Labour under renewed pressure as evidence of Scottish meltdown builds…
Even has he relaunches his leadership in London, a new poll from north of the border reveals the true depth of the strategic crisis facing Labour in May.
The Scottish National Party, holding the fractious ‘Yes coalition’ together by refusing to admit defeat, are polling more than 45 per cent of the vote. This dominant position is based on commanding the almost complete loyalty of Yes voters, with many left-wing and working class Scots abandoning Labour.
Not only did the SNP successfully recast secession as a left-wing crusade after Better Together won the economic air war, but during the campaign and since the Nationalists have ruthlessly driven home the message that Labour’s cooperation with the Conservatives during the campaign was an unforgiveable betrayal.
Labour have greatly enhanced the credibility of this line of attack by acting as if they half-believe it themselves, setting up the autonomous “United with Labour” campaigning group being only the most recent of a long history of examples.
And it gets worse. Perhaps uniquely in modern times, Labour is saddled with a national leader who is not an asset in Scotland. The same poll linked above shows that only two per cent of Scots completely trust Miliband – the same number as do David Cameron. Yet a higher number ‘mostly’ trust the Prime Minister than the Leader of the Opposition, which leaves Miliband personally under-polling an English, Old Etonian Tory leading an austerity government.
Some Conservatives might be cheering this fresh disaster – it is certainly tempting. But the historical parallels are unpromising, if one prioritises national stability. The SNP have made it quite clear that they will not support the Conservatives in government on any level, and unlike Sinn Fein MPs a large SNP contingent would not simply serve to shrink the political field and lower the threshold of victory. They could, and would, put Labour in – for a price:
This tactic is already showing its impact. Neil Findlay, whose strategy for winning leadership of Scottish Labour is to go haring off after the separatists, has already pledged to campaign against Trident if elected. Even if Miliband balked at paying that price, the need to negotiate with a large and resolutely left-wing Nationalist parliamentary group in place of Labour’s disciplined and often sensible Scottish phalanx would drag the party and make the necessary compromises to allow a Conservative-led minority administration that much harder.
The closest historical parallels for a large and stable SNP caucus in Westminster would be with the Irish Parliamentary Party in the latter stages of the Nineteenth Century. The Liberals could only ever govern with Irish votes – and so Ireland came to completely dominate domestic politics until it eventually seceded.
…whilst Salmond takes a parting(?) shot at Clegg
Alex Salmond delivered his resignation speech to the Scottish Parliament yesterday, and is now rumoured to be plotting a return to Westminster by unseating Danny Alexander. In preparation for such a contest, a monument to his government’s “biggest achievement” – resisting tuition fees – has been unveiled at the Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.
The stone carving quotes the former SNP leader as saying that “the rocks will melt with the sun” before he would allow tuition fees to be levied on Scottish students.
Critics are wont to point out that higher education policy exemplifies quite different tendencies: a nasty discrimination that exempts EU students from fees but not British; and a populist streak that disguises big breaks for middle earners as left-wing under the guise of universalism.
Nonetheless it has proved a potent combination, and will surely be only more so directed against the Liberal Democrats.
Welsh nationalists press the attack over radical constitutional change
It’s not just the Scottish nationalists who are projecting energy and self-confidence, either. Despite her infinitesimally weaker position amongst the electorate, Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood has seized hold of Nicola Sturgeon’s coattails and issued her demands for the future of the UK.
Critically, she is reinterpreting the concept of “reserved powers” into something far more radical. In her speech to the SNP conference, she claims that:
“It is the peoples of the nations of the UK who are sovereign, not Westminster. That reality must be reflected as the relationships between our countries are reconstructed in the coming months.
“Reserved powers should mean shared powers and let me make clear that a Plaid Cymru government from 2016 will insist on major decisions at a UK level requiring consensus between the governments.”
Ms Wood sets out an interpretation of “reserved powers” that would effectively turn the British government into a committee of delegates from the home nations, a position which nobody at all has voted for or even seriously discussed.
Whilst this can largely be dismissed as the hard-line posturing of the leader of a tiny party, the essentials of her thesis are being advanced in more serious circles. Many have called for the Scottish Parliament to be made legally “permanent” – impossible without making it sovereign – and elements of the pro-EU camp seen keen on the idea that British foreign policy, particularly regarding European withdrawal, should not be decided by the British but subject to veto by the more Europhile home nations.