Thanks to the Scottish independence referendum, we really are in an odd situation. Labour is doing not badly at all south of the border, with all the polls suggesting we will gain a good number of marginal seats from both the Tories and the Lib Dems. But losses to the SNP could wipe out those net gains. The SNP is what stands between a Labour government and a hung parliament.
The Tory adverts showing Ed Miliband in Alex Salmond’s pocket were crude and made very little logical sense (in what sense would two parties who are engaged in an existential electoral battle and in diametrically opposite positions on several key issues be in the kind of relationship implied?) but showed how clever Tory campaign guru Lynton Crosby is. He successfully came up with an image which left unchallenged could have damaged Labour further in Scotland where people want to think they can vote SNP and still get a Labour PM, and in England where polls show the public don’t like the SNP and don’t want them to have any influence in government.
Ed Miliband’s statement yesterday ruling out a Labour/SNP coalition by saying “There will be no SNP ministers in any government I lead” was therefore absolutely the right thing to do.
Personally I welcome it because I don’t want Labour to enter into coalition with anyone (I explain why here) but particularly not with the SNP given that their stance on independence would destroy my country and their stance on Trident would leave it defenceless.
But even if you are not a pro-nuclear deterrent, unionist, tribal Labourite like me, it was the right thing to do.
If we are going to pull back any ground in Scotland we needed to demonstrate that voting SNP will not deliver a Labour PM with Salmond and Sturgeon dragging them to the left, but instead just increases the risk the Tories get asked to form the government because they are the largest party.
And if we are to win English marginals we can’t afford swing Tory/Labour voters worrying that they might get a Labour-led coalition government where the strings are pulled by SNP leftwing extremists who would also be securing unfair preferential treatment for Scotland.
The SNP would bring nothing but trouble to a coalition government. Forming a coalition with them would destroy any reason for voting Labour rather than SNP in Scotland, terrify English voters, and saddle us with policies that would be strategically wrong for the country as well as unpopular south of the Border.
And their own previous statements and behaviour mean they have no negotiating position or leverage over us in a hung parliament. They have already said they won’t put the Tories into power so they have no choice but to back a Labour minority government on key confidence and supply votes, without us even needing to negotiate such a deal. And if they did vote Labour out in a confidence vote, they would be “Turkeys voting for Early Christmas” to quote Michael Foot the last time they kicked Labour out and let the Tories in in 1979.
An SNP that had let the Tories back into power would be back where it was in the 1980s on two seats.
Given this is such a no-brainer the only surprise is that we didn’t state our position more clearly weeks ago. This sort of delay is not good enough in a modern 24 hour news cycle. In the remainder of the campaign we need to rebut and shut down Tory attacks in minutes, not weeks as we won’t have weeks.
It’s not as though there was any internal debate on this – not a single credible Labour figure was advocating a coalition with the SNP.
Nicola Sturgeon’s own lack of interest in achieving a Labour government is demonstrated by her alliance with the Greens and advocacy of voting Green in England, which would make a Tory majority more likely by siphoning votes away from Labour in marginal seats. This is because her strategic goal of an independent Scotland would be advanced not by a Labour government delivering for Scotland but by a Tory government cutting Scottish budgets.
Still, better late than never, and well done Ed for drawing a line under this irritating and ridiculous speculation.