The appeals to Labour to put the Union first and spurn an SNP deal coming from Tory warhorses John Major and Ken Baker sound very statesmanlike. But what do they really mean, with Labour just ahead of the Tories in the forecasts? First, based on all the predictions of main party scores and an SNP landslide, Labour could not form a minority government without some form of SNP support. The Conservatives are stubbornly behind in the polls even though they’re running a better campaign than Labour and are well ahead on leadership and economic competence. So yes you’re right. Behind the statesmanship always lurks party advantage. But neither Labour nor the Conservatives may do well enough to form a government with the support of just one other party. That would blunt the SNP impact.
Ken Baker who was a Conservative party chairman under Margaret Thatcher goes further than Major and even recommends an unprecedented grand coalition of Conservative and Labour to Save the Union. It’s hard to imagine a bigger gift to the SNP than the first ever peacetime Lab-Con coalition government. While a grand coalition would negate SNP Influence in forming a government, it would starkly isolate Scotland from the rest of a pro-Union GB and fuel another SNP triumph in 2016.
The prospect of the predicted SNP landslide recalls the smaller Sinn Fein landslide of 1918 in southern Ireland which presaged independence and sealed partition. So would Scotland have become a foreign country from May 8th ? If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck it probably is a duck. Well not quite, not yet at least. As with Irish Home Rule right up to 1918, the degree of separation wanted isn’t clear. Can Scotland afford devo max – that is, full taxation powers without transfers from London? In these times of austerity the calculations haven’t changed since referendum last September. Nicola Sturgeon’s strategy is far from Sinn Fein’s a century ago. She intends for the SNP to participate fully in Westminster politics and vote on anything that could conceivably affect UK funding for Scotland. For the SNP it would be a slow suicide strategy to use their new income tax powers to top up UK funding levels. That’s why the huge extension of tax raising powers powers can be seen as a Tory trap for the SNP. And why they’ll screw as much out of London as they can just like the tiny DUP.
But here’s the risk. If Scottish voters prove satisfied with the Westminster bargain, where does the energy come from to mount a new independence campaign? To hear the terrified reaction to the SNP’s strong polling you’d think they were the Golden Horde. They’re far from that, even though their arrival in ranks at Westminster promises a new style of politics full of plotting and intrigue and even less transparency than for the old one. But the Union’s death is greatly exaggerated.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London