Would SNP want to prop up a Labour UK government?

Would the SNP really want to prop up a Labour UK government, asks Andrew Whitaker

The SNP are likely to pledge that a strong SNP presence at Westminster will serve Scots well. Picture: Greg Macvean

A FLAGSHIP pledge likely to be heavily promoted by the SNP in the run-up to May 2015 is that Scots will be best served with a strong SNP presence at Westminster, with a minority Labour government forced to rely on the Nationalists for its political life.

Just weeks after announcing his plan to seek a return to the Commons, Alex Salmond has even shifted the SNP’s position, with his suggestion the party could abandon its practice of abstaining on England-only issue votes in order to weaken Tory strength in the Commons.

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It’s easy to imagine him revelling in a minority Labour government’s reliance on the SNP to save its political skin. However, it’s worth asking if the SNP would actually want to be in a position where it was so heavily tied to Labour, for example if it reached some sort of pact whereby the Nationalists agreed to back Ed Miliband in Commons votes in exchange for key concessions over new Holyrood powers.

So much of the SNP’s approach during its seven-and-a-half years in government and at election time has been to blame all the cuts in Scotland on Westminster. The party quite reasonably pointed out that the Bedroom Tax was imposed north of the Border despite the overwhelming majority of Scottish MPs voting against.

True, SNP backing for a Labour government would almost certainly not involve the party accepting ministerial positions and would be much more likely to take the form an arrangement similar to that of the Lib-Lab pact of the 1970s, when James Callaghan’s minority Labour government was supported in votes by David Steel’s Liberals for a time. Even an informal deal to back a Labour government in the Commons would deprive the SNP of part of its armoury in government and ahead of the 2016 Holyrood election, when the party would be expected to aim its usual election-time slogans, such as the “London parties”. But if the SNP group at Westminster was voting with the government of Ed Miliband and shadow chancellor Ed Balls, who have warned some austerity would continue under Labour, how could the Nationalists take that tack if the party was effectively tied to cuts to Scotland’s block grant from Westminster?

The leadership of the SNP know that given the toxic nature of the Tory brand in Scotland, the party has to go heavy on the rhetoric of pushing for a non-Tory government at Westminster.

But despite the enjoyment Mr Salmond would gain in holding Mr Miliband to ransom in dramatic talks at Downing Street, perhaps Labour’s UK campaign chair Douglas Alexander is not entirely wrong, when he states that the “Nationalists really want another Conservative government” on which to blame ongoing austerity and force a second referendum.