Scots leaders’ debate: Labour ‘won’t consult SNP’

THE prospect of a Labour government being propped up by the SNP prompted angry clashes between the Scottish party leaders as they squared up last night for the last time before Thursday’s general election.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon in composed mood during last nights leaders debate. Picture: Getty
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon in composed mood during last nights leaders debate. Picture: Getty

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon insisted that Labour will need the support of Nationalist MPs to govern at Westminster, with her party set to make sweeping gains north of the Border.

But Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy said there will be no talks or consultation with the SNP and dared Ms Sturgeon to vote down a Labour Queens Speech which would allow Ed Miliband to form a government.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

The pair also clashed over the need to end austerity and the prospect of another referendum during heated exchanges at the event held in Edinburgh, which also included Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie of the Liberal Democrats. The latest weekend polling suggests that about half of Scots will vote SNP and the party could take more than 50 of Scotland’s 59 seats. With Labour and the Tories still neck and neck UK wide, it means SNP votes could be key to Mr Miliband securing a Commons majority and getting into Downing Street.

Mr Murphy said Labour is determined to win a majority or to govern as “the biggest party”.

He added: “We’ll put our manifesto, we’ll put our Queens Speech and we will put our Budget before the House of Commons. If other parties want to support that that’s up to them– but we’re not going to seek their permission and we’re not going to ask and consult them.”

And despite UK Labour leader Mr Miliband’s claim last week that he would rather lose the election than do a deal with the SNP, Mr Murphy insisted that Labour would “never put the Tories into power” and would vote against a David Cameron Queen’s Speech.

Ms Sturgeon has already pledged to use SNP votes to keep out the Conservatives, but insisted this would not leave the SNP obliged to back Labour.

“If you’re a minority government, and I’ve been in a minority government, you can’t get your policies through Parliament unless you build a majority.”

“If you don’t do it in a coalition, you have to do it on an issue by issue basis.”

She added: “If there’s an anti-majority after Thursday, even if Labour are not the largest party, we should work together to get the Tories out of office.

“Ed Miliband actually said he would rather see the Tories back in office than work with the SNP – I think that’s pretty appalling. If we can get the Tories out we should get the Tories out.”

But if Labour do end up as a minority administration, Mr Murphy challenged Ms Sturgeon about whether she would block its legislation: “Nicola, are there circumstances where you will vote for the Tories against a Labour Budget?”

But Ms Sturgeon warned that if Labour put forward a Budget imposing more austerity then “plainly the SNP will vote against it”.

The First Minister insisted that the five-year fixed-term Parliament means that this would not bring down the government.

This would allow her to build a “progressive alliance” along with parties like Plaid Cymru and the Greens to push for an end to austerity and the abolition of the Clyde-based Trident nuclear weapons system.

Mr Murphy said: “I just want to say to Nicola why we’re not going to have a coalition or a deal with her party – we just disagree, we have a different approach.

“Her party’s constitution declares itself, not surprisingly, in favour of independence for Scotland, ours is about a democratic socialist party.”

The Labour leader also insisted that, if Scottish voters return to his party, then “the whole of the United Kingdom will get a Labour government”.

Ms Davidson said: “The rough wooing between Nicola and Jim, the kind of deal by deal votes that you would see in the next parliament if it was a Labour Party that was reliant on the SNP, is exactly the sort of politics that most people hate.

“We will not do any deals with any Nationalist party, be they in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, nothing that would put our United Kingdom at risk.”

The SNP leader also came under pressure over the prospect of another referendum being in the party’s manifesto for next year’s Holyrood manifesto. It is likely to come up at the party’s autumn conference when the party’s new 100,000-strong membership may vote on the issue, although Ms Sturgeon made it clear she will have the final say.

“The party leader signs off the manifesto,” she said. “But the decision about whether or not there is another referendum at any point in the future is down to the Scottish people. They would have to vote for that manifesto – if the people of Scotland want it to be off the table for one lifetime or ten lifetimes that’s what will happen because the people are in charge in a democracy.”

Mr Rennie challenged the First Minister on whether the renewal of Trident would be the kind of “change of circumstance” she has talked about which may drive her to include a referendum in next year’s manifesto.

“Would that be enough for a second referendum?” he asked.

But Ms Sturgeon refused to rule it out, insisting: “I’m not going to give a list because I can’t see into the future.”

The Labour leader challenged Ms Sturgeon to declare a “moratorium” on another referendum for the “next five or six years”, but this also met with a noncommittal response.

The prospect of more austerity prompted angry clashes, with the SNP leader claiming that a £3 billion cut in disability benefit is looming and Labour is not going to “overturn” this.

“That will mean something like 100,000 disabled people across Scotland are gong to lose more than £1,000 every year,” she said.

“Helping these people is what I mean when I say its time to end the austerity cuts.”

But Mr Murphy insisted this is “just not true” and Labour was ready to put up taxes on the wealthy, adding that the SNP’s plans for full fiscal autonomy, with Scotland having full control over the taxes it spends and raises, will mean a £7.6 billion additional cut.

“You can’t parade around the country saying you’re against austerity when you’re going to introduce even deeper austerity,” he said.