Six reasons why Labour should rule out an SNP deal

by Rob Marchant

There is a rule in electoral pact-making, and pretty much any card game, which is fairly universal: don’t show your hand to the other players.

That is, don’t rule anything in and don’t rule it out. You have nothing to gain (you can fritter away your negotiation leverage when agreeing the pact) and everything to lose, in the event that you find yourself in a different situation from that expected and have to eat your words. Obvious, really. Wait until the moment comes and deal with things when you have all the information.

But it could also be argued that there one sensible exception to that rule: if the mere hint of a pact with another party could be damaging to yours even before the election. Especially when things are balanced on a knife-edge and almost anything could affect the result.

That has never really been the case with the Lib Dems: until 2010 they were a slightly dull, modestly successful and broadly respectable opposition party, whether we liked it or not. Now they are bloodied with the hard work of actual government and potentially facing a big hit at the polls, they are possibly less attractive partners. But neither are they toxic.

The same cannot necessarily be said for some other parties. Cameron would have to tread very carefully indeed in the unhappy event of ending in a coalition with UKIP, unlikely though that might seem – the toxicity of some of its members could sit ill with his (mostly) respectable party.

But worse still is the idea of a partnership between Labour and the SNP. Here’s why.

First, public perception. In Scotland the SNP is seen – at least by some – as a serious, governing party. In England, most people remember it as it was for most of its history, a small party full of cranks.

The impression left on the rest of the UK by the referendum has mostly been that this is no longer correct: it is now a large party full of cranks (if you think this too harsh, try going on to Twitter and criticising the SNP without being set upon by a pack of CyberNats).

Second, the break-up of the Union. Call me old-fashioned, but I think most Britons are pretty fond of it, albeit in a rather understated, British way. We are not big flag-wavers.

Now, what was the most historically important political event of this parliament? Why, without doubt, the independence referendum.

What we saw last September was that apparently the most separatist-minded part of mainland UK was not, after all, that separatist-minded. However, non-Scots, too, saw the edge of the abyss. That it really might have happened. How happy do you think those people are to see Labour playing footsie with the very people who want to make it happen? And how would Miliband be remembered if it were to happen on his watch?

Third, the poorness of fit between the two parties. In Scotland, it is no exaggeration to say the two parties pretty much hate each other, and a divisive referendum made that sentiment stronger, not weaker. But worse, it is surely wanton cannibalism to take the very party which is close to wiping you out in your homelands and enter into a pact with it.

For example, Cameron’s unsellable message to Europhobes is “there is one party which would really do something about immigration from Europe, but don’t vote for it, vote for us instead”.

Similarly, a pact-seeking Labour Party’s message to undecided Scots is “the SNP will likely form part of our government anyway but, hey, please vote for us not them”. Not good, is it? And much less so when the prospect of a Scottish wipeout is staring you in the face.

Fourth, because it is a gift to the Tories. Cameron – aided and abetted by his predecessor-but-three, John Major – last weekend pressed the point, because it is good electoral tactics. He knows how unpopular the SNP is everywhere but Scotland (and it’s not even that popular there. It did lose a referendum and a leader in the last six months, which might reasonably be viewed as somewhat careless).

Fifth, because by pacting you exacerbate the meltdown already threatening Scottish Labour. As it is, rebuilding the party will be a slow and painful process.

Although the reality may be end up being a bit less cataclysmic than polls suggest, there is no need to turn a strong possibility into a racing certainty.

Sixth, because in order to leave a pact on the table, you have to see it as remotely workable – this isn’t. A fairly unpopular leader with an even more unpopular leader (in England at least) as coalition partner. With strong pressure within both parties to defy economic gravity and end austerity. And, of course, the very real threat of Scottish secession; with a battered Scottish Labour Party probably in open revolt after a coalition deal, a second referendum would have ideal timing. It is difficult to think of a governing model less suited to stable, successful government.

As Sam Dale has already written here at Uncut, such a coalition presents basic issues of economic and political stability, which could easily dog an SNP-Labour coalition. And, as was also written here, it seems pretty likely that Labour’s leadership would take it, at least if there were no other palatable option. And, as former Labour MP Eric Joyce argues here, a full coalition is not as unlikely as people think.

That would be a mistake of epic proportions.

So, it is not just that it wouldn’t work – its very mention is damaging to Labour. It conjures up an image of a hotch-potch government, whose senior partner, to stay in power, concedes policies with whichever wackos they need to, whether it be for economic fairyland or the break-up of the nation, or both.

Politically, not a good look. And Britain is a country with a history of political evolution, not revolution.

The truth is that Miliband realises that he will probably need to govern with a partner and, in the heat of a post-election scramble, things will surely move fast.

But, as they say: marry in haste, repent at leisure.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left


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11 Responses to “Six reasons why Labour should rule out an SNP deal”

  1. I’m not sure why the British establishment isn’t using its usual tactics when faced with those who would break away from the state – make them part of the establishment; give them good jobs at the top of government; shower them with OBEs and peerages. Wait until their egos inflate to a point where they suddenly can’t squeeze out the doors of the gravy train they’ve found themselves on.

    If Labour want to neutralize the SNP, they should invite them in to power. 😉

  2. Ex Labour says:

    Yes the SNP lost the referendum and a leader, but gained far more members and support. Labour was also pushed out of its heartlands in Glasgow. Can Labour in Scotland or England realistically tolerate being bed fellows with the opponents who have annhiliated them. I like you think not. Its like some form of political Stockholm Syndrome.

    You also miss the issue of EVEL. Do you think the English electorate would stand for being ruled by Labour via their SNP puppet masters ? Vote Labour get the SNP. Its little wonder that the Tories are going big on this at the moment. Yet again Miliband has misjudged the mood.

  3. Robert says:

    Labour should not rule out an arrangement with what might be the third biggest party and the democratic choice of the Scottish people. The result would be a Tory government or a very unstable government. Ifan is right.

  4. steve says:

    In Scotland Labour has committed suicide more times than is decent.

    First there was the ‘Better Together’ coalition with the Tories. Then there was choosing Murphy as leader of Scottish Labour. And now there’s a video doing the rounds showing Murphy’s Chief of Staff, John McTernan, at last years Tory conference offering advice on how to beat Labour.

    No surprise that Scottish Labour is facing obliteration. The SNP can now credibly claim to be the main representatives of anti-Tory sentiment north of the border.

    And, like it or not, polling suggests Labour will have to work with the SNP if it wants to form a government after May 7th.

  5. Robert says:

    Would the SNP want to go in with labour, that is the question if you listen to labour the SNP is closer to the Tories then labour. It’s a pretend socialist party to foll voters while Murphy is to the left, which would really fool voters.

    I think the SNP have a lot to lose by going in with labour.

  6. I think we have got the message now Rob. You really don’t want a Labour government in any form under its present leader.

  7. Andrew says:

    With the SNP looking likely to gain the overwhelming number of MPs ruling out a deal with the SNP is tantamount to telling the Scottish people that they can never expect to be represented in the UK government. You are saying in effect that the UK is not a union but a mini English empire.

    Isn’t it likely they’ll prefer to be first class citizens in their own country rather than second class citizens in yours?

  8. 07052015 says:

    You might have to get used to it-the country has to be governed and if the only alternative is tories plus dup and/or ukip the votes might not be there.

    More likely is labour plus confidence and supply with libdems and agreement with snp to vote against a no confidence motion and discussion on uk financial issues.

  9. Ex Labour says:

    @ Andrew

    No what Rob is saying is that should 50 MP’s from the SNP in Scotland, who dont want to be part of the UK, rule over the other 600 MP’s by proxy (supporting Labour) who do want to be part of the UK.

    Is that democracy ? It seems Labour desperation for power thinks it is. No wonder Labour are swerving EVEL and trying to kick it into the long grass.

  10. @Andrew: so, saying that you don’t want to pact with a party with 5-10% of the seats is the same as saying you don’t ever want them to form part of the UK government.

    No, it’s saying they should form part of the UK government as and when voters give them enough seats to make it viable. Or try and get their own secession going in Scotland. The public has shown so far they are not interested in either.

    It’s called democracy.

  11. Tafia says:

    Unfortunately rob, that’s imperialistic nonsense. You are trying to organise Parliament along English lines not UK lines. If the Scots wish to vote in large numbers of secessionist MPs that is their legal right and you not only have to accept that but fully support it.

    I recall that initially after the 2010 election Brown attempted to remain in power with Balls leading a team trying to cobble together a ‘rainbow coalition’ and getting exactly nowhere because Labour wouldn’t alter any of it’s policies to accommodate the people it wanted support from.

    If Labour wish to attempt top turn the country with a minority government then they have that right – however the economic instability and uncertainty it will cause will be entirely their fault – not the tories, not Scotland’s SNP voters and not ULIPs voters = just theirs and theirs alone.

    Labour does not have a right to govern – never has done and never will do. It hasn’t polled over 50% of the turnout since 1945 and has never polled over 50% of the electorate – it has never spoken for the majority and has only got into power the same way as the tories – via the back door of the vagueries and lottery of FPTP.

    The old system is gone and won’t be coming back anytime soon – multi-party politics is here to stay and you have only two choices, accept it or slowly and deservedly perish.

    If Miliband doesn’t want to rule over an economic catastrophe post-election (the international money markets don’t like weak governments – well they do, but only to bleed them) then he is going to have to enter in to some form of pact with at least 2 other parties without the SNP (there won’t be enough Lib Dems to use them alone). He has no other option other than the SNP. If he goes for something excluding the SNP then Plaid and Greens will also refuse to support him and he will be in a position of needing at least 3 other parties from what is left, the biggest of which will be the openly anti-gay, anti-EU, anti-immigrant DUP, who incidentally want the return of full home rule to Northern Ireland (something the PIRA will never accept). If he excludes the SNP (+ PC & Green) and the DUP then he has major problems and would be unable to form a majority without UKIP.

    Behaving like a child just shows the arrogance of Labour and why it is struggling to get anywhere. As unpopular and despicable as the tories may be, they are neck-and-neck with Labour meaning Labour are no better in the public’s eyes.

    Whoever Labour decides to use and how, it is going to have to compromise.

    And as for they should form part of the UK government as and when voters give them enough seats to make it viable. – I thought you were supposed to be educated. It’s up to whoever the Queen asks can they form government as to who that government should comprise of ir has nothing to do with the voters.

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