Archive for April, 2015

Will the SNP spend the next parliament abstaining?

April 18, 2015

Last night on Radio 4’s Any Questions, the SNP’s Humza Yousaf spelled out what kind of Labour government his party would support in the likely event of a hung Parliament. Fiscal policy aside, which I think is pretty negotiable, he said the SNP could not support a government that renews Trident. The Nats want to ditch it and that’s non-negotiable. With the nuclear deterrent popular in the UK as a whole (according to a January YouGov poll), this is not something Labour should be contemplating.

The two parties are therefore at an impasse.

But the previous night, Nicola Sturgeon implored Ed Miliband to work with the SNP to keep the Tories out. Ed told her that whom the SNP supports is up to her – he won’t be dictated to. That leaves the question of what is most important to the Nats.

Do they stick to their principles and vote against Trident, even though they can’t win, or do they do everything to keep the Tories out even if that would improve the case for keeping the Union together?

By voting against a Labour government on the basis of Trident, the SNP would thereby usher in a Tory minority, who, with Labour, would renew Trident anyway. That Tory government might then further alienate Scotland and lay the groundwork for a second referendum.

The massive risk with this is that it will backfire and the Scots will start associating the SNP with another five years of Tories, and precipitate a loss of support that would wreck prospects for independence.

The safer route for the SNP is just to abstain on the budget and Queen’s Speech. Labour, with a confidence and supply arrangement with a Lib Dem rump, ought to have a workable number of votes (unless we see a late surprise surge in the Tory vote that takes them over the edge).

An SNP still enjoying a honeymoon period could still make a Tory government work for them, so Labour can still make the case that you can’t trust the SNP to deliver a progressive government. At the same time the Nats have a pretty strong pitch to voters: you could vote for a Labour MP in hock to the Westminster whips or you could vote for someone who actually cares about Scotland.

The SNP have huge political capital. The most responsible thing could be not to use it.