Over the past week there have been the initial murmurings of a potential (post-election) deal between Labour and the SNP. The argument goes that if Labour falls short of a majority (at least in part due to losing seats to the Scottish nationalists) then nothing should be ruled out. That argument has been made by voices as diverse as former Scotland First Minister Henry McLeish and our own Conor Pope.
But I’m afraid I disagree – any sort of deal with the SNP must be ruled out, because it’s not only undesirable, it’s also counter-productive and unworkable. Oh, and it’d cause enormous damage to the country (possibly splitting it in two) and severely harm the Labour Party.
You might say I’m not keen on the idea.
Let’s start first with the impact of an SNP/Labour deal in Scotland. Instantly, this tells the Scottish electorate that if you want rid of the Tories, you can vote for either Labour or the SNP. Not only does that potentially split the Scottish anti-Tory vote (and some of the Scottish vote is more clearly anti-Tory than either Labour or Nationalist) but failing to rule out a deal hands the SNP a compelling narrative between now and May. Want rid of the Tories and a Labour government in Westminster? The SNP will claim that you can get that if you vote for them, and that (because they only care about Scotland) they’d get the best deal for Scotland. It’s not true of course, because the best way to deliver for Scotland is through a strong Labour majority government. An SNP group in Westminster (led by Salmond) would constantly be on manouveres to embarass Labour, to try to convince the Scottish people that Labour are the bad guys, to create splits and divisions and to bring about – by hook or by crook – the only thing that really matters to them. Independence.
A coalition (or any other form of deal) with the SNP would seriously damage the Scottish Labour Party, and potentially nudge Scotland closer to the Union’s exit door. For that reason alone, a deal should be off the table today – and that rejection should (and will) come from Scotland at least as loudly as from the rest of the UK.
But there are other arguments too. Why should Labour work with a party – and allow effective power of veto over elements of government policy – that doesn’t even believe in the country or the body that is being governed? The Scottish referendum was a rare example of sovereignty being settled in a democratic way, but bringing separatists into the government of the country they want to leave seems perverse. Why should the SNP get to have a say over what happens in Leeds, Newcastle, Derby, Swansea or Plymouth? These are cities that the SNP (wrongly) believe are in a different country. These are foreign cities as far as the SNP are concerned. How then could be explain to the electorate of England and Wales that we had put the desire for a Commons majority before our desire to exclude people whose entire political credo revolves about not caring what happens in England and Wales?
So a coalition (or any other form of deal) with the SNP would also seriously damage the Labour Party in England and Wales too – and encourage voices in those nations who want Scotland to leave the Union to become more vocal (further nudging Scotland towards the exit).
To put it simply – why on earth would Labour agree to a deal that would damage the party in Scotland (possibly bringing about the end of the union and making future Labour governments more unlikely), whilst simultaneously alienating the rest of the UK for a generation?
The only argument in favour of a post-election deal with the SNP is that it gives Labour a better chance of getting into Downing Street. That’s always the main aim of every election, but we mustn’t allow short-term aims to destroy the very fabric of our nation and our party. If Labour is the largest party in the Commons, a minority government would be far more preferable than working with the SNP.