Letter from the Whitehall Editor: The SNP can’t afford not to back Labour


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The Independent Online

If the polls are correct it looks likely that on 8 May we will wake up with a party that doesn’t want to be part of the United Kingdom holding the balance of power in the UK Parliament.

But just how much influence would the Scottish National Party (SNP) exert in Westminster? Could it, as the Tories claim, force Labour to scrap Trident, allow Scottish workers to retire earlier or force another independence vote?

The answer is no. While the SNP might have notional power in the seats it wins it is boxed in by its own political situation.

“The SNP will never be part of supporting the Tories into government,” Nicola Sturgeon said in the Scottish leaders’ debate. “I don’t think we want a formal coalition either – but what I have said is we will work with Labour to keep the Tories out.

“So if there are more Labour and SNP MPs than there are Tory MPs then we would vote in a vote of confidence to stop a Tory government getting off the ground.”

That seems obvious on one level. But this position also removes any potential for the SNP to demand policy concessions from Labour as a price for their support.

All Ed Miliband need do is call the SNP’s bluff. Oppose us if you want, he will say, but that will just trigger an election that could let the Tories in. And if the SNP is held to be responsible for destroying a progressive alliance in Westminster, it could lose supporters north of the border in next year’s Scottish Parliament election.

So Labour can ignore the SNP safe in the knowledge that it will be forced to support him in any vote of confidence. Mr Miliband just has to do well enough in the election first.