Comment: SNP once again at centre of UK politics

The SNP's pitch to voters is that they can guarantee a Labour government on Scottish terms if they hold the balance of power. Picture: TSPL

The SNP's pitch to voters is that they can guarantee a Labour government on Scottish terms if they hold the balance of power. Picture: TSPL

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In an echo of 1979, the SNP is again at the centre of the UK’s political framework, writes David Maddox

IT MAY feel like ancient history but the year 1979 still figures highly in Labour’s calculations as they begin to try to work out what they will do in the event of a hung parliament in Westminster.

SNP politician William Wolfe presents the Scottish National Party manifesto in Glasgow April 1979. Picture: TSPL

SNP politician William Wolfe presents the Scottish National Party manifesto in Glasgow April 1979. Picture: TSPL

Of course, 1979 was when Margaret Thatcher won power, but even more significantly for some it was achieved because the SNP joined the Tories in a vote of no confidence in James Callaghan’s Labour government. It took the SNP a long time to recover from the accusation of letting Thatcher in.

Roll forward 36 years and it is the SNP who are accusing Labour of siding with the Tories after sharing a platform in the Better Together campaign against independence and the message – if the polls are to be believed – has been hurting Labour in Scotland.

But despite all this, the SNP’s pitch to voters is that they can guarantee a Labour government on Scottish terms if they hold the balance of power by kicking out lots of Labour MPs. Which brings us neatly to why Ed Miliband is under huge pressure from all parts of his party to rule out any deal with the SNP in the way he has ruled out one with those anti-EU nationalists Ukip.

The most obvious reason for this is that Labour would immediately remove any good reason for voting SNP. If the SNP held the balance of power but nobody would work with them, all Scottish voters would have achieved is chaos. In this respect, the whole “Scotland won’t get to use the pound” assertion in the referendum debate by daring voters to go the other way has influenced Labour strategy.

But there are other reasons, chief of which is that English and Welsh Labour MPs have had enough of Scottish devolution. They have swallowed the West Lothian question and continuation of the Barnett Formula but will not agree to a deal which gives Scotland full home rule as is being demanded by Alex Salmond. In fact, the Smith Commission proposals are probably the end of the line.

One major opponent of a deal with the SNP is shadow chancellor Ed Balls, because if there was further devolution then it would be difficult for a Labour chancellor to get his Budget passed with Scottish MPs unable to vote on it.

The final issue is that nobody quite knows what the SNP really want and who is really leading it. Nicola Sturgeon says one day that scrapping Trident is the red line, then Mr Salmond says it is home rule. One Labour source said the SNP is “too confused and unreliable” to make any deal with.

But in the end this all comes back to 1979. If a vote for the SNP isn’t going to get you a Labour-led government, then Labour can claim it will get you the Tories again – and play the tribal, geographic card they have so long complained about the Nationalists using.

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