In Depth

Ed would rather not be PM than do a deal with SNP. Seriously?

In theory, Miliband can count on SNP never supporting Tories. In practice, will it be that simple?

The Mole

After ruling out a post-election deal with the SNP during last night’s Question Time special, Ed Miliband faces a simple question on the final weekend before polling: is he serious?

The Norman Wisdom trip as he left the stage didn’t help his credibility. Some have tweeted a picture of his brother David with a banana saying he was the culprit. 

Lucy Powell, Miliband’s chief of staff, tried to get her boss out of trouble by quipping: “Ed slipped on Cameron’s sweat.”

But the stance on the SNP issue is posing far greater questions about his judgment than his pratfall off the stage.

“I just want to repeat this point to you,” Miliband told a hostile audience in Leeds. “I’m not going to have a Labour government if it means deals, coalitions with the Scottish National Party.”

It was a jaw-dropping moment and David Dimbleby asked Miliband whether he really meant it. “If it meant not being in government, not doing a deal, then so be it,” said Miliband.

Nicola Sturgeon was immediately on the warpath.  “I heard Ed Miliband - he sounded awfully as though he said that he would rather see David Cameron and the Conservatives being in government than actually working with the SNP. If he means that, I don’t think the people in Scotland would ever forgive him.”

With the latest analysis for the Financial Times by Populus/Hanover Predictor saying the SNP will be the main beneficiaries of the election - set to win 55 of the 59 seats in Scotland - Miliband is clearly trying to stop a total Labour wipeout north of the border by warning the Scottish electorate that by voting SNP they’re in danger of letting the Tories win the election.

If current polling averages are anywhere accurate, Labour can only be sure of emerging the largest party on 8 May if they can hold on to a reasonable number of their Scottish seats.

But the refusal to countenance any arrangement with the SNP remains a high-risk strategy if he really wants to be the next prime minister – or does it?

The thinking is that Miliband can run a minority government – as long as Labour achieves largest party status on 7 May - because he knows Sturgeon’s MPs will never vote with the Tories.

There are historical and current arguments to support this theory.

As Magnus Linklater explained recently in The Times, there are plenty of Scots who will never forgive the SNP for voting with the Tories to bring down the Callaghan government in 1979, ushering in the Thatcher era as a result. “To repeat the mistake would be political death,” said Linklater.

That was then and this now, it might be argued. But as Martin Kettle explains in The Guardian, “The reality is that the SNP has considerably less leverage than friend, enemy and Fleet Street like to pretend. That’s partly because the SNP cannot do anything to bring Labour down, especially this side of the 2016 Holyrood elections, without seeing its claims to be Labour’s progressive ally go up in smoke.”

This all sounds very plausible but The Mole wonders whether it will prove quite so simple. Imagine Ed Balls’s first Budget, when he will have to put forward spending cuts to shore up Labour’s economic credibility with the City and the markets. 

Sturgeon's Westminster brigade will then have to honour the party's commitment to block any austerity cuts and so will be bound to vote down the Budget. The Tories could hardly vote against such cuts having campaigned for them - but they could abstain and sit back and enjoy the spectacle of Labour and the SNP tearing each other apart.

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