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Minority government, Scotland and the grilling of Ed Miliband

deal-or-no-deal1What did you think of last night’s grilling of the main party leaders? As much as I detest Dave and his Nick Clegg mini-me, I think they performed creditably by the criteria one judges media appearances. The Prime Minister was polished and a little bit sweaty, but his question dodging body swerves saw him through the half hour. Clegg, who is probably the most telegenic and eloquent of all the mainstream politicians ate a bit of humble pie but made a good case, by his standards, for why the electorate should give the LibDems another punt. And Ed Miliband was, once again, his confident, assured self. Though tripping as he left the stage was a classic Ed moment.

Of the three, it’s fair to say the Labour leader had the hardest time from the audience. Indeed, two of his toughest inquisitors who were supposedly floating voters were actually Tories. If you have to lie about your affiliations to get your points taken seriously, that’s just how toxic the Conservative Party have become.

However, venturing onto social media after the broadcast I found plenty of lefties cluttering up my feeds and status updates denouncing Ed as useless, spineless, inept, and all the rest of it. Restating his commitment to Trident replacement, to cuts, to immigration controls weren’t the problem. It was about his comments regarding the SNP. Asked again about deals with the SNP post the general election, Ed ruled them out completely. There will be no coalition. No confidence and supply. No backroom footsie over individual votes. He even went so far to say that if government meant treating with the SNP then he’d prefer Labour to not be in power. Cue denunciation.

Alas, comrades who’ve gone Stur-crazy over the SNP have taken leave of their senses. This is an entirely sensible position for Ed to take given the circumstances Labour finds itself in. In Scotland, a pre-election deal would plunge Scottish Labour even further into the shit, it would effectively be handing the mantle of anti-Toryism to Nicola Sturgeon. When so much territory has already been ceded, it makes no sense at all to surrender your remaining positions. In England, formally agreeing to keep the Tories out is electoral suicide. It would be nice were it not the case, but when the Tories and UKIP are pushing English nationalism it’s out of the question. That’s what nationalism does you see, it divides people up and stirs up imagined sleights and irrationalities – something the SNP’s socialist cheerleaders have purposely forgotten.

What Ed and Labour plan to do then is not hand power to the Tories. Alongside the SNP to reject a Tory administration. And Labour will attempt to form a minority government of its own, which the SNP will not dare vote down. And this will be how it is for however long the show lasts. The SNP’s social democratic turn limits its strategic and tactical options. If every parliamentary vote is more or less a vote of confidence, they’re stuck. Likewise the Tories – on those element of Labour’s programme most left wingers have problems with, such as Trident and immigration, it’s hard to see from the safe distance of now how the Tories can’t but vote along with Labour to ensure these elements of its manifesto are implemented.

It’s quite canny, really.

One last thing, while Ed is being cursed for ruling out a deal, no one has taken the First Minister to task for not calling for a Labour vote elsewhere. She wants to deal with a Labour government, her lefty supporters hope the SNP would keep it honest, but in Wales and England it is Plaid and the Greens that have Nicola’s seal of approval. If you want a Labour government because you think it’s the bees knees or the least worst option, you’ve got to vote for it.


  1. all fair comment. THe SNP is a toxic organization which pursues its not hidden agenda of separatism and makes no bones about the plan to exploit the hung parliament to get this., No more concessions.

    But ‘for how long the show lasts’ comrade? Unless the Fixed parliament Act is repealed, the show will last 5 years. But it will not. If the SNP wins the election in Scotland in 2016 it will call a referendum.

    To trump this , repealing the fixed parliament act is the first essential – and while the ultras can be ignored, all mouth and no trousers, Miliband;s failure to bite this bullet will doom him in the post election negotiations to be a man who has tossed away the ace in the hole

    trevor fisher

  2. Jim Denham says:

    Excellent comment from Phil. For Miliband to have said anything else re the SNP would have been electoral suicide north and south of the border (though it maybe that north of the border is a lost cause anyway, at least for the time being). Sturgeon’s leftie fan club are idiots who seem to have no grasp of (or concern about) the anti-working class and divisive nature of petty bourgeois nationalism and manufactured victimhood and grievance.

  3. David Pavett says:

    Well, maybe I have missed a step in the argument but I think that it makes no sense whatsoever to say that there will be “No backroom footsie over individual votes” with the SNP after the election. A minority government has to do deals all the time. There would have to be deals with the Tories as well. It seems to me to be both anti-democratic (and not very smart) to say that there will be no deals.

    This approach lines up with the right-wing press which is treating the SNP as illegitimate. They are not. Like them or not (am not a supporter) they are a bona fide political party which is winning massive support in its home territory. To say that Labour would not deal with them will play into the hands of the SNP who will be able to argue that Labour like the Tories does not want to deal with the elected representatives of the Scottish people. Miliband’s remarks were ill-advised and almost certain to be counter-productive. He should have said that while it is in the best interests of Scotland to return Labour MPs a Labour government will do its best to deal with whoever the Scottish people choose. To say otherwise will be portrayed as English arrogance and it is actually difficult to see it otherwise.

    The idea that the SNP can be held at bay by making every vote a vote of confidence strikes me as not making much sense either. If every vote is a vote of confidence the government is in crisis and won’t last long.

    Labour has blown it big time in Scotland over a long period, during the referendum campaign and now seems set on continuing with the same destructive strategy.

    I don’t favour the break up of Britain but it seems with every move of the major parties this is becoming more and more likely.

  4. Peter Rowlands says:

    The article is similar to one by Adam Ramsay in Open Democracy and by Martin Kettle in today’s Guardian, all agreeing that the SNP’s leverage will be limited. No, of course there couldn’t have been even an implicit deal before the election, but Labour must be careful of not putting itself in a position of effectively conceding a Tory based government.
    As Kettle and indeed Andy Burnham have said parties talk to each other, and the SNP, as David Pavett has said, are no less legitimate in this regard then anyone else.
    The best hope of there not being a successful referendum on independence in the next few years is for a Labour government to demonstrate its concern for the interests of ordinary people everywhere in the UK. It might even win us back some seats in Scotland!

  5. neu75 says:

    Also people have been making the wrong assumption about how Labour and the SNP are politically simpatico and somehow they have worked together in the past. Never been the case. Yes they broadly share some values and centre-left policy but there has been no love lost between the two parties since the 1970s and Callaghan certainly didn’t turn to the SNP’s then record 11 MPs when Labour last governed as a minority administration. With Rupert Murdoch’s twin-track Tory/SNP support thrown into the mix, I am highly suspicious towards their intentions. I suspect the Scottish people are being taken for a ride and kudos to Miliband for ignoring them…

  6. swatantra says:

    There’s always a big difference between what politicians say before an Election, and after an Election. So I’ll wait and see. I’m sure that they’ll already have drafted phrases like ….. and ….. changing circumstances …. have to deal with pressing necesesities…. TINA … etc

  7. Barry Ewart says:

    The attack dog line of the Tories seems to be try to present Labour as Anti-Business – hence the letter from 5,000 small businesses supporting the Tories (out of 5.2m small businesses in the UK) and evidence shows that some of the people signing were Tories and some weren’t even business people!
    Having studied organisations all my life it was interesting to hear such a narrow view of enterprise and entrepreneurship from some of the small business contributors in the debate.
    They came over to me as Me!Me!Me!
    As though working people (their staff) were there to just to make them rich (The capitalist image of the fat capitalist with the cigar)
    It is the labour of their staff (unless you are self- employed) that creates the wealth but I would argue that the small business contributors (some probably Tories) represented bland business when democratic socialists should support dynamic business where staff are well rewarded, treated well and valued, involved and have a say (hey a bit of democracy) and staff will feel motivated and then staff may say why don’t we do this? What about that?, This isn’t working, Why not try that? and are prepared to think outside of the box, think critically, draw on evidence and experience. Labour is not against business as long as people are not exploited but should be against bland business and be pro dynamic business as above.
    Ed was half right re the private sector creating the jobs- they should come from billons from state-led public investment then the private sector will make collectively millions feeding the chain.
    The minority of small business Tory attack dogs I would argue seem to think that working people are their to serve them when the majority of wiser, lovely business people recognise that they are there to serve working people.
    It was interesting by the way to read in the Times today that at least 20+% of the top FTE business leader would support Labour – some of these could be the decent qualified human beings who could answer the call if we took some industries into democratic pubic ownership (with staff electing the boards).
    Oh and as for the small business Attack Dogs perhaps they should recall the words (slightly adapted) of Charles Dickens iin Christmas Carol, “Business! Business! Humankind is your business”
    Love and best wishes.

  8. Patrick says:

    If Labour does not talk to the SNP about individual bills it will make it harder to get them on to the statute book. There will inevitably be discussion to ensure votes stack up in advance and to minimise a daily parliamentary drama. The same applies to other parties; Labour will turn to the Tories on many issues (welfare, immigration, Trident, education etc). After all, this is a bourgeois democracy integrated into the USA imperial project; and the needs of business and monopoly Capital for profit must come first, mustn’t they.

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