Published on 1 May 2015

Election 2015: talking to the SNP – deals and mini deals

Ed Miliband‘s team has always been clear. The SNP, it argues, has nowhere else to go in a hung parliament, when it comes to votes that could bring in or vote out a Labour minority government. The SNP, Labour aides to the leader argue, lost its negotiating hand when it ruled out propping up the Tories. It would have to vote to keep Labour in (at least for a while).

It is, intriguingly, an analysis that has entered some top Whitehall brains as well, as they try to game what government might land on their desks

Mr Miliband’s whips, if he was at the head of a minority government without any coalition agreement (or at the head of a minority coalition with the Lib Dems), would have to form mini-coalitions, day-to-day coalitions, issue by issue, vote by vote. That could often include the SNP. But, as Martin Kettle points out, it could also include a lot of chats with the Tories.

I’ve just come from a Tory photo op stunt with lots of supporters in Nicola Sturgeon masks. The Tories’ Chief Whip, Michael Gove, who would be a very busy man if there were a minority government, insists these side deals would amount to a lot of policy chats and a lot of money shifts. But there is another view.

As I suggested to Ms Sturgeon in an interview on Wednesday (see video), her massive phalanx of MPs might well come back relatively empty-handed if they’re not careful and certainly would have a tricky job fulfilling the rhetoric about radicalising Labour.

The SNP leader acknowledged that her SNP contingent “wouldn’t always prevail”. I suggested a bit of expectation management might be in order after the “euphoria” she might be basking in on election night. Ms Sturgeon said the Scots “don’t do euphoria”.

Prof James Mitchell of Edinburgh University says that the SNP should know full well from their own experience of minority government after 2007 that your opponents don’t necessarily come away with great prizes.

By the way, Alex Salmond in 2007 was adamant that Labour, with only one MSP less than the SNP, had no right to govern. He talked of his overwhelming mandate in the popular vote but the different on the constituency vote was a few thousand. I would guess he’ll be whistling a different tune on 8 May if required.

For anyone wondering what a “confidence and supply” agreement might look like, David Laws in his book 22 Days in May helpfully shared the draft one that the Lib Dems had in their back pocket during coalition negotiations last time round.

As you can see, it is not a two-line job. The Lib Dems wanted the tax threshold raised and specified how it should be funded, they wanted an AV referendum, recall, the pupil premium and much else besides in return for their support on confidence votes and supply votes in the lobbies. One look at this and you see why Labour worked out a while ago that it didn’t want to go near it.

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One reader comment

  1. Aidan Turner says:

    I just wonder what William Wallace or Robert the Bruce would do if they came back and found themselves leading a 50+ SNP contingent in a UK Parliament. Sometimes I do think this is a better way of looking at the current SNP Leadership. We are assuming that they would play by Westminster rules when what they are really after is Scottish Independence. What better way to get it by being a thorough nuisance in Westminster: Vote down a Labour led Government, then a Tory led Government, then force another General election, which if it produced a similar outcome, they could repeat the strategy all over again, making the UK virtually ungovernable and hastening the date when the rest of the UK will be pleading for Scotland to leave!

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