The SNP would break its self-denying ordinance and support a minority Labour government

I’ve just been listening to an interview with SNP leader Alex Salmond on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme. Towards the end of the interview, Eddie Mayer asked Salmond if the SNP would be prepared to break the self-denying ordinance it has hitherto observed in parliamentary votes on what Mayer called ‘devolved’ matters and what Salmond rightly insisted on calling ‘English-only matters’.

The context of the question was the SNP’s election-campaign claims that they would use their influence in a hung parliament to defend Scotland’s interests, in particular to shield Scotland from the severity of the budget cuts that those of us living south of the border are going to have to endure. How could they exercise that influence if they refused to support the party of government in England-only votes?

Salmond stated that he wanted to keep the option of voting on English matters ‘up his sleeve’ as one of the trump cards he might need to play to secure the SNP’s objectives. In other words, the SNP would be prepared to vote on English matters in some circumstances.

Mayer then set the example of a minority Conservative government needing the SNP’s support in a vote on an (English) education bill. Salmond suggested that the example was unrealistic, as the SNP would be more likely to support a more ‘progressive’ policy agenda than one of Tory cuts to public services. This is a round-about way of saying that the SNP would prop up only a Labour minority government or Lab-LibDem coalition, not a Tory government or, one assumes, a possible Con-LibDem partnership.

In other words, if Gordon Brown wants to cling on to power after the election – whether Labour wins the largest or second-largest number of seats – his best bet might be to forge a deal with his SNP compatriots and, of course, Labour’s Plaid Cymru Welsh-Assembly coalition partners.

Come to think of it, it’s rather obvious that Salmond could not get away with suggesting he might do a deal with the Conservatives at Westminster, as the SNP has tried to position the Tories as an anti-progressive force intent on savaging Scottish public services. Salmond is therefore indirectly encouraging Scottish voters to vote Labour in seats where the SNP can’t win in order to ensure a sufficiently large ‘Scottish block’ of ‘progressive’ votes in the new parliament that can override the Tory-LibDem majority in England.

The West Lothian Question could be more alive and embittered than ever in the new parliament – which of course also suits Mr Salmond’s agenda just fine.

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7 Responses

  1. There’s no such thing as English-only matters as anything that England does affects the rest of the UK.

  2. Gordon Brown is a petty tribalist and factionalist of the worst kind. Nick Clegg has called it right. The other parties would be mad to do any deal involving Brown. Of course Salmond himself won’t be in Westminster to ‘supervise’ first hand any deal.

  3. @James Macy

    Your argument is similar to the UK deciding to spend more on itself and cut the budget for the developing world. Shall we allow representatives from those nations to come and vote in our parliament?

    If you will not give an inch on the democratic deficit then your argument leads only to more fiscal autonomy and finally separation.

  4. Hello, I’m an SNP supporter who has come across this piece via twitter.

    I disagree with the current Labour and Lib Dem MPs who represent Scottish seats, forcing through “England-only” legislation that would have failed had it been determined solely by the votes of those MPs representing English constituencies.

    I think this is particularly disgraceful when, for example in the case of top-up fees, forcing that legislation on England, had a knock-on negative effect on Scotland’s budget etc.

    However, I would agree that there are circumstances where the SNP should consider voting on “England only” issues.

    The Times/Ladbrokes currently predict a parliament where the Conservatives are 12 seats short of an overall majority in the UK but would have an overall majority of 76 in England.

    They also predict that Scotand & Wales will elect a total of 76 Lib/Lab MPs and 13SNP/Plaid.

    Assuming they are right: If the SNP was to refuse to vote on “England-only” legislation, then England could have legislation forced through by a Lib/Lab government it did not vote for.

    In that instance the SNP/Plaid would be protecting the democratic principle in England, by supporting the government England elected to handle its domestic affairs.

    Salmond is correct to say, that as it stands the SNP (and I’d assume Plaid) would find it difficult to support the Tory legislation that the English have voted for, if it will have negative knock-on effects for their respective countries’ budgets. Their first duty is to the people of Wales and Scotland.

    I think therefore, that SNP/Plaid support for a Conservative government in Westminster would be predicated on a guarentee to remove the Barnett formula, with an eye towards full fiscal autonomy.

    The FT suggests that Cameron would rather do a deal on fiscal autonomy, than discuss electoral reform with the LDs.

    • You could be right, and a lot depends on the actual number of seats the parties win and the possible alliances that could then be struck. Abolishing Barnett would, however, remove the only justification for Scottish and Welsh MPs voting on English bills, which could undermine the legitimacy of the Union parliament still further, especially if the Tories were reliant on support from non-Unionists (and how would that play with the Tories’ UUP partners?).

      I think the long and short of it is that all three of the main parties are perfectly willing to shaft England by exploiting the WLQ and being prepared to put a resolution of the English Question on hold if it allows them to pursue their own agendas in government, which include denying any sort of devolution for England as part of a fundamentally unionist and / or federal (Lib Dems) position.

  5. Nonsense. The SNP and the Tories have worked together in Holyrood and could certainly do so in Westminster. It was simply a bad (and rather idiotic) example typical of the kind of nonsense that Mr. Salmond frequently is forced to contend with from hostile journos.

    What’s more he has said ALL THREE London parties would savage Scotland–which they would. Tweedledum, Tweedledee, and Tweedledem–a matched set as far as Scotland is concerned.

    • I do actually now think the SNP might do a deal with the Tories if they could extract a sufficiently good deal for Scotland out of the co-operation. In such circumstances, the Tories would use their partial fix to the West Lothian Question (allowing only English MPs to revise England-only legislation at the report and committee stages) to make out that they weren’t in effect using the votes of anti-Union, non-English MPs to pass legislation in the Union parliament affecting England only!

      I think that could be win-win for the SNP: protecting Scotland from the worst effects of the Tories’ cuts in England while exacerbating English people’s fury at the unfairness of the devolution settlement and the WLQ.

      It’s a delicate balancing act, isn’t it: the ideal result for the SNP being such a finely balanced parliament that whichever party leads the government has to work with the SNP and Plaid. But how can you engineer such a result through tactical voting? I’ll leave that to you at SNP Tactical Voting to decide!

      I’m voting Lib Dem to achieve the same result (a hung parliament), although, if I’m honest, I hate Labour so much for the way they’ve tried to deny England’s very existence (certainly, as a political entity of any sort) that I’d rather have a Con-Lib coalition, or a LibDem-led coalition with Labour, than any sort of Labour-led coalition.

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