April 13, 2015 by Paul Goldsmith
Like the the ‘many’ fellow political obsessives in England, I spent Tuesday evening glued to my IPad as I watched the Scottish leaders’ debate live. The leaders of the four main parties in Scotland – SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy, Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson, and Willie Rennie, the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats faced off on BBC Scotland. It was a fascinating exchange (again, probably only for political obsessives, but fascinating nonetheless), because the leaders, none of whom will actually have the deliver the policies they are talking about, we’re talking openly about who would partner whom in a hung Parliament, something the Westminster leaders had declined to talk about in last week’s mass debate.
As I saw Nicola Sturgeon on the back foot for the first time in this campaign (she admitted openly that a second referendum may be in the SNP manifesto for the Scottish Assembky elections in 2016, drawing jeers from the audience), I realised that we may not have to worry about the influence of the SNP on the Westninster government after the election as much as I had been. As long as Ed Miliband is strong enough, it may be that he will realise that he has something quite powerful to offer Nicola Sturgeon in exchange for the support of the SNP MPs in key votes at Westminster: Nothing.
I meant it. Nothing.
I was reading recently of a scene in Godfather 2 when the eponymous Mafia boss Michael Corleone turns up at a meeting with a Pat Geary, a Las Vegas politician who is in a position to decide whether or not Corleone gets himself a gaming licence. This is important for Corleone as it is the start of him and his family becoming a legitimate business operation. Geary thinks that he has the upper hand in this negotiation, as he can demand massive bribes in return for granting the licence. Corleone, however, has other ideas. “My final offer is this: Nothing”. We then see in the film Corleone organising Geary being put in a position so compromising that he ends up. Paying for the gaming licence himself as well as granting it. The point is that Corleone arrived at that meeting knowing that he could put Geary in a position where he has no choice put to cooperate.
Ed Miliband could be in the same position after May. Unlike a good negotiator, Nickla Sturgeon has completely revealed her hand. She has been as clear as can be about her position, which is that under no circumstances will she support a Conservative government after May 7th. This includes working together with other parties to vote down a Queens’s Soeech or a budget and voting against them in a vote of confidence. That’s all well and good. It means that the SNP could use their up to 50 seats to wield real influence on the Labour government. Sturgeon says that the SNP could “keep a Labour government honest”, could force them to “end austerity” and to end Trident, or force them to grant Scotland full fiscal autonomy. Or so they think.
Because Ed Miliband, were he strong enough, could respond to SNP demands for him to change course with “and what if I don’t?” If the SNP vote against a Labour budget or a Labour Queen’s speech they bring in. Conservative government, because, as Nicola Sturgeon has helpfully pointed out, under the Fixed Term Parliament Act, if the Queen’s speech (representing the new Government’s legislative programme) is voted down, the opposition (ie the Conservatives) get two weeks to form an alternative government. So, by voting against Labour, the SNP will bring in a Conservative Government, which they have committed to not do.
So, given Sturgeon and the SNP have precisely nothing to play with in negotiations with Labour. Given they don’t actually have a walkway position, Ed Miliband, should he be able to form a government, should feel confident to say “My final offer is this: Nothing”.
I certainly feel a lot better knowing that.