by Atul Hatwal
Christmas might be a time when most of politics takes a break, but from the late night festive carousing comes word of the potential deal that Ed Miliband will be offered by the SNP, to sustain a minority Labour government in office.
Uncut has heard from SNP advisers that their MPs in Westminster could be prepared to “do whatever it takes to keep Labour in office,” if Ed Miliband accedes to one request.
No, it’s not a new date for another independence referendum. Well, not quite.
The SNP MPs would support every aspect of a Labour programme, voting with the Labour whip, even on England only issues, if Ed Miliband commits his new government to “accept the will of the Scottish people” were Scotland to demonstrate a desire for a new independence referendum.
The test of this will would come in 2016 at the Holyrood elections where the central plank of the SNP platform will be a call for another referendum.
Even though Alex Salmond said that the 2014 vote was a once in a generation opportunity, the SNP will cite the unheralded depth of new cuts and the ever more virulently anti-European position of the Conservative party, as the basis for revisiting the choice.
With PM Ed Miliband facing a choice of deep cuts or steep tax rises or big hikes in borrowing, or some combination of all three – none of which any Westminster party will have acknowledged in the election campaign – the SNP case will be that the unionists lied to the Scottish public, about the UK’s economic position, when the original independence vote was taken in 2014.
And if David Cameron loses the election, he will soon be ejected from the leadership of his party, with his replacement likely to be forced to adopt an even more Eurosceptic policy, if not an outright commitment to leave the EU. The SNP position will be that the threat of a future Conservative administration (which drew its MPs almost entirely from England) taking the UK out of the EU, despite Scotland’s desire to remain in Europe, would mean an early referendum, before the 2020 election, was essential.
If the SNP retained a majority at Holyrood in 2016 then Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond would cash-in their IOU from Ed Miliband and set a date for the new referendum.
This is not a certain route to independence for the SNP, but nationalist opinion is coalescing around it as the best one available.
It is politically impossible for Ed Miliband to simply accept a new independence referendum in return for SNP votes. That would be seen as too craven. Making a new independence vote contingent on the 2016 Scottish elections is the next best option.
And come what may, the SNP will need to have a majority government at Holyrood to re-open the independence question; under the terms of this deal, if they achieve that, then the UK government will allow them to confirm the date.
The SNP are optimistic that Miliband will accept the terms of the prospective deal for three reasons.
First, they believe that they will hold the balance of Westminster power with a considerably increased number of MPs.
Currently there are 6 SNP MPs with polls suggesting a rise to over 40 representatives. Although few in the nationalist leadership believe this to be possible, more likely is a rise to somewhere in the range of 15-30 MPs.
Given the majority of these will come at the expense of Labour, the SNP will certainly have parliamentary leverage over Ed Miliband. Even if the Conservatives are narrowly the largest party, a Labour-SNP deal could easily make the difference in determining who becomes prime minister.
Second, the nationalists see the balance of Miliband’s personal choice as weighted towards doing a deal with them.
If he didn’t accept their offer, then he will not become prime minister and would be almost certainly deposed as Labour leader. Ed Miliband’s tenure at Labour’s helm would go down in ignominy, he would be seen as a failure and his political career wrecked
Alternately, he could say yes and become PM.
Under the terms of the deal, he wouldn’t even be saying yes to Scottish independence, or another date for a referendum, just that he would abide by the democratic will of the Scottish people in 2016 – a significantly lower and more defensible threshold.
An agreement would give Ed Miliband the chance to govern and he would go down in history as leading the first one-term opposition in forty years.
The logic of Miliband and Labour’s own rhetoric also militates towards accepting a deal. The increasingly apocalyptic predictions on the future of the NHS and the health of the economy would suggest almost any price was worth paying to prevent another Conservative-led government.
Third, there are the personal rivalries at the top of Labour that make a deal attractive. Jim Murphy has made great play of his independence from Ed Miliband’s leadership, much to anger of the Labour leader’s inner circle.
If the cardinal condition for a new referendum was an SNP majority in Holyrood, then any Labour failure to prevent the nationalists from achieving this would rest primarily with Jim Murphy.
Ed Miliband would be damaged but the blame for defeat in Scotland could be loaded onto Jim Murphy while Miliband set about doing whatever was needed to win the new vote.
More than anything else, the SNP views Ed Miliband as a man to defer a difficult decision if he can. Their formulation of the potential deal enables Ed Miliband to safely become prime minister while postponing any pain on Scotland.
He would have the Holyrood election and the independence vote itself, before having to confront the reality of the break-up of the union.
Regardless of the vote from last September, the future of the union will be very much in play at the 2015 general election. Currently, the advantage is with the Scottish nationalists.
Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut