Ed Miliband has dodged the question over whether he would be willing to work with the SNP since the fallout from the Scottish independence referendum catapulted the nationalists to UK-wide prominence. Now, a week before the general election, he has made a seemingly definite promise that he will not.
This, in short, is ridiculous. Miliband is either lying or a fool.
For context, the SNP is set to win a significant majority of the Scottish seats in the House of Commons. There are 59 seats in Scotland; the various election forecasts predict they will take anywhere between 49 and 56 of them. An Ipsos-MORI poll a few days ago even predicted a complete wipeout for the other parties, with the SNP holding all 59, though this seems unlikely. However, a seat total of around 50 seems eminently doable.
This will make Nicola Sturgeon’s party the third-largest in the House of Commons almost without doubt; the Liberal Democrats would have to hold almost all of their 57 seats to maintain third place, something which no poll almost since the last election has suggested they will do. The SNP will, therefore, be in a pivotal position of power.
Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed that the party will not support a Conservative government under any situation. With the Tories and Labour neck-and-neck in the polls, this was Ed Miliband’s lifeline. The loss of Labour’s Scottish fiefdom to the SNP surge mattered little in Parliamentary terms as long as the option of a deal with Sturgeon’s party was on the table. Labour could afford to come a few seats behind Cameron’s Tories, because they would be able to call on a healthy 50 or so SNP MPs to support their Queen’s Speech.
Now, however, he has a serious problem. His statement to the Question Time audience last night ruled out not only a coalition, which hasn’t really been on the cards for months, but also any ‘deal’ with the Scottish Nationals. His argument centred around not wanting concede things like scrapping Trident or holding a second independence referendum to Sturgeon’s party, but it leaves Labour without their largest possible ally in Parliament.
Before last night, Miliband could have struck an agreement with the SNP to support the Labour Party on confidence and supply bills – i.e. budgets and votes of confidence in the government. In doing so, he would have had to concede some things to the nationalists, of course, but Sturgeon had made it quite clear that neither scrapping Trident or holding another referendum were red lines. On most other policy areas, the SNP aren’t so far removed from Labour that making some compromises would really have been an issue.
But Miliband, presumably running scared from the rhetoric of the Tory press that a Labour-SNP deal would threaten the very future of the country, has now ruled this out, with the result that any Labour minority government will now be completely ineffective, not to mention far less likely.
Now, the Labour party will have to beat the Tories in terms of seats, and win support from the Liberal Democrats if – as seems likely – the margin of victory is narrower than the 25-30 MPs the Lib Dems are likely to hold. And that is just to be able to form the government.
Once Miliband is inside No. 10, he will find it almost impossible to govern effectively. The SNP would support a Labour Queen’s Speech to stop the Tories getting back in, but once Ed is installed in Downing Street the Scottish Nationals will hold him to ransom over every single vote. The pressure they will exert in such a situation will be far greater than if Miliband had formed a pre-determined deal, and will result in an unstable government which will struggle to pass laws.
The only saving grace is that the Conservatives will find it even more impossible to govern should they have the edge on May 7th, meaning a Cameron-led government will be prevented from implementing the harsh further cuts to public spending and draconian welfare reforms which have been promised. The SNP will simply vote down any Conservative bills they disagree with, and since there is far less Tory-SNP common ground than Labour-SNP, they will block far more Tory legislation than Labour. Silver linings, and all that.
That, however, would have happened even if Ed Miliband had not made this monumental error of judgement. The SNP would never have worked with the Tories. Now it looks as if they will be prevented from working with Labour as well. This is one of the few occasions where I actually hope a politician was lying. Otherwise, Mr. Miliband has been very, very foolish indeed.
This article is cross-posted with the author’s blog, Cynical Optimist