Is the SNP right to declare it won’t shore up a Tory government?
‘Perhaps this time Scotland’s votes will count’, said Nicola Sturgeon. ‘Scotland could well hold the balance of power in a Westminster parliament with no overall majority. If that happens, I promise you this – you won’t need to have voted Labour to keep the Tories out, because that’s what we’ll do. My pledge to Scotland today is this – the SNP will never put the Tories into government.’
Mmm. Really? Two points occur. First, is it democratic to deny the country a government? If the people have voted thus, is it really up to the MPs to declare themselves hors de combat and claim they weren’t standing for government but merely for election?
Isn’t that what the voters are doing – giving their backing to the people they want to form a government… That the votes create a mash-up of different parties and individuals is the serendipity of democracy. If everyone said No Thanks, we’d end up like Belgium. (Although it ran pretty well without a government at all for 600 days).
As a democrat, I’m left uneasy at politicians saying that the choice of some voters is unacceptable to them, especially when this isn’t a repugnant outlier like the BNP but a mainstream grouping already in government, part of the constitutional tapestry of Britain, and with members of the Scottish parliament with whom the SNP does regular business when it suits.
I was scathing about the Lib Dems refusing even to enter talks with the SNP in 2007 when they could have formed a coalition (and reserved the right to leave whenever independence became cabinet policy). They ‘preferred opposition’ they said, and the people agreed four years later, putting them into permanent opposition – outside Holyrood.
Secondly, what happens if the Tories, as both sitting government and potentially largest party, can’t do a deal with Lib Dems or UKIP and turn to the SNP – whose numbers would ensure stability – and the Tories offer a serious package of concessions?
Clearly that is unlikely. The pollsters say Labour looks most likely to have most MPs given its geographic advantage but I still fancy it will be the Tories with just enough Lib Dems (minus Highland Danny) to maintain the Coalition.
But what if it isn’t? What if there aren’t enough Lib Dems which pretty much means there won’t be enough UKIP – even if Cameron wanted to work with them. No, I think it is the Nats the big parties will be eyeing up, both Dave and Ed sidling along the benches towards them from either side.
It is surely less damaging to Cameron with a single (none?) MP to cut off Scotland by allowing it to do more and more on its own and by demanding SNP MPs return to not voting on English laws, so he gets his EVEL way.
To counter English fury he makes sure Scotland is raising and keeping all its own taxes without a Barnett formula in place (or at least binning the name and keeping open a financial support account in reserve but buried in the detail). You can create your own assortment of powers and responsibilities which could fairly be named Devo Max.
So little has in reality been offered in new powers that Cameron could shower the Scots with gifts including a separate rate of corporation tax which make it impossible for the SNP to turn down, committed as it is to getting the best deal for Scotland in all circumstances.
So, Devo Max delivered – but in return for keeping a Tory government in place. What do you say…Yes or No? If No, then how do you continue to make the case for Home Rule when it was offered but you turned it down because of political prejudice? On the other hand, if you accept the deal, you go into the Holyrood elections as the Tartan Tories keeping the austerity-driven Conservatives in power.
I suppose they have to hope that the Tories don’t come calling and, if they do, lack the imagination to offer a killer a deal which, to be fair, is Cameron’s hallmark – no vision and no courage.
You can’t say Jim Murphy lacks vision. If Cameron is short-sighted, Jim has X-ray eyes. He can see through every policy and every statement and find a paper-thin space into which he can work a Labour angle. Jim the superhero – who goes into leadership as Mr Right-wing Sensible and comes out totally transformed into Mad-as-Fuck McMurphy, in a Scotland top, with X-ray eyes and anti-Tory powers.
He’s had some good ideas lately and so has Ed. (Must be an election imminent). But is that the problem? I’m with Ed on abolition of the Lords and parental time off; with Jim on powers to the cities and income tax to Holyrood. But am I convinced they mean it and will deliver? Both have become incontinent with new ideas which are thrown out into the ether…and then what?
How many times have Labour offered reform/replacement of the Lords? Did Labour go for subsidiarity to councils when in power? (Jim is praising previous governments for writing off Glasgow’s housing debt. That was done by the Tories – in exchange for removing responsibility over housing from elected members, hardly appropriate for his council empowerment strategy today).
Now I know I’m biased but I’m not a fool. (Most of the time). I see a feverish rush to come out with something – anything – to keep up visibility and create the idea of an effective opposition, and at the same time a slew of last-minute special offers to dam the flow of support. God knows, they have to try.
But, you know, I think it would take an extraordinary individual to have any chance of pulling this off with less than 100 days to go. Unfairly to Murphy, I imagined Donald Dewar as captain of the listing ship, a man known throughout Scotland, who commanded respect beyond party and class, who carried a popular warmth and, despite some personal failings, a weight of authority that was unrivalled in my view (more so than Smith, for example).
If Donald metaphorically went down on his knees, confessed grievous errors of judgment and pleaded with the Scots for another chance, he might win back just enough to avoid humiliation.
Jim Murphy has no such well of affection and respect however competent he is, not even in his own party, or indeed his leadership team. And there is in all this a deeper and human question I‘ve been pondering. What happens to Jim Murphy the man if this goes wrong? He has taken a huge risk with this task and in so doing, showed more courage than the armchair critic Douglas Alexander. But his credibility is at stake with this confetti of policies and a frenetic splurge of promises which everyone knows is a cardboard cut-out compared to the reality of a New Labour careerist. Tough as politicians have to be, they have feelings and families like everybody else and I wonder what toll wholesale rejection of his efforts might take on him personally. If it does fail, he will take the flak, not the Ian Davidsons and Sandra Osbornes, they will make sure of that. Nor do I believe Murphy is short of self-doubt and introspection. Unfolding before us could be a Greek tragedy in the making…perhaps his PR team have a toga ready.by