by David Butler
On current seat protections, Labour, in an informal pact with the SNP, could be back in government in less than two weeks. Any deal would be painful and fraught with risk. Yet it could last the whole Parliament and enable Labour to secure a good deal of its programme.
In our system, the pivot legislator, that MP that decides whether a bill is passed or not, normally sits within at the governing party (or governing coalition as was the case for the previous parliament). Under a Labour minority government, this legislator would be outside the party. To pass a bill, Labour needs to make that pivot legislator, or the party group they are within, prefer the proposal to the status quo. On most policy positions and on basic parliamentary arithmetic, the nearest group containing a pivot legislator will be the SNP. Hence, creating an informal pact with the SNP would maximise our chance of passing legislation.
However, the SNP has a different set of motivations to Labour. They care about sustaining their emerging dominance in Scotland and creating the conditions for independence. For the Nationalists, policy positions are mere instruments for achieving this. Through observing this set of motivations, it is possible to see why they would continue to prop up a Labour government.
Firstly, the SNP will able at to extract returns for Scotland and concessions on policy positions. They would seek to claim credit for any improvements in Scotland under a Labour minority administration, reinforcing their “Stronger for Scotland” rhetoric. Second, they would try to place the blame upon Labour (or Westminster or the lack of autonomy) for any painful reforms and the continuation of austerity. Thirdly, propping up a Labour government will enable them to claim credibility for their “Vote SNP, lock out of the Tories in Westminster” message. Fourthly, SNP MPs can ‘wing flap’, signalling about their ‘true’ position on pieces of legislation through tabling amendments and making speeches, even if they ultimately vote for the bill in question; the longer the parliament, the more wing flapping can take place. Finally, they can work with the thirty to forty MPs that John McDonnell claims will be sympathetic to Campaign Group positions to force Labour to seek Tory, Liberal Democrat and DUP votes on issues like Trident and welfare reform (reinforcing their narrative about Labour not being real progressives).