Labour leader Keir Starmer was right to spell it out: no deal with SNP – Brian Wilson

Most observers identify Black Wednesday in September 1992, five months after John Major won his majority, as the day the Tories lost a General Election five years later.

Keir Starmer could not have been more emphatic in ruling out a deal with the SNP (Picture: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)
Keir Starmer could not have been more emphatic in ruling out a deal with the SNP (Picture: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

It takes a seismic financial event for the electorate to really take notice. It happened then to Norman Lamont as interest rates soared to 12 per cent and Kwasi Kwarteng has achieved the same indelible effect with his idiotic Budget and its schoolboy errors.

Even worse for the Tory faithful was Prime Minister Truss’s round of local radio interviews. Their message was inescapable. Things are not going to get better. She is a dud (in a way John Major wasn’t) and it is too late for buyers’ remorse.

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Another misfortune for the Tories in a busy week was that Keir Starmer went far towards transcending the credibility barrier with his speech to the Labour Party conference.

Whether he will be elected remains to seen, but the essential test of electability has been passed.

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On one point, Starmer could not have been more emphatic. There will be no deals with the Scottish Nationalists. That was an essential message which he might have chosen to avoid. After all, Labour has one MP in Scotland and the SNP has 44. Would it not be safer to hedge bets? The answer is: “absolutely not”.

The most widely quoted reason is the impact on voters in the rest of Britain. In 2011, it worked brilliantly for the Tories to use the image of Alex Salmond with Ed Miliband in his pocket. Unfortunately, this had the ring of plausibility and Labour completely failed to foresee the impact it would have outside Scotland, never mind inside it.

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It also played straight into the hands of the SNP (as well as the ego of Salmond) who knew the election of a Tory government would enhance their own fortunes, as it duly did. Eleven years on, the last thing they want to see is the return of a Labour government of the United Kingdom.

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That explains the second reason why Starmer was right to categorically rule out any deal. Quite simply, no prospective party of government can engage constructively with people whose vested interest would, from the first day, lie in undermining and corroding that government.

Even now, it is not primarily Tories that the SNP are in opposition to. It is the existence of the British state. To be fair, that is their raison d’être and the election of a Labour government would not alter it. If anything, the virulence would become greater because it would be more difficult to feed off the dreary mantra that everything done at Westminster is hostile to Scottish interests.

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A third reason for Starmer being right to have been so clear is that it combats any delusion within Scotland that nationalism is a kind of alternative Labour vote because it is “against the Tories”. The two options are completely different. One is a positive vote for a Labour government and the progressive change it would bring on so many fronts. The other prioritises the break-up of the UK whoever is running it.

While there is a substantial hardcore nationalist vote which understands that distinction and comes down squarely in support of the latter option, there are also many Scots who would welcome the realistic prospect of a Labour government and prioritise it over the constitutional issue. It is essential to Labour’s prospects in Scotland to minimise the blurring of lines between these two competing sets of priorities.

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All of this remains highly hypothetical. Forget 33 per cent opinion poll leads and don’t assume that the Tories will be incapable of recovery or that Kwarteng’s Black Friday will remain as potent as it predecessor 30 years ago. They have survived a long time and will have endless, grateful money behind them from the kind of people who made fortunes this week.

One step at a time, and it was essential to send out the unambiguous message that, in Scotland as elsewhere, the only way to get a Labour government is by voting for it. Keir Starmer could not have been clearer.

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