The right of centre press have had a field day throughout this election campaign talking about how horrible a Labour-SNP formation ruling the country would be. Words and phrases like “chaos”, “chain to Labour’s wrecking ball”, “clear and present danger”, have all been thrown around with aplomb by the prime minister as well. But what would a Labour minority propped up the SNP really be like, objectively?
First of all, Miliband has ruled out any sort of actual deal with the SNP, not even confidence and supply, on the assumption that the Nats would not vote down a Labour Queen’s Speech. It’s a big assumption to make, one I wouldn’t if I was Ed Miliband, but he’s probably right. So for reference, we’re now imagining a world in which the Queen’s Speech goes through and Labour and the SNP have agreed on nothing whatsoever going forward. Ed Miliband is our nation’s prime minister. Labour then have to try and get anything they want past parliament hoping the SNP don’t vote it down, and they have to suffer this from here until someone calls the whole thing off and we (eventually) have another general election. Or Labour can form a stable coalition with someone, somehow.
I think we’d see a lot of bills just take ages to get through the House. The SNP would make demands, particularly at Committee Stage, trying to make it appear like their machinations were all attempts to drag legislation “leftwards”. The point would not be to actually change the legislation per se; it would be to create a narrative in Scotland that the SNP were doing two things: one, being the left-wing conscience of Westminster and two, acting in Scotland’s interests while Labour was not. What the SNP really care about are the May 2016 Holyrood elections, you see.
They would let a lot of stuff through, of course; there wouldn’t be total backlog. To deny Labour everything would just make them look bad. So the “bedroom tax” gets repealed easily enough; there would be a new piece of legislation on the NHS billed as a repeal of the Health and Social Care Act that in reality wouldn’t be anything like that; a lot of the left-wing stuff that Labour will want to get through, the SNP will be bitchy about the detail on, but let pass eventually.
The real problems Labour will have in this set-up are two-fold, both of them time related. After a year of this arrangement, many on the left will have praised it. There would be many a newspaper article in the Guardian and the Independent about how the independence of parliament was back and how strong government does not equal stability. But after this one-year anniversary, things could get rocky. May 2016 sees the Scottish parliament elections and thus less impetus to have everything down south keep ticking over, from an SNP perspective. Also, it’s at this point that all of the safely leftie stuff Labour wanted to do to keep the base happy has been passed, and trying to do things to get the deficit down starts to become a pressing need.
It is then we’ll see what the Labour-SNP “arrangement” is made of. I suspect not very much, and Labour will be squeezed badly, with the left of their party, the unions and the SNP uniting to try and push them leftwards. At this point, whatever the reality, Miliband’s pledge not to make a deal with the SNP could start to look like mere semantics; in reality, he will be having to make ongoing deals with the SNP, one every single week.
Where all this would end, I have no idea. But I can’t see it ending well for the Labour Party. Still, they may have no choice if the electoral maths fall a certain way.