I awoke to Chris Leslie on the Today programme yesterday morning. The Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury had come on to discuss why he thinks Labour spending plans are superior to Tory ones. However, he didn’t get to chat about this without first facing a barrage of questions regarding whether or not Labour were going to form a government with the SNP after the election, and what that might mean for the country as a whole.
Leslie batted it all away with assured defensive strokes – the idea was not to say anything quote worthy at all on the subject – but it shows just what Labour politicians are in for from now until May 7th. Part of this is just having to deal with the fallout from defending the Union last year, but I think they could have avoided getting themselves into quite the terrible position they have done on the subject.
Back when this all first really became an issue, around the time of the first Tory billboard attack featuring Miliband and Salmond, Labour should have immediately nipped it in the bud by saying something along the lines of:
“Labour have no intention of forming a government with the SNP. If Labour are the largest party in a hung parliament, we will almost certainly attempt to govern as a minority with the view to having another election as quickly as possible.”
The fear they had of taking this line was that it might be seen as “disregarding the will” of the Scottish people. Even if every voter in Scotland votes SNP, this still does not mean that the Nats have some democratic right to become part of the next government. Scotland has 9% of the population of the country, if you’ll recall. In a tangential yet important way, now seems as good a time as any to remind you all of something Ed Balls said last year in regards to a Lib-Lab coalition:
“None of us want to be in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, partly because it’s hard to know what’s more unpopular at the moment – the Liberal Democrats or the idea of a coalition government.”
Why is it so hard for Labour politicans to say something similar in regards to the SNP? Particularly as any deal with the SNP would be nightmarish for Labour in so many ways (I’ve written about this at length elsewhere) and having to speak to the Lib Dems about working together in a coalition/minority situation is just as likely as having to talk to the SNP. I think this is because many up in Scotland are right: “London Labour” is too focused on their hatred of the Lib Dems and don’t understand that in Scotland the SNP are hated just as much by Labour activists, perhaps even a little more.
It’s all too late for an alternate approach anyhow. The Tory attacks have managed to entrench their Miliband with his arm around Salmond messaging (indeed it’s now moved onto the Labour leader living in Salmond’s pocket, literally). How much of an effect this will have – both north and south of the border – we’ll have to wait until election night to see.