For the Conservatives, the choices are looking fairly limited; they must hope that Nick Clegg keeps his seat and has enough Lib Dem colleagues that will side with them. They may also need to attract the support of Ulster Unionist parties or Ukip – or a combination of all three. That is a lot of variables that could go wrong, so the Conservatives must push to maximise their own results to give them greater leverage.
Labour’s problem is different but no less problematic. For if Miliband gets it wrong, it could mean the end of Labour as a truly national party.
Such is the scale of the Labour Party’s collapse in Scotland that it could lose over 30 MPs to the SNP – forcing Miliband to cut a backroom deal with its leader, Nicola Sturgeon.
While both Sturgeon and Miliband swear that there will be no coalition between Labour and the SNP, they are being very careful to leave enough room for comfort and supply votes. Such an arrangement would allow a Labour-drafted Queen’s Speech to be presented to the House of Commons on 27 May and receive a majority. Future Budgets and key legislation would no doubt clear similar Commons’ votes, likely in exchange for the SNP dipping into the Treasury pork barrel that Scotland already feasts so well on.
It sounds just like any other coalition-style deal; with horse-trading of policies in return for power. Why should anyone in the Labour Party care that they will have to make a pact with the Nationalists, for surely once they regain power, they will be able to build party support – not least in Scotland?
Wait a minute. If Scotland votes SNP and gets a Labour government held to ransom by Nationalist MPs, why should SNP voters return to the Labour Party ever again?
In 2010, Labour’s vote in Scotland actually increased – while it fell away across the rest of Britain – but the result was a Tory-Lib Dem coalition. If voting for the SNP results in a Labour government that is forced to be more left wing – and give Scotland preferential treatment – then Scots who used to vote Labour could begin to think this is an ideal situation. Come the next General Election in 2020, why should they switch back to Labour?
The fact is that many Scots will vote SNP after having voted No to independence because they know the Union is safe. Indeed, they know they could vote No again in any second referendum too.
Does Miliband truly realise the stakes he is playing for? If Labour does not recover in Scotland in the remaining few weeks and is forced to govern with the implicit endorsement of the SNP, then the raison d’être for Labour north of the border will disappear.
There will be no need for Labour anymore. The SNP will fill the vacuum as Scotland’s left-of-centre party. Just as the Bavarian CSU works together in semi-permanent alliance with the CDU in Germany, so the SNP will crowd out Labour and become its natural partner.
A SNP-directed minority Miliband government could easily become highly unpopular and take a pounding from the press in England. After undergoing a change in management, a Conservative backlash in the rest of the UK could be expected at any subsequent General Election. And then, once out of power in the UK, what purpose would Labour have in Scotland? The SNP’s dominance would be confirmed and any recovery for a much smaller Labour made very difficult. The party could be out of power for a generation at least.
Back in the 1950s, the Tories enjoyed a majority of the votes and MPs in Scotland – a triumphant record never equalled by any other party again. It has been downhill ever since. Now they have less than 20 per cent of the vote and are defending one MP, after being wiped out in 1997.
No one should therefore take Labour’s past strength in Scotland for granted. By dealing with the SNP, Miliband will be entering into a Faustian pact from which there is no return.
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