Alex Salmond is the Ally Macleod of this election campaign

by David Ward

We’re back in the 1970s apparently. Beards are back. A coalition government is slowly dying, and the world economy is in trouble. Another of my 70s favourites was Ally’s Tartan Army, poised to conquer the football world. And Alex Salmond thinks he’ll be writing a Labour government budget according to this video released by the Tories last week.

Now we can all see it’s in a ‘relaxed’ atmosphere where the crowd seem a few pints to the good, and Salmond has slipped into his music hall act. But given he’s spent 23 years in the House of Commons, you’d think Salmond would have realised – he won’t be writing anybody’s budget, anytime soon.

Let’s take the position the SNP are likely to be in, should Labour be the largest party. If they have around 50 seats and their vote bloc is the difference between a Labour or Conservative administration, Nicola Sturgeon has already announced their decision to support Labour.

Under constitutional precedent at this point it would be clear that David Cameron would not have a majority in the house and would be expected to resign. If he chooses he can try to face the house as Baldwin did in 1924, and put a government address to vote. But if Sturgeon fulfils her promise he would lose, and as the next most likely leader, Miliband would be asked to form a government as Ramsay Macdonald was in both 1924 and 1929 in similar circumstances.

There will be no coalition between Labour and the SNP as has been made clear already, so no need for a specific agreement. Instead Labour are free to put forward their own Queen’s speech. Sure this might contain some shared items from both manifestos, but there would be no need to address controversial issues like Trident or ‘ending austerity for the NHS’.

So we move onto Salmond’s budget. Or more accurately Ed Balls’ budget. Anyone who’s read a budget bill (and Salmond must have scanned through one of the 23 he voted on) would know there is no itemisation of commitments. So there will be nothing in there with ‘Trident’ next to it. Instead there are estimates of spending on each department in total, and a small number of these are pulled out for debate in the chamber. Even assuming defence was pulled out for debate, the SNP would need Conservative MPs to vote for reducing defence spending to win it.

Even if they succeeded in getting a reduction to the defence budget of a suitable amount, Labour could just announce they would go ahead with Trident anyway and find the extra money from borrowing, departmental reserves or a number of other sources.

Of course quite a lot of the SNP’s plans involve extra spending not less, such as ending austerity on health. Again there’s a problem. As everyone in the house knows (apart from Salmond), only the government is allowed to make spending commitments. Other parties are only allowed to make amendments to reduce spending. So that’s dead in the water.

But hang on a moment, the Telegraph tells us the SNP will shut down the government if they don’t get their way. There’s just one problem with that – we don’t live in America.

In the US the Government has to ask Congress to approve borrowing. But here the Government has full power over borrowing, and of course the Bank of England over QE. So Government spending could carry on throughout a few months of dilly dallying with the SNP by taking out some extra borrowing in the meantime to be paid off once the bill is agreed.

What the SNP could do is try to inflict a series of embarrassing and annoying defeats to other legislation, perhaps on proposed welfare cuts for instance. But again, are the Conservatives going to vote with them to increase benefit payments? And even if they did, will Sturgeon live down trooping through the lobbies night after night with the Conservatives. If Sturgeon chose that path the obvious way for Labour to respond would be to do as much as possible through secondary legislation.

Unless the SNP chose to vote with the Conservatives against the entire Queens’ Speech, the budget, or a specific confidence motion, there isn’t a great deal they can do apart from be a constant irritation in the Commons.

You sense that, a bit like the Peru match in 1978, there could be a rude awakening once the SNPs Tartan Army arrives on the green benches.

David Ward is a Labour campaigner in south London

Tags: , , , , , ,

4 Responses to “Alex Salmond is the Ally Macleod of this election campaign”

  1. Tafia says:

    Mickey mouse article.

    If they vote against Labour’s budget then Labour will have to accommodate them – it doesn’t have any choice. Fixed Term Parliaments and the legislation supporting them mean that if Labour take Office, it’s not only very difficult for them to quit but it’s very easy for the other parties to stop them quitting and force them to stay in Office even if they don’t want to.

    Callaghan had to accommodate other parties such as the SNP and the Liberals, as did Asquith with the Irish republicans.

  2. james says:

    Labour make me laugh. They seem unable to take tough unpopular decisions – hence the disastrous `kicking issues down the road` mentality of the Blair years. They then mete out all sorts of venom for the next few years to the Lib Dems using their `all things to all people` tribalistic politics.

    Labour is basically a `jaundiced sectarian faith feeling`. It creates lazy politics and politicians. Then other parties, unburdened with the baggage of national governments, come along – and lo and behold they can play that game too – and better!

    Why are you complaining?

  3. Tafia says:

    How Scotland votes is irrelevant – it doesn’t vote Tory and that’s all that counts. The Tories will win no seats in Scotland and are on course to lose their last one.. In fact if you live in Scotland it is equally as true to say vote Labour get Tory – Scotland hasn’t voted Tory since 1955 yet in that time has ended up with Eden, McMillan, Douglas-Home, Heath, Thatcher. Major & Cameron despite always voting Labour.

    The only way you will end up with a Tory government next week is if Labour continue to behave like children and refuse to accept that the overwhelming majority of the people that will vote next Thursday will not vote Labour and have no intention of doing so. The fact that we are 10 days away now from the next government and Labour are still stamping their feet and holding their breath until they are blue in the face rather than accepting the reality and trying to find a way to work with it does not reflect well on them.

    Always remember, as it stands the probability is more people will vote Tory than any other party and on mainland Britain more people will vote Tory/UKIP than Labour plus the rest, and that the tories will have the largest number of seats. The failure of either of the ‘big two’ to gain a majority is actually a resounding rejection of their manifesto/policies/dogma by the electorate – something the career politicians will be acutely aware of. Politicians are a strange breed and ‘moral legitimacy’ will play a large part of who and how the new government will be formed.

    If there is a Tory government next week it will be because of Labour not the SNP. It will be because Labour’s policies and manifesto have been soundly rejected across Britain. It will be because Labour are behaving like children and refusing to accept the legitimacy pf the electorate. It will be because Labour are stamping their feet and screaming and screaming until they are sick.

    The days of two-party politics are over. Finished. Kaput.

    (Clue as to how to win an election – have policies that people both understand and actually want. Like the SNP)

  4. Richard T says:

    Possibly the most complacently ill-informed article I’ve ever read here. Which is going some.

Leave a Reply