March 26, 2015 by Paul Goldsmith
In these days of people complaining that politicians don’t give a straight answer to questions, it has been refreshing to see Alex Salmond doing so. Many people may not like what he is saying, but by being so straight with us he is at least helping us to understand what would happen should the SNP win the massive rump of seats they are headed for in May. We certainly can’t accuse him of hiding. But I for one am extremely worried by what he has been saying.
It comes to down to two things.
Firstly, in Sunday on BBC, he said that, should Labour be leading a minority government, the SNP would use the “power” they would then have over that minority government to amend budgets in Scotland’s favour. Pointing out that “if you hold the balance, then you hold the power”, he essentially said that the SNP would be wanting more funding for Scotland’s public services (even though under the Barnett formula the Scottish people receive more funding per head from Westminster than anyone else). Now, this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, because the SNP are very clear that they represent the people of Scotland, but it does mean that Labour could be held to ransom by a group of politicians with purely parochial interests should they be able to form a minority government.
Secondly, Salmond said on Tuesday that should the Conservatives be forming a minority government, the SNP would vote down their Queen’s Speech (given about a month after the election), which would mean that minority government may not be able to operate. To avoid that, the Conservatives will need to hope that between them and the Lib Dems and the DUP there are enough seats to be able to see off a challenge like that. Otherwise, as Salmond pointed out will be known to anyone “who has actually read the Fixed Term Parliament Act”, the opposition will have two weeks to try to form a government”, which means that he and the SNP would be able to claim that they had got rid of the Tories and installed a Labour government. Quite an achievement. The Conservatives argue that Salmond is threatening to “sabotage the democratic will of the British people”.
There are two ways to look at these two approaches, and they need to be looked at together. Jim Murphy, the Scottish Labour leader, retorted that, given Salmond has said that the SNP would not work with a Tory government, the SNP has less bargaining chips than it thinks it has. What if Labour refuse to dance to the SNP’s tune? By even Salmond’s analysis, this would bring down Labour’s government and give the Tories the chance to form a government, which means the SNP would have brought on a Tory government. Taking that situation to its conclusion, Salmond says that the SNP would vote against any Tory budget, which means that the Tory government that follows may also not be able to operate. So it would go back to Labour. Chaos ensues.
The other way to look at the response of the Conservatives is to translate what they are saying into what it really means. The only way the Conservatives will be in power in May is by relying on English voters. So if the SNP aim to bring down their minority government they would actually be “sabotaging the democratic will of the English people.” It cannot be illegitimate under our democratic system for Scottish MPs to vote down the policies of onegovernment and install another government. If it is illegitimate then why bother with having a UK Parliament. Why have the Union in the first place?
Whatever you think of this election campaign, and I think very little of it, it is hard for any student of politics not to get excited about what could happen afterwards.