Labour and the SNP continue their pre-election shadowboxing

The prospect of a Lab-Nat pact in the event of a hung parliament is growing gradually more real to both sides as Jim Murphy, Labour’s embattled Scottish leader, fails to reverse his party’s collapse in support.

As a result, the grandiose posturing of a few weeks ago is gradually being replaced by more considered discussion about the realities of such an alliance – and the SNP appear to be waking up to the fact that if they’re determined to “lock David Cameron out of Downing Street”, in the words of Nicola Sturgeon, their negotiating position with Labour is substantially weakened.

Hence Ed Miliband being confident enough to dismiss SNP demands on the minimum wage. More strikingly still he gave a flat “No” when asked by Paxman whether he would bargain the UK’s nuclear deterrent for Nationalist support.

Trident is a totemic issue for a large chunk of the SNP’s left-wing activist base – but Sturgeon has revealed that Labour renewing the at-sea deterrent will not pose a barrier to cooperation between the two parties on other issues.

The only cost of this concession is that it apparently rules out a formal coalition or confidence and supply arrangement which neither party likely wanted anyway.

SNP MPs will also vote for the reintroduction of the 50p higher rate of income tax across the United Kingdom, according to the BBC, and have it kick in at £150,000 – the same level as Labour.

Alliance bids for unionist voters and hits out at pact

Pro-Union voters resent being ordered to vote for a one-size-fits-all unionism and would support the Alliance Party, according to Northern Irish MP Naomi Long.

Long, who represents Belfast East after capturing it from Democratic Unionist leader Peter Robinson in 2010, has a tough fight on her hands after a “unionist unity” pact between the DUP and the Ulster Unionists saw the latter stand down in her constituency.

The Alliance have faced a fierce and sometimes violent backlash in Belfast after voting with nationalist city councillors to restrict the flying of the Union Flag on government buildings in 2012.

The pact, which I outlined last week, sees the UUP give the DUP a free-run in Belfast’s two reliably unionist seats in exchange for the DUP stepping aside in two rural constituencies held by Sinn Fein.

Mike Nesbitt, UUP leader, has claimed that the provincial capital could have been left without unionist representation if the UUP had not reached some accommodation with the DUP, whose Parliamentary leader Nigel Dodds represents Belfast North.

However critics of the pact claim that it is the failure of capital-U Unionist parties to shake off the “hold the line” mentality of the pre-Agreement era that has led to slumping turnout and allowed separatist MPs to capture seats with pro-Union majorities.

The election kicks off in Wales

Leanne Wood, leader of the Welsh nationalist and socialistic Plaid Cymru, has claimed that her party will “unleash Wales’ economic potential” in the event of a hung parliament by ending the ‘austerity experiment’ and ramping up public spending.

She was unveiling her party’s general election manifesto in Arfon, one of Plaid’s three Westminster seats, where they are trying to stop Labour overturning a majority of just 1,455.

Unfortunately for Ms Wood, Dafydd Elis-Thomas AM, a former leader of Plaid, has chosen this moment to argue that the Welsh nationalists have not yet established themselves as a better alternative to Labour and claim he has “no issue” with voters who decide to endorse Miliband.

Meanwhile Nick Clegg has visited the Labour-targeted marginal Cardiff Central to make the case that the Liberal Democrats, with their “relentless focus on manufacturing and apprenticeships”, were the only one of the main parties who could deliver an economy that worked for Wales.

The Liberal Democrats will be fighting to fend off a wipe out in the country, where it holds only three seats of which at least two are vulnerable to Labour and the Conservatives, the latter of whom have been carefully outlining a list of achievements to burnish their Welsh credentials.

Judgement reserved in “gay cake” case

A case which has split Northern Ireland on the rights of business owners to follow their personal beliefs in commercial decisions has concluded, with no indication yet as to when the verdict will be received.

It arose after Ashers, a Christian-run bakery in County Antrim, declined to accept an order from a gay rights activist for a decorated cake with the slogan “support gay marriage”.

Critics claim that this constitutions discrimination against gay people, whilst the firm’s defenders and legal counsel claim that it is a matter of political conscience in business.

They suggest that it is no different to a Muslim printer refusing to print cartoons of Mohammed.

There are suggestions that conservative politicians in Stormont may enact legislation to protect conscience in commerce, as they see it, should the ruling come down against the bakery and in favour of Gareth Lee, the activist suing them.