Thursday, 23 April 2015

The REAL reason David Cameron is terrified of a Labour+SNP deal

Ever since it became apparent from opinion polls that The Labour Party was facing potential wipeout in Scotland in the coming election, David Cameron and Conservatives have been desperate to get Ed Miliband to rule out any form of alliance or deal with the Scottish National Party.

Their argument for this is that Labour allying themselves with the SNP to form a government would be a betrayal of the rest of the country, as the Scottish Nationalists' ultimate goal is to 'break up our country'. Many of the final few Prime Minister's Questions at the start of the year involved Cameron calling on Miliband to rule out a coalition arrangement with the SNP. But even when he did so, the Tories were still not satisfied.

You see, while Miliband has ruled out a coalition deal, he has not ruled out the SNP supporting him on a vote-by-vote basis, in the event of a hung parliament after the 7th May. A 'confidence and supply' arrangement, whereby the SNP would support Labour in any vote of no confidence by the other parties, thereby maintaining Labour's position in government, and 'supply' referring to them supporting Labour passing their budget.

This has angered the Tories - as Cameron outlined on the Andrew Marr Show recently, he believed that even a loose deal such as that would be disastrous for the country, and that the SNP would use the fact that they hold the balance of power in Westminster to blackmail a minority Labour government.

However, here is the reality of such claims:

Firstly, while the SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, has made it clear that her and her party's ultimate goal is Scottish Independence (which Scotland decisively voted 'No' to in the autumn of last year), she has maintained that that is not what this coming election is about. Sturgeon has claimed that there would need to be a decisive change in circumstances before the SNP were to put another independence referendum before the Scottish people in the near future. This election, her and her party claim, is about getting the best possible deal for Scotland as part of the United Kingdom, and through the influence they would have in Westminster.

What Cameron has also claimed is that the SNP, as they are Scottish Nationalists, have no concern for the rest of the United Kingdom. The picture the Tories paint is of the SNP being some anarchic force at Westminster, with no concern for the people of the rest of the UK. But again, Sturgeon and her own party's statements contradict this entirely.

Sturgeon was very clear in the first election debate on ITV: "I won't pretend I don't want Scotland to be independent - I do. But as long as Scotland remains part of the Westminster system, the SNP will seek to work with others of like-mind across the UK to deliver positive change."

You have to bear in mind - if Sturgeon and the SNP really didn't care about the rest of the UK, what would be her motivation in saying such a thing? Part of the point of the Scottish National Party is that they only have candidates standing in Scotland - so if you live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, you can't vote for them. Why reach out with a 'message of friendship' to the rest of us if our votes, our concerns - don't matter to her?

The answer: because she genuinely cares.

Of course the SNP are put out that they didn't win the independence vote that they fought so hard for last year. But Scotland voted No. So if the view of the majority of Scots is to stay in the union, the SNP's job is to provide Scotland with the best possible deal, if enough SNP MPs are chosen to represent Scotland as a whole.

But if you're in a position where you're potentially going to hold the balance of power, you should use that power responsibly. And far from what the Conservatives seem desperate to imply, that is what the SNP intend to do.

The Conservatives have threatened that the SNP could still cause havoc, however, given their commitment to wanting to scrap our nuclear deterrent programme, Trident.

Now, I'm no great fan of this programme myself. It's set to cost us over £100bn, and like the SNP and the Green Party, I believe that money could be better spent on conventional military spending, or investment in our public services.

But the assertion that Labour would abandon Trident to court SNP support is ridiculous, as is highlighted from this video earlier this month, featuring Jonathan Freedland and Owen Jones:

Any vote on Trident's renewal would be backed by the Tories, and since Labour and the SNP appear unlikely to go into a formal coalition anyway, then they instead would be counting on Conservative and Liberal Democrat support to pass such a bill - which would overwhelmingly defeat SNP and Green opposition (as irritating as that would be for many of us.)

So, the only thing we may have to fear, as English, Welsh or Northern Irish voters, is whether the SNP is likely to put forward another referendum on Scottish Independence during the course of the next parliament.

But here's the paradox - the thing the SNP seem to hate the most, and what probably gave them a lot of ammunition in the referendum last year for the 'Yes' vote - is the Tories.

They have already categorically ruled out ever supporting a Tory government. Any talk of propping up a party in government has been solely focused on Labour.

But the irony is, if the SNP wanted to win an indepenence referendum, their best hope would be a Tory government after May 7th. Scotland is typically more left-wing, so leaving a union lead by a Prime Minister so ideologically opposed to most of their electorate would have great appeal.

By contrast, although the Scottish people feel let down by Labour (who have become complacent after safely holding Scottish seats for many years), they have considerably less against them, and if Sturgeon can't be Prime Minister, her and her party influencing Miliband is the next best thing.

 For the SNP to offer another referendum and win it in the near future, they would have to either prop up a Tory government (which their electorate would hate them for), or provide a crap deal for Scotland through Westminster. Neither would end well for them, but if they provide a good enough deal for Scotland, any independence referendum in the next five years would be futile anyway.

So, that's the basis of the Tory line of attack debunked, just through simple logic. So let's ask ourselves: why is it that the Tories still insist Miliband should rule out any kind of deal?

The answer is simple: it's because they'd lose.

The latest UKElect forecast (as of the 19th April) puts Labour 3 seats ahead, at 274, with the Tories trailing slightly at 271. The SNP are forecast to have 54 of Scotland's 59 seats.

Since the SNP have vowed not to prop up a Tory government, but the likelihood is SNP support would push Labour into majority territory, above the required 325 seats, then of course the Tories want to do everything in their power to stop it happening. Even if they'd be ruling a minority government propped up by UKIP and the DUP, the Tories wouldn't want the likely election kingmakers taking their right to govern away from them, especially if the seat difference between them and Labour is to be so narrow.

But that's literally it. A matter of electoral arithmetic. Unless they do something colossal, the Tories are going to lose a lot of seats in this election, and fall pretty substantially short of a majority. But they could still try to hold out as a minority government with a little support from other parties, even if it doesn't push them into majority territory.

But if the third largest party is inclined to back Labour rather than them, well frankly...they're screwed. That's why they want Labour to not even potentially rely on SNP support.

Now look, I am not anti-union. While I can sympathise with a large part of Scotland wanting to leave the UK, especially from a government led by the Tories, it's still not a position I agree with. I also don't think it would currently be beneficial to Scotland or the rest of the UK were they to leave (but that's another story).

But as the SNP have repeatedly pointed out, that's not what's on the table in this election, and as I've highlighted here, it's unlikely to happen at any point in the near future - at least not in the next parliament.

The SNP also have a rhetoric which is in many ways more popular than Labour's: they want an end to austerity cuts, and that is a position much of the country sympathises with. Labour on the other hand, want to balance the books, but protect spending on education and health, and make sure that working people feel the benefits of the economic recovery.

Some sort of happy medium between the two would no doubt be good for the country - an SNP (combined with Plaid Cymru and Green support, who have similar aims) influence could help stop the worst of the cuts, while Labour being the ones in charge could still make sure there was a realistic and measured approach.

That's not to say that Labour - and pro-unionists in general - don't have a right to feel a bit wary of the SNP. But this blatant scare-mongering has got to stop.

People are sick of the Conservative-led government that we have at the moment. Having said that, they're not totally ready to trust Labour again - and I'm not sure I blame them.

Perhaps a broadly-left government (which we still shouldn't give an easy ride) is what we need.

***UPDATE***: Since this post was published, Ed Miliband has now ruled out even having a confidence-and-supply deal with the SNP (much to my personal annoyance). However, Nicola Sturgeon responded by saying that Miliband has been 'bullied' into that position by the Tories. She said that while she understood why he was saying it, because during the election campaign the Conservatives and Labour feel they need to give the impression they can win a majority, what Miliband says now and what he says the morning after the election may be rather different.

Miliband has also said numerous times in interviews that he takes an old-fashioned view with regard to this, and would prefer to see what happens on May 7th than get too bogged down in hypotheticals. Based on that, and that I agree with Sturgeon that Miliband has been bullied into this current position by the Tories, I still think that a Lab-SNP deal of some sort is likely.

Even if it is not made within the first few weeks or months of the parliament (Sturgeon has indicated that the SNP wouldn't vote down Labour's first Queen's Speech as a minority government, even if there was some disagreement, due to the risk of  letting back in the Tories) then I imagine some agreement would have to be reached eventually, at the very least to avoid gridlock of budgets not passing.

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