THE prospect of a post-election deal between Labour and the SNP was dealt an apparently fatal blow yesterday, when Ed Miliband insisted he was fully committed to renewing the Trident nuclear deterrent.
The hardening of the Labour leader’s position on the Clyde-based weapons came less than 24 hours after SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon confirmed it would be a “red line” for her party in the aftermath of the general election on 7 May.
“Every day it becomes clearer that Ed Miliband will do anything to get into Downing Street.”Michael Fallon
In subsequent interviews, the First Minister in turn hardened her own position, saying the SNP could do no deal with Labour unless Trident was scrapped.
The comments appeared to bring to an end speculation that Labour and the SNP were prepared to do a deal to lock the Conservatives out of Downing Street.
Mr Miliband will further widen the gulf between his party and the SNP in a speech today, vowing he would “never sell Scotland short by signing up to the SNP’s plans”, as he attacks the Nationalists’ intention to force through full fiscal autonomy for Scotland.
The Treasury has said the move would leave a £7.6 billion black hole in Scotland’s finances every year.
Ms Sturgeon said on Wednesday that SNP MPs would vote in the first year of the next parliament for full fiscal autonomy, which would see Scotland raise all its own taxes and receive no financial support from the rest of the UK.
Mr Miliband will say: “You can’t build social justice with a £7.6 billion funding gap because the burdens of it would fall on working families across Scotland.”
Meanwhile, three new UK polls suggest Labour has pulled ahead. Survation put Labour four points ahead of the Tories at 35 per cent to 31 per cent, Panelbase gave Labour a six-point lead, 37 per cent to 31 per cent, while TNS had the party three points ahead, at 33 per cent to 31 per cent.
Mr Miliband’s hardening of his position on Trident followed a personal attack on him by Tory Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, who accused him of being ready “to stab Britain in the back” over defence to do a deal with the SNP.
Mr Fallon said: “Every day it becomes clearer that Ed Miliband will do anything to get into Downing Street. Day after day he refuses to rule out categorically doing any deal with the SNP. This silence speaks volumes about the man. His weakness. His refusal to be straight with the British public.
“And above all, his willingness to play fast and loose with one of the most precious things that any prime minister of the United Kingdom is entrusted to protect: the security of our country.”
He said Mr Miliband had “stabbed his own brother in the back” to become Labour leader and was now “willing to stab the UK in the back” to do a deal on Trident with the SNP “to become PM”.
In an immediate response, Mr Miliband described the attack as “a desperate smear”. He said: “National security is too important to play politics with. I will never compromise our national security, I will never negotiate away our national security.”
Labour later made clear that its proposed review of Trident was to look at whether the UK would need three submarines or the four to which the Tories have committed.
However, renewing Trident was described by Labour as “non-negotiable”.
In response, Ms Sturgeon did a round of broadcast interviews in which she stressed the SNP could not do any deal with Labour while it was committed to Trident.
She said it would mean SNP MPs, who could hold between 40 and 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats according to recent polls, only voting with Labour on an issue-by-issue basis.
She said: “Both Ed Miliband and I have said a coalition is unlikely. Any confidence and supply arrangement would involve the non-renewal of Trident.
“And if we are not in any kind of formal arrangement, if we were voting on an issue-by-issue basis, we will not vote for anything that facilitates the renewal of Trident. I can’t be any clearer than that.”
However, asked whether the SNP would vote against a Queen’s Speech containing proposals for Trident, Ms Sturgeon dismissed attempts to “get ahead of the election process”, adding: “I am making it very clear that the SNP will not vote for the renewal of Trident.”
An SNP spokesman said: “A big reason for voting SNP is that a strong team of SNP MPs can get Trident renewal halted, not least because three-quarters of Labour’s candidates agree with us. That is our focus and intention.”
Privately, senior SNP figures said Trident was unlikely to prevent them supporting a Labour government’s Queen’s Speech because legislation was not needed to renew the nuclear deterrent.
The impasse between the two parties was welcomed by several Scottish Labour figures. One senior party source said: “We have been waiting for the right time to rule out a deal. It had to be the SNP ruling it out and that is what Nicola Sturgeon has done.”
Dame Anne McGuire, who is standing down as Labour MP for Stirling, said: “Now we can see Nicola Sturgeon’s true colours. In the leaders’ debate in Aberdeen, she made crystal clear the renewal of Trident was what she called a ‘red line’ issue.
“Now she’s gone further. Previously, she declared the SNP would never back a Tory government. With her latest statement to Sky television, she’s also ruling out backing a future Labour government.”
She added: “The message for Scotland could not be clearer. If you want a Labour government you will have to vote for Labour candidates as the SNP leader has made her choice. All her claims about giving Labour MPs ‘backbone’ are just hot air. She 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.”
The Tories have campaigned heavily on the prospect of the SNP pulling the strings of a Labour government.
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said it was “quite extraordinary” that they had chosen to elevate “this nuclear weapons system” to the most important issue of the campaign.
“I think many people would find it pretty odd that a major party like the Conservative Party think that’s more important than delivering jobs or fairer taxes or better pensions or money for our schools and nurseries and colleges,” he said.
Tom Peterkin: Labour will warmly welcome chance to escape Tory jibes
The SNP’s opposition to nuclear weapons is second only to Scottish independence when it comes to its touchstone issues.
Nicola Sturgeon herself put the Nationalists’ objection to Trident at the centre of potential negotiations with Labour. In November, in her maiden conference speech as leader, she said a strong SNP Westminster voice would make Labour “think again” on Trident.
But with Labour pledging to press ahead with Trident renewal, there has been a gaping chasm between the two parties on defence policy that would have to be bridged in the event of any sort of formal deal in a hung parliament. Yesterday Ed Miliband held firm on Trident renewal and Sturgeon said she was not interested in a “confidence and supply” deal that did not include Labour scrapping plans to update the weapons system.
The SNP will continue to argue it can prop up a Labour government on an informal issue-by-issue basis. But extracting a concession on nuclear weapons looks all but impossible. Labour can now say the SNP has ruled out a formal post-election deal. In a Labour party desperate to escape Tory jibes of being the SNP’s accomplice, Sturgeon’s intervention will be warmly welcomed.
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