Voting SNP is like taking a chance on the Lib Dems in 2010. It will hand the keys to Number 10 to Cameron

by Ranjit Sidhu

Let’s be frank: Labour deserve the kicking they will get this general election in Scotland. Seven months ago the Labour led No campaign in the Scottish referendum was as negative and moribund of positive messages as the Conservative campaign is in this election.  Seven months ago I wrote a piece called “The Three key lessons for the Left from the Scottish referendum” in which I predicted if Labour did not learn from the experience they would be, “20 Scottish MPs lighter come May, putting into prospective how Labour has got itself in such a tizzy about losing a possible 5 seats to Ukip.”

Well they didn’t and now they will, bar a miracle, lose those seats and 20 more for good measure.

Let’s be even more frank: Like the majority in Scotland, I have more than a little sympathy with the SNP anti-austerity economic agenda. Labour have been far too cautious in pushing growth rather than cuts as the positive social and economic way to reduce the deficit. By leaving this economic policy to the SNP they have allowed them to transpose the benefits of this policy that worked so well for the Yes campaign to the current campaign.

There are also similarities with the 2010 election that seem to be positive for the SNP:  In 2010  the main two parties are polling low 30s and the Liberal Democrats were gaining the slack and ended up becoming king makers.   Now in 2015 the two main parties again are polling low 30s, this time it is the SNP and Ukip  gaining votes, and in the media and public mind it is deemed  that the SNP will end up the  king makers.

So, all the above seems to be in keeping with the tactical voting that Nicola Sturgeon so clearly has been propounding Scotland to adopt: Vote in a strong group of SNP to keep Labour to the left and make sure they “lock David Cameron out of Downing Street” and defeat the “slash-and-burn austerity” policies, right?

Well, there is an clear flaw to this tactical voting and it becomes clearly apparent when you understand that as a first past the post system it will be whichever party has the most seats, be it in a minority, that will have the mandate to form the next  government of the UK first.

Currently, the predictions are that this will be the Conservatives not Labour, including Nate Silver,who correctly predicted each state in the 2012 US election.  The main reason behind this shift, (previously it was assumed in a dead heat Labour would gain more seats), is the very same SNP rise in Scotland.

And here we get to the central contradiction in the SNP current campaign, the idea of “locking out David Cameron from No.10 is built on the premise that Labour will be the largest minority party after the election allowing the SNP to do a deal with them, but it is the very success of this tactical voting that is making that possibility less and less likely.

The gamble of this approach is made clearer if we take poll predictions from several sources as the result of 5th of May: The Conservatives will be the largest party, the Liberal Democrats will jump straight back in bed with them and with the tacit support from the DUP and others like Ukip they will be there or thereabouts at the magic 323 seats required to govern.

Although a Labour/SNP coalition would be very close, it would be a large but ultimately powerless opposition. Rather than locking out David Cameron, the SNP campaign would have given him the keys to No10.

The Conservatives know this and starts to make sense of why they have been playing the SNP card so hard.

In 2010 most of those who “agreed with Nick” and pushed the Liberal Democrats to new levels of support were left-leaning supporters happy to give Labour a kicking, but never thought they were handing power to the Conservatives. My fear is in Scotland we are taking a terrible gamble in, inadvertently, creating exactly the same situation.

I may be wrong, I hope I am wrong and Labour squeezes a minority lead (the best that realistically can be hoped for) and are in a position to form a government with other left-leaning parties.

My fear is in forgetting that this is a British wide vote, the brilliant tactical campaign of the SNP has as its keystone a contradiction that may come back to haunt it. Looking at how the Conservative’s manifesto will change our country forever with ideological cuts to welfare and social justice, is it a risk worth taking in this United Kingdom wide election?

Ranjit Sidhu is Director and Founder of SiD, Statistics into Decisions ( and blogs on tumblr here

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7 Responses to “Voting SNP is like taking a chance on the Lib Dems in 2010. It will hand the keys to Number 10 to Cameron”

  1. Andrew says:

    Sorry but this is nonsense. The constitutional position is quite clear. It doesn’t matter if Labour or the Tories have the most seats. Cameron will remain PM until such time as he resigns because he knows he can longer command a majority or it is demonstrated by a vote in the commons that he no longer has a majority. Once Cameron has resigned the Queen appoints Miliband as the person most likely to be able to carry a vote of confidence. It doesn’t matter which is the largest party, what matters is who can form a majority.

  2. TheJudge says:

    “… it will be whichever party has the most seats, be it in a minority, that will have the mandate to form the next government of the UK first.”

    How many times does this twaddle – pushed by the rapidly-deflating Labour branch office in Scotland – have to be debunked before some elements of the self-styled ‘Left’ will stop parroting it?

    The sequence is clear enough. The opportunities to form the next government fall to:

    1) the outgoing PM
    2) if (s)he can’t get a majority in a vote of confidence in the Commons (or realises that (s)he can’t), then and only then does the leader of the largest party (assuming that it’s not that of the outgoing PM) get the chance.

    This, after all, was exactly the protocol that Brown used to try to hang on to power in 2010, and which no less a constitutional expert as Jim Murphy stated clearly that Brown was entitled to do.

    In any case, how the people of Scotland vote will make scarcely a gnat’s whistle of a difference to the outcome – after all, it didn’t in 1970, 1979, 1983, 1987, 1992 or 2010.

  3. Mike says:

    “In 2010 the main two parties are polling low 30s and the Liberal Democrats were gaining the slack and ended up becoming king makers. ”
    Lets not forget that the Conservatives moved up to the upper 30’s and Labour went below 30%, giving the Conservatives a 7% victory.

  4. Tafia says:

    Let me explain something simple Ranjit.

    1. We elect a Parliament. Government is appointed.

    2. Irrespective of the General Election result, the incumbent Prime Minister remains the incumbent Prime Minister until they cannot form a government and resign.

    3. There is no requirement for the Prime Minister or any of the Cabinet to be either an MP or a party member.

  5. uglyfatbloke says:

    As for a tory-led coalition, how much chance is there that there would be enough glib-dumbs to make up the numbers or that there will be more than 3 Ukips and maybe not even that many?

  6. Heidstaethefire says:

    Drivel. The rule is whoever can command a majority in the house forms the administration. The S.N.P. has already said it will under no circumstances work with the tories. Therefore Cameron can only form a government in one of three ways;
    a) win an outright majority.
    b) cobble together a coalition from right wing parties
    c ) get Miliband to step aside and let him form a minority government.
    The first two aren’t going to happen. It’s now up to Ed. Is he going to allow the tories to form a government? What do you think, Ranjit?

  7. Sidhu: “… when you understand that as a first past the post system it will be whichever party has the most seats, be it in a minority, that will have the mandate to form the next government of the UK first.”

    What on earth are you talking about? You only have a mandate when you command the confidence of the House. That is to say, when you can assemble a majority. That threshold number of seats is the ONLY operational metric determining who can form a government and get legislation passed.

    You and Labour really insult people with this guff, and it is a contributing factor to the overwhelming support for the SNP. People don’t like being treated as fools.

    When will you stop the flim-flam?

    Murphy and Labour in Scotland have been claiming for months that the party with the greatest number of seats gets to form the government – a demonstrable falsehood. They have been claiming for months that under the rules, the largest party gets first dibs at forming a government, another demonstrable falsehood.

    Now, it is always possibly Ranjit Sidhu in not consciously being misleading, and that it is a simply a matter of being wholly ignorant of the constitution to the point of political malfeasance. I will leave it to him to tell us which it is.

    Of course the truth is that the incumbent PM gets first dibs at forming a government regardless of whether his party is the largest of the 10th largest.

    Here it is direct from the horses mouth (link at bottom of post).

    Q. “Does the party with the most seats form a Government?

    A. In order to form a Government, a party must be able to command a majority in the House of Commons on votes of confidence and supply. This majority can include support from other political parties, whether or not there is a formal coalition arrangement.

    In a situation of no overall control the Government in power before the General Election gets the first chance at creating a government. If they cannot do so, the Prime Minister will resign.”

    Does largest party in a hung parliament get to form the government? NO. The party that can command the confidence of the House gets to form the government – that is the party that can put together a majority.

    The number required for a majority in a vote of confidence, is the ONLY metric of import in the formation of a government.

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