Is Labour making a big (long term) mistake by rejecting “any” deal with the SNP?


4:26 am - May 1st 2015

by Sunny Hundal    


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The Labour leadership have finally settled on a clear line on the SNP.

Assuming that Cameron cannot cobble together a majority on 8th May and has to resign, that gives Ed Miliband his turn at forming a government.

Miliband says he won’t do a formal coalition with the SNP (Nicola Sturgeon ruled that out ages ago anyway), nor will there be an informal ‘Confidence & Supply’ agreement with them. Instead, Labour either do a deal with the Lib Dems to get a working majority, or they work as a minority government.

The Labour leadership are confident they can work as a minority government because the SNP and other minor left parties won’t vote down their Queen’s Speech and trigger a second election. In effect they are calling Nicola Sturgeon’s bluff because she has already committed to voting down a Tory Queen’s Speech.

So the Labour leadership are pleased because they think Sturgeon has little leverage. But can this strategy be sustained for long?

Firstly, this is from last night:

The SNP are predictably spinning it as: Ed Miliband would rather let the Tories back in than work with the SNP. That is wrong. There is no conceivable prospect of Miliband resigning his government than having SNP on his side.

Caroline Flint later clarified it:

What [Miliband] ruled out was this idea that, somehow, to have a Labour government we’re prepared to do a coalition or some other kind of confidence and supply deal [with the SNP].

But, at the end of the day, whoever forms a government, parties will get a chance to vote for a Queen’s speech, vote for budgets, and vote for policies, that’s the same with any government.

In other words: Hey Nicola Sturgeon, you are still welcome to vote with us! Just don’t expect a quid-pro-quo arrangement of any sort.

OK. So that was a misstep but this strategy is still sound, right?

I’m not so sure.

Keep one important point in mind: a large proportion of Scots don’t view the SNP as negatively as the English do. In fact, a large proportion of them (many of whom are ex-Labour voters) think the SNP have their interests at heart more than Labour. This seems obvious but a lot of people seem to be ignoring this.

More importantly, Nicola Sturgeon isn’t going to let herself be outmaneuvered by Miliband so easily.

Since Labour still needs a majority of MPs for votes on legislation, Sturgeon will just make his life harder by getting SNP MPs to abstain or complain over small things. That would put Miliband in a difficult position: either negotiate with the SNP (and have the Right savage him for it) or appeal to Tory MPs (thus alienating the left and giving an electoral boon to Sturgeon).

In Scotland, Sturgeon will keep arguing that Miliband would rather do a deal with the Tories than the SNP. In England, the Tories will argue that Labour are breaking their promise and doing deals with the SNP. Either way Miliband will be constantly attacked on all sides.

This isn’t ideal. Miliband’s administration could soon become paralysed.

For Miliband to argue in Scotland that he’d rather have Tory MPs vote with him than negotiate with SNP MPs would further alienate SNP voters (many of whom Labour need back). In effect he will be giving up on Scottish Labour without much gain in return.

By saying Labour rejects any deal with the SNP, I think Miliband is making a mistake. I don’t think this strategy can be sustained.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


its a long game though, isn’t it? The point is to show that Labour works for all of us and undermine the nonsense of Scottish exceptionalism.

The SNP like to portray themselves as progressive, but they were happy to vote against Jim Callaghan and give us Thatcher. Nationalists, ultimately, only have one aim.

Since Labour still needs a majority of MPs for votes on legislation, Sturgeon will just make his life harder by getting SNP MPs to abstain or complain over small things. That would put Miliband in a difficult position: either negotiate with the SNP (and have the Right savage him for it) or appeal to Tory MPs (thus alienating the left and giving an electoral boon to Sturgeon).

One point which occurs to me which I haven’t seen raised at all is that AIUI it is generally SNP policy not to vote on matters which only affect England and Wales. Has anyone asked Sturgeon if that would continue? If so that could actually be good for Labour – they could probably get most of their legislation in these areas passed with support from the LibDems but it would address some of the objections which people might have to the SNP keeping Labour in power.

Here is why I am an SNP voter. I live in Labour heartlands, yet the Labour Party has no interest in my vote. Or perhaps more accurately, they have no interest in regaining my vote.

The ‘immigration’ (read race) obsessed, thick Kipper? The privatise the NHS and deport every none white in the Country? Yep, here are a raft of half hearted statements to keep you onside.

The True Blue Tory, never in a million years vote Labour? Oh, yes sir, no sir and three bags very much full sir, but not no need to worry about Labour rocking your vote, sir.

Two million sweaty, deep fried Mars bar munching, buckfast swilling Jocks, go into a polling booth and ‘x’ Scottish Labour out of existence? Nope, nothing for you, so you may as well as toss your votes into Loch Ness.

Last night’s ‘debate’ was a microcosm of the last seven plus years of Westminster Labour obsession with appeasing the Right of politics. Not just Miliband, by the way, he is carrying the can for the entire Labour/Left movement’s inability to tackle the increasingly deranged rants of the Right. It makes no difference who is leader of a moribund Party, because it is what they have to say that is important, not who is saying it. I have heard nothing from Chukka Umma, David Lammy or any of the other so called successors to the Labour leadership that would inspire me to vote Labour.

Miliband was deftly sword dancing around the issues being careful to place an unguarded toe too firmly on to an edge of the Tory claymores. Not too hard on the bankers that brought the Country to its knees, not too soft on immigrants or benefit scroungers, not too hard on those who employ zero hour contracts, not too much taxation on the rich, nothing to upset the blazer wearing kipper or the blue rinsed Tory. But the Scots? Straight in with the studs up, graeme souness style, no compromise, no wiggle room. Just a stark ‘our way or the highway’.

Well I have news for the Labour. Those awful Tory women and nasty fuckwits in UKIP will NEVER vote for you. They hate you, they hate what you stand for, they hate the people you represent and they despise you even further when you attempt to cosy up to them.

Cameron on the hand kept his laser sights on the prize. He ignored questions about foodbanks, benefit cuts and a lack of affordable homes. He isn’t ‘weak’, he isn’t ‘slippery’, he doesn’t care about any of that. He doesn’t care about those issues, because the people who vote Tory, don’t care about those issues. He neither needs or wants the votes of people who care about society, his core vote is made up of people who want gunboats in the Mediterranean. If he can carry those people with him next week, then Labour will be out of power for a generation and will have no need to a deal with SNP.

The progressive alliance? not a fucking hope in hell.

It’s weird and foolish. If Scotland is part of the union (and we just had a referendum which declared that Oh Yes it still is, a verdict which Milliband campaigned for), then why would the party Scottish voters are likely to vote for be disqualified from having a say in the government of that union? Cameron trying to paint a Labour/SNP agreement as somehow ‘stealing’ the election is one thing – the leader of the Conservative and Unionist party clearly has no further use for the union as voters north of the border are unlikely to vote Tory again for a generation. But Milliband ought to have more sense.

@SimonB

“The point is to show that Labour works for all of us…”

Unless – as Rachel Reeves never tires of reminding us – you are unemployed, disabled, chronically ill, mentally ill or otherwise ‘unproductive’. If you are, then Reeves has promised to be as thuggish towards you as IDS and Esther McVey have been.

“The SNP like to portray themselves as progressive…”

I’m reminded of the old joke about the couple rowing, when the wife says, “My mother always said you were effeminate!”, to which the husband replies, “Well, compared to her, I am.”

“…they were happy to vote against Jim Callaghan and give us Thatcher.”

If you bother reading Callaghan’s memoirs, he is perfectly clear as to where the blame lay for his government’s defeat in that vote of confidence: in the 30-odd Labour MPs (mostly from England) who kiboshed the Scotland Bill with the arbitrary ‘40% rule’ and therefore removed the last remaining valid reason for the SNP to continue propping up Labour.

Oh, and I think that you’ll find that it was the electorate of England which gave us Thatcher.

6. douglas clark

Sunny,

If opinion polls are to be believed your comment:

a large proportion of Scots don’t view the SNP as negatively as the English do. In fact, a large proportion of them (many of whom are ex-Labour voters) think the SNP have their interests at heart more than Labour. This seems obvious but a lot of people seem to be ignoring this.

is self-evident. However it is about the Jimmy Reid level of commentary:

“I didn’t leave the Labour Party, the Labour Party left me.”

As it is currently standing, around 50% of the Scottish electorate will vote SNP.

It is fascinating that Ed has said that a Trident replacement is a red line for him. he appears to be on the wrong side of that red line.

I find it a complete utter joke that my party has outflanked your party by not moving at all.

7. douglas clark

SimonB,

I missed your fairy tale from the Labour Party:

The SNP like to portray themselves as progressive, but they were happy to vote against Jim Callaghan and give us Thatcher. Nationalists, ultimately, only have one aim.

It was a lot more complicated than that:

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2009/mar/22/james-callaghan-labour-1979-thatcher

8. douglas clark

SimonB,

You may wish to read Jim Callaghans own views on his downfall:

James Callaghan was the Labour Prime Minister in 1979. His political memoir, “Time & Chance”, ends with his defeat in the election of May that year by over two million votes, after a vote of no confidence triggered by Labour’s repeal of the Devolution Act brought down his government in late March.

His account of events and the aftermath is fascinating and revealing. The extracts below come from the book’s final chapter.

(We’ve omitted [ this is a cut and paste from W o S, so I am merely the messenger] only passages that aren’t relevant to the progression of the story, marked with […]. You can see the full pages here if you don’t trust our edits.)

“It was the adverse effect of the two Devolution referenda in Scotland and Wales that finally ended the Government’s life. Both were held on 1 March 1979, St David’s Day, for John Morris, the Secretary of State for Wales, had hoped that the compliment would strike a patriotic chord in Welsh hearts. But the valleys were deaf to the sound of our music, and rejected the blandishments by a huge majority of four to one.

The Scottish result was better, with a slim majority voting in favour, but this counted as a defeat as the Devolution Act had provided (against the Government’s will), that 40 per cent of the total electorate must vote in favour*, so with those who abstained added in, the total fell well below the required figure.

On the surface this was a surprising result, and I concluded that in the back of people’s minds, the merits of the case had become entangled with a vote on the Government’s popularity, which was not high even in Scotland because of the recent industrial disputes.

Michael Foot telephoned me at home on Sunday 4 March to discuss the results. He was deeply disappointed for he had made Devoution his cause, and had overcome every obstacle to get the Bills through Parliament. These results required the Government, in accordance with the two Acts, to now lay an Order before Parliament for their total repeal.

Michael is a fighter and he still thought the day could be saved. Why not, he said, lay the Repeal Order before Parliament, but invite the House to reject it? This would leave the Scottish Act on the statute book in accordance with the wish of the majority of those who had voted. But it would not come into force until a second Order, known as a Commencement Order, was laid, and this should be postponed until after a general election.

It was an imaginative proposal, but from the start I did not approach it with an open mind.

[…]

Michael Cocks, the Chief Whip, had spoken with some of Labour’s Devolution rebels. In his view the difficulty within the Party was much greater than any from the Scottish National Party and the Whips’ judgement was that the Government could not rely on the votes of Labour Members from Merseyside or the North if we moved to reject the Repeal Order.

[…]

For three years we had believed in ourselves and in our capacity to govern and to win, despite all the odds against us. Now I sensed this was no longer true. Nearly thirty years earlier, as a junior Minister in the Attlee Government, I had watched demoralisation set in and a thick pall of self-doubt begin to envelop Ministers as they and the increasingly paralysed Government Departments and Civil Servants waited for the inevitable election.

In 1979 seven months of life still lay ahead before a general election need be called, but I did not wish my administration to drag out the next few months, surviving only by wheeling and dealing. From the moment I knew we could not win a vote of no confidence I preferred to put the issue to the test of a general election.

[…]

Even if the vote had gone in our favour I did not expect the election to be long delayed. Since Christmas the Government had suffered severe set-backs on incomes policy and on Devolution, and we could command a majority in the House of Commons for neither.

[…]

Contrary to the myths which have sprung up since 1979, Labour did not lose support in the general election – our national vote was in fact slightly higher than it had been nearly five years earlier in October 1974, when we had won more seats than the Tories. It demonstrated how much steady understanding and support existed for what we had tried to do.

But, tempted by promises of lower taxation and with memories of the winter, the abstaining Tories of 1974 had flocked back to their Party’s colours and this gave Mrs Thatcher a large majority of seats. It was a miracle that we had governed as long and effectively as we had.”

That is a direct quote from his own book.

Quoting another again,

In summary, then:

1. The Labour government, which had no majority, was unpopular as a result of a winter of ruinous industrial disputes as it tried to keep public-sector pay low.

2. Scotland voted for devolution, but a rule imposed by a rebel Labour MP in conjunction with the Tories and 33 Labour colleagues ensured that any Yes result would be overturned, by including non-voters and the dead as No votes.

(That is to say, people who’d passed away but who hadn’t yet been removed from the electoral register were effectively counted for No.)

3. Callaghan and Michael Foot wanted leave the devolution act on the statute books with a view to reviving it after the election, given the Yes vote, but English Labour MPs vowed to block the plan, leading to the vote of no confidence.

4. By this point Callaghan had accepted the game was up and resigned himself to an early election, even if he had won the vote of no confidence. The idea that losing the vote hastened the election significantly, thereby preventing Labour from recovering public support in its remaining few months is – by Callaghan’s own admission – completely false. (See paragraphs 8 and 9 above.)

5. Callaghan blamed the election defeat not on the Nats but on Labour’s own fatal hangover from the Winter Of Discontent. He attributes the Conservatives’ success to that and to their promises of tax cuts. (Which the Tories delivered, helping them to win three subsequent elections.)

Still so confident it was all the SNP’s fault?

“Let’s start by assuming Cameron cannot cobble together a majority in the Commons on May 8th and has to resign.”

That was a big assumption to make, Sunny. And characteristically self-deluding. Dan Hodges was right.

10. Dave Roberts.

I am just trying to think of something you have got right over the last few years Sunny. Can you tell us of any? The second sentence of the article, as pointed out by Tone, sums you up. Any comments to be seen soon about Tower Hamlets. Will you be supporting Rabina Khan because she is Asian?

11. Manonclaphamomnibus

I remember discussing Milliband on this site after he was first elected. He was a shambles then. He continued to be a shambles. Now we have Blair,back from oiling the wheels of oil to tell us we should all be like him! will Labour ever learn?


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