Henry McLeish keen on Labour-SNP ‘dialogue’

Henry McLeish said it would be 'good leadership' for Mr Miliband to maintain lines of communication with the SNP. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
Henry McLeish said it would be 'good leadership' for Mr Miliband to maintain lines of communication with the SNP. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
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FORMER First Minister Henry McLeish has called on Ed Miliband to “keep the lines of communication open” with the SNP as he warned that the opinion polls were pointing towards a minority government after May’s election.

Mr McLeish told The Scotsman it would be “good leadership” and the “best option” for Mr Miliband to have dialogue with a party like the SNP, which has a “social democratic” and centre-left platform like Labour.

He said Mr Miliband was right to “keep all options open” after the Labour leader failed to rule out a deal with Nicola Sturgeon’s party if the election on 7 May results in a hung Parliament, with none of the major parties holding an overall Commons majority.

Mr Miliband, when he was asked about possible cooperation between Labour and the SNP at Westminster to keep the Conservatives out of power, would only state that he was focussed on his party “winning a majority government” and pointedly failed to rule out an arrangement with the nationalists.

Mr McLeish, who was First Minister between 2000 and 2001, suggested that Mr Miliband could be forced to deal with the SNP if opinion polls showing the party is on course to make sweeping gains are right.

The former Scottish Labour leader opposes a pre-election pact between the two parties, but hinted that there was enough commons ground between them to reach a deal that could see a minority government led by Mr Miliband sustained in office by SNP votes.

He said that a minority Labour government could cooperate with the SNP in Commons votes on issues such as the protection of public services from cuts.

Mr McLeish said: “That would be good leadership and wise in the circumstances. It would be the best option for the future if there is no overall majority.

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“It makes sense for Scotland and the UK to have a channel of communication between MPs who want a free National Health Service and who believe that public services should be protected.

“That’s why we’ve got to keep all options open on the basis of a social democratic programme. We have to make it clear to the public that all options are open.”

A YouGov poll at the weekend put Labour and the Conservatives equal on 32 per cent in nationwide General Election voting intentions, with Ukip up five points compared to a similar survey on Friday on 18 per cent, Liberal Democrats on 7 per cent and the Greens on 6 per cent.

Recent polls have also suggested that the SNP could double its 20 per cent tally from the 2010 General election in May, costing Labour 20 seats or more.

Mr McLeish insisted that Labour could still win outright on 7 May and that the party could keep its 41 MPs in Scotland, despite the expected challenge from the SNP.

However, he called on Mr Miliband to prepare for an election outcome that could see him dependent on support from the SNP, Greens and Liberal Democrat to form a government and get legislation through the Commons.

He said: “The vote in May will be one of the toughest and most open elections in many years and there are two priorities for Labour.

“The first is that there is an overall win for Labour and secondly that Labour in Scotland sends 41 MPs to Westminster.

“Ed Miliband is right to keep all political options open and clearly noone in their right mind can contemplate an arrangement with the Conservatives or Ukip.

“Ed Miliband has to ensure that he keeps the lines of communication open with the Greens, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP.”

Meanwhile, former SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars suggested Labour and the nationalists could come to a post election deal in the event of a hung parliament.

Mr Sillars, who was a Labour MP during the last minority Labour government in the late 1970s, said a formal coalition with a Unionist party would be “fatal” and would “tie up forever” the SNP with anti-independence politicians.

However, Mr Sillars said the SNP MP could vote with Labour on some issues if it did not compromise the party’s backing for independence.

He said: “If we can stop a Tory government returning to power and there is a minority Labour government we could use the power given to us wisely.

“If Labour ends up wanting and needing the SNP to keep it in power as a minority government, it’s a matter of what policies they put forward.”

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