“We’ll never put the Tories into government.”
These words Nicola Sturgeon told SNP’s conference in November. I myself had no reason to doubt them. The Conservative Party is so loathed by the vast majority of Scots, assuring voters in Scotland that the Nats would never consider propping up the Dark Side was extremely important for Sturgeon to do, not least of which because Labour’s line of attack against them in May is clearly going to be built around the idea that a vote for the SNP makes a Tory government in Westminster just that little bit more likely.
But it’s May 8th, and the Tories are once again the largest party in a hung parliament. The SNP have wiped out Labour in Scotland and hold the balance of power. What does Sturgeon do? The Tories would probably offer the moon for supply and confidence, and even more for supply and confidence plus EU referendum. What I’m describing colloquially as the moon in the instance would be Devo Super-Max Plus Ultra, whatever that would look like; I’m imagining what amounts to independence with defence and maybe a few other bits and bobs still in effect (the Barnett Formula, somehow, retained).
First of all, would the SNP really want to do this? I don’t think the Nats actually want that much power devolved to Scotland, in reality. It would make the game they play so successfully of being in government and opposition at the same time pretty much untenable. I don’t really see how they would want to help an EU referendum along its way either.
Secondly, could the SNP get away with it? On this I have to say, no chance. Even if it were just supply and confidence, they would be seen to have done precisely what Sturgeon promised not to do in propping up the Tories. So it would be a broken promise and a deal with the devil. Nothing that would possibly be devolved could make up for it. Therefore, I don’t actually think the SNP would or could do the Tory deal. I thought there for moment that perhaps they could torture the Conservatives by going through with a round of negotiations with no intention of seeing through a deal, but I don’t even think they could get away with that much Tory flirtation. Even the thought that they might consider something in this neck of the woods publicly would be toxic.
This won’t stop the Tories from dreaming though. The idea that they might try and get the DUP to do a deal with them for what would amount to a razor thin majority has already become an open secret. For all the bluster about who and who isn’t a “minor party”, if the Tories are just shy of being able to form a government after the election, some previously sniffed at players are going to become quite a big deal indeed, at least for a week.