WHEN is a red line not a red line? This is not the start of a new trend for general election jokes, it is the dilemma faced by voters watching the manoeuvring of the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon and Labour’s Ed Miliband on the increasingly thorny issue of Trident.
At the start of this campaign the SNP leader talked about three “red-line” issues in any future dealmaking with Labour in a hung parliament.
The three red lines were: scrapping a replacement for Trident; an end to austerity; and “home rule” for Scotland.
As the campaign has gone on, however, Ms Sturgeon has increasingly given the impression that none of these would be an impediment to the SNP putting Mr Miliband into Downing Street.
Indeed, given that she has ruled out any arrangement that keeps David Cameron in power, she talked up the prospect of an SNP/Labour alliance “locking out” the Tories from power.
Yesterday, however, the SNP line appeared to harden. Ms Sturgeon seemed to rule out any “confidence and supply” deal with Labour if Mr Miliband refused to commit to scrapping a replacement for Trident.
In turn, Mr Miliband repeated his long-standing position that he would not do any deals with the SNP on Britain’s nuclear deterrent.
So, is that the end for any Labour-SNP arrangement?
Not necessarily. Ms Sturgeon’s priority at this stage in the election is to attract votes, not do deals. What matters to her is what this new stance does to the SNP’s opinion poll ratings.
But by raising the stakes in her poker game with Labour, Ms Sturgeon is taking a risk. Doing so may encourage the suspicion that she does not want a deal at all, and in fact believes a Labour government may not be in the best strategic interests of the Nationalists and their key objective of independence.
This was the view attributed to Ms Sturgeon in a leaked Scotland Office memo of a meeting between the First Minister and the French ambassador.
Both the ambassador and Mr Sturgeon refuted the contents of the memo, but the story led to speculation about the SNP’s “true” objectives in this general election.
Labour last night pounced on the new SNP position. Former Scotland Office minister Anne McGuire said: “[Ms Sturgeon] clearly had no intention for her MPs to back Labour in power as their get-out clause is to make impossible demands about future investment on Britain’s nuclear deterrent.”
It was often said of Alex Salmond that he was a born gambler who was never happier than when taking a leap of faith, while hoping for a soft landing.
Since her election as SNP leader and First Minister, Ms Sturgeon has been characterised as a much more cautious and much less impetuous political leader.
Perhaps that view is due a reappraisal.
Scotland needs better childcare
INTERNATIONAL comparisons just released make clear the capacity of childcare to be a political game-changer.
Scotland’s performance when measured against other nations shows just how far we are behind a trend that is increasingly being seen as an economic as well as an educational issue.
The report by the Family Childcare Trust reveals that Scottish parents are paying the highest rates for childcare in Europe with “big gaps” in provision which are worse than in England.
Cash-strapped councils cutting back on childcare provision is identified as one of the main problems.
The SNP government is proud of its record on improving childcare provision, and yet gaps remain.
Last year’s independence referendum showed the potential for childcare to be at the centre of a political campaign.
For the Yes side, childcare came to symbolise the kind of Scotland they wanted to create – one that was much more like Scandinavia in social policy.
In a rare moment of self-criticism, the then SNP First Minister Alex Salmond admitted that he should have realised much earlier in his first ministership the potential for childcare to release mothers back into work and boost economic growth.
Childcare has not yet played a major role in the general election campaign. We will have to wait for next year’s Holyrood election for the issue to truly catch fire north of the Border again.
But rest assured, this is now one of the touchstone issues of contemporary political debate, and will need to be at the forefront of the Scottish Parliament campaign in 2016.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS