November 19, 2014 by Paul Goldsmith
So, now we know how desperately the SNP want the Conservatives to hold the balance of power at the next General election. At their conference last weekend, their leader Nicola Sturgeon set out their conditions for engaging with Labour in a ‘confidence and supply’ deal (which means voting with them in Parliament to help them govern without being in Parliament). The conditions she set out are so unrealistic that it can only be assumed that the SNP believe that it is only through having a Tory government in Westminster that they can keep themselves being seen as the only thing protecting Scotland from oblivion….putting us closer to another independence referendum.
Sturgeon promised, to no-one’s surprise, that the SNP would never put a Conservative government in place at Westminster. She said, however, in a sign of just how parochial the SNP’s interests will be in the event of a hung Parliament – “Think about how much more we could win for Scotland from a Westminster Labour government if they had to depend on SNP votes.”
She also talked of how the current political path being taken at Westminster (the path taken by the Conservative-led Coalition, but not particularly effectively opposed by Labour) was pushing Scotland to a second independence referendum. “With the UK hurtling head long for the EU exit door, with the unionist parties watering down their vow of more powers, with deeper austerity cuts and new Trident weapons looming on the horizon, it may be that our opponents bring that day closer than we could ever have imagined on the morning of the 19 September.”
Then – she set out the three conditions the SNP would insist on. First would come the making good those promises for more powers for the Scottish government, which may include income tax rate setting powers – something she knows Labour opposes. Then comes a ‘rethink’ of “endless austerity” – and the removal of Trident nuclear weapons from their current Faslane base in the West of Scotland. Added to this, although unspoken directly, is the feeling that, despite their commitment to referendums, they would not want a referendum on leaving the EU.
I have written before about the difficulty of unilateral nuclear disarmament (click here) in the current international relations argument. But as we know, the SNP have little problem in acting unilaterally – after all – they insisted that they could unilaterally retain the pound even if the rest of the UK refused to engage in monetary union. A Labour government would be very wary of entering into that commitment, although I would agree they are far more likely to than a Tory government.
A ‘rethink of endless austerity’ is an interesting one. Does Sturgeon believe that the deficit shouldn’t be reduced? Or does she have another plan for doing it? It doesn’t look like it given the huge shopping list of social justice policies she went on to set out – the introduction of 30 hours of free childcare for all three and four-year-olds by 2020, a real-terms increase in NHS spending in each year of the next parliament and making payment of the living wage a “central priority” of all Scottish government contracts. In the absence of significant increases in taxation, it remains to be seen how the SNP think they will pay for this. As I have also written (click here) – simply raising tax on higher earners may not work without Scotland building the Berlin Wall at its borders.
In the end, it suits the SNP to have a Tory government. A government that continues all the policies that the SNP has set itself against make it easier to sell independence. A Labour government that is moving towards the “socially just” future the SNP talks of makes that less easier. It’s hard to sell the need for independence when you are working with a left-wing Westminster government that has repealed the bedroom tax, capped fuel prices and rent, and is raising the minimum wage higher than the Tories ever would.
Given the shift in voting behaviour that is likely to put the SNP in a position next May in which they do have proper influence on the formation of the Westminster government, we need to take what the SNP says very seriously. Nicola Sturgeon has been very clear on what the SNP wants, both verbally and also unspoken.