially, at the expense of Labour mainly, and the Lib/Dems.
* The Tories will gain insufficient seats in England and Wales to form a government, either on their own or in another coalition.
* The Labour Party will not win enough seats to form a government on its own
* The Lib/Dems, UKIP, Plaid Cymru, NI MPs play no part in the negotiations held to form a government. This may be because they are not interested (unlikely) or their numbers are insufficient to make them relevant (also unlikely). If they do play a part, they will be in agreement with whatever demands the SNP makes and will vote accordingly.
* Labour will concede every demand, including the demand for Home Rule, made by the SNP, which in turn will be required to concede little or nothing (doubtful).

Notwithstanding the contradictions in the SNP message, as outlined above, all of which are going to have to be explained away to an increasingly sceptical electorate the closer we get to May, there will be a large number of SNP supporters who will require to be persuaded to accept a coalition with a Unionist party. They will fall into two camps; the traditional SNP supporters who still see themselves as Nationalists and, the converts who have joined since the Referendum. The kind of unthinking obedience to the leadership line that characterised the SNP and Yes Campaigns during the Referendum campaign, may not be so easily imposed between now and May. Many of those new SNP members who have already come across from Labour, have let it be known they would not be happy to see Labour kept in office, given the track record of that party in Scotland and its attitude to Scottish independence, which drove it to campaign alongside the Tories. Traditional Nationalists opposed the party line in 1987, when the "hung parliament" scenario was first launched and there may be even stronger opposition this time, given the greater possibility of a hung parliament actually happening. The very idea of perhaps taking a majority of Scottish seats, then being asked to keep a Unionist party in power, in order to be given no more than "Home Rule" will be anathema to them. They want independence, not to be the catalyst that allows Unionists to claim that Devolution works.

What could be the alternative for a substantial number of SNP MPs in a hung parliament scenario? For a start, there is little hope of Labour granting "Home Rule" and the best the SNP can expect is perhaps a few extra powers over and above those suggested by the Smith Commission. Alex Salmond led a minority government in Holyrood between 2007 and 2011 and has made much of the experience he gained. The term of office was highly successful, albeit the Tories supported the SNP when it mattered. Salmond not only gained experience in running a minority government, he would also learn where and when pressure can be applied effectively, what issues can be forced through and which can be sacrifised. The SNP will first have to decide whether it is prepared to push for independence or if it is content with a few increased powers; to make devolution work or make life difficult for Westminster to function. The decision by Nicola Sturgeon to vote on the issue of the NHS in England makes sense because whatever happens, will effect the budget for the NHS in Scotland. But how far will the SNP continue with helping a Labour government to be successful in England, knowing success in England will invariably have a knock-on effect in Scotland? Will the SNP begin to like Westminster enough to attempt to stay there in numbers because Labour will drive a hard bargain if there is to be a coalition?

To date, all the speculation has been about the SNP holding the balance of power, with little or no mention being made of the other parties. The reality of the May election is unlikely to match the speculation so far but it is safe to assume the SNP will increase their number of MPs. By how many is the question but unless there is an electoral disaster for the party, the increase should be substantial and how they are used will be vital. The Scottish independence movement is in no mood to be conned, either by the Unionist parties or by the SNP, particularly not by the SNP. Expectations are running high, perhaps too high, but the electorate will know very quickly if it is being sold short. Woe betide the party responsible for the sell out.