A glance at any of the Scottish polls shows the SNP overwhelmingly dominating the political domain north of the border. A new poll out on the 13th April puts the SNP at a remarkable 52%, compared to Labour’s 24% (TNS-BMRB | 18 Mar - 08 Apr). There is clearly a revolution in the Scottish political landscape that Labour once dominated and took for granted.
Current forecasts predict the SNP gaining at the very least 40 seats, up to even 50, effectively wiping out Labour in Scotland and replacing the Lib Dems as the 3rd largest Westminster party. All of this suggests that the SNP would wield an enormous amount of influence and power in Westminster.
Now we come to the scenarios, the SNP have absolutely ruled out any deal with the Tories, so much so that Alex Salmond stated that they would vote down a Conservative Queen’s speech and vote against a Conservative motion of confidence or supply. This could mean that even if the Conservatives win more seats than Labour, the Scottish nationalists combined with Labour could lock the Tories out of Government. What would such a scenario lead to? The political commentator Iain Dale has predicted that another general election will have to be called. Others suggest that David Cameron would simply resign if Labour and the SNP had enough seats, handing Labour a fairly weak and possibly short-lived minority government propped up by the SNP. This would likely be on a vote-by-vote basis including negotiations for votes of confidence and supply, as both parties have ruled out a formal coalition.
If Labour win more seats than the Tories than one should assume they would automatically form a minority government. How strong such a Miliband government will be remains to be seen. Labour may have to make ‘pacts’ with the SNP and the Lib Dems. An informal pact with the SNP seems like a more likely scenario as Sturgeon has suggested that her party are willing to work with other parties, whilst ruling out a formal coalition. Labour will have to win over smaller parties and justify legislation they wish to pass, leading to amendments and compromise. An SNP, Plaid Cymru and Green Party progressive anti-austerity alliance would pull Labour leftwards. Ed Balls may not be able to make the ‘tough decisions’ to deal with the deficit, his public spending cuts will be hindered forcing him to raise taxes to plug the gap. Now we come to the Trident issue that Michael Fallon hit the press with recently. In his words Miliband would “stab the country in the back” by compromising on Trident. This would make more sense if there were any signs that the SNP are prepared to enter a coalition, a Labour minority government would not need to yield to the SNP as the Tories will vote with the Labour whip to renew Trident.
On the other hand a Labour/SNP coalition government may not be so unlikely, which will put Trident at stake. Nicola Sturgeon’s performance and appeal after the ITV seven way leaders debate has rocked British politics to an extent. There certainly is a consensus that Sturgeon performed very well, if not won the debate. Polls currently show that Sturgeon has relatively good personal approval ratings outside Scotland; a recent national Survation poll had her net approval ratings in the positive and higher than any other party leader. The ‘Sturgeon surge’ would certainly make a Labour/SNP coalition government more palatable to voters, tempting Labour to go for it to form a more stable, strong, and sustainable government. There is however the Trident obstacle, a ‘red line’, where the SNP staunchly state that they would want to stop the renewal of Trident. Labour on the other hand is staunchly pro-Trident and will not consider comprising on this issue as Ed Miliband and Ed Balls laid out clearly. However there may be wiggle room as Sturgeon has often remarked on occasions that her party would at the very least want Trident off the River Clyde and outside Scotland. The Scottish leaders’ debate has shed a new light on the issue as when pressed, Sturgeon said she will work with ‘other parties’ but would vote against the renewal of trident. I interpret this as a potential backtracking on Trident to enter government, allowing the SNP to save face by voting against Trident, while both Labour and the Conservatives vote for the nuclear deterrent.
The left of the Labour party may even be grateful of an SNP-Labour coalition government. There is a degree of resentment against Ed Balls in the left pack, and policies such as renationalising the railways and boosting capital investment remains a dream for many in Labour. The Labour left will be able to pursue a more radical government in partnership with the SNP, easing on cuts and boosting capital investment spending.
Whatever the case, and whether Cameron or Miliband enters Number 10, the SNP will have an unprecedented voice in Westminster.