Last week, realising that the SNP could lend a terminally apathetic British Left the last bit of energy required to hoist Ed Miliband aloft and into Downing Street, Tory spin doctors got spinning. Members of the government’s front bench became at once united in awe at Nicola Sturgeon’s powers, and concerned she might use them for evil given the opportunity.
And the tactic has worked. An Ipsos MORI poll published in the London Evening Standard last night gave the Conservatives a five-point lead over Labour, with 44 per cent of people saying they would be unhappy were the SNP to wield any influence after the coming election. Ed Miliband responded with an admirably risky gambit during the Leaders’ Question Time special, saying he’d rather not be in office than be held there by any form of deal with the SNP.
But has any argument exceeding a single sentence in length been made as to why an SNP-backed government would be so terrible? We’re told simply that the SNP want to “break up the country”. Yet it seems quite obvious that an SNP-backed government in Westminster could drastically diminish Scottish appetite for another referendum in the near future. The SNP’s case for independence says that Scots should no longer be governed from 300 miles south of the border by—invariably English—Tory governments for which they invariably do not vote; a Labour-SNP deal could undermine it.
The majority of recent SNP converts were Labour supporters not long ago, so would likely not object to the thought of Ed Miliband being their prime minster, even if they intend to vote SNP next week. And a Labour government willing to lend an ear to the SNP would give Scots the left-wing government they vote for and the voice in national government they want for. It would be a compromise many might find to be more agreeable than the upheaval of secession.
May poll respondents not forget, either, that it was David Cameron who ensured a surge in SNP support, knowing it would come at Labour’s cost, when he declared only retrospectively that his referendum pledges were conditional on reform for England. Perhaps justifiably fearful of losing votes in England, the Labour leadership declined that opportunity to become an enthusiastic voice for Scots. That is why it is to lose tens of seats it might otherwise have held, not because Labour and the SNP are natural substitutes or allies.
There are those of us who would rather see a majority Labour government able to convince Scots it can represent them (and, for that matter, speak the left-wing language for which Nicola Sturgeon won more applause at the leaders’ debates than anybody else did for saying anything else). But we all know that a majority will not be secured, despite what the party leaders will continue to dispiritedly insist. If Ed Miliband is able to properly and publicly engage with the SNP and, in the event of a hung parliament, negotiate further Scottish devolution, he might yet establish a stable left-wing government, and in the process keep a kingdom contentedly united.