Alex Salmond, deputy prime minister: how it could happen
Scotland’s outgoing First Minister could return to Westminster at the head of a powerful bloc of MPs
Alex Salmond, the outgoing SNP leader and First Minister of Scotland, is poised to make an audacious comeback at Westminster as the leader of a bloc of Scottish Nationalist MPs who could wield serious power in a hung Parliament.
Salmond says he will make an announcement in the next few weeks about whether he will stand for a Scottish seat in the May 2015 general election. Labour leaders believe he will not be able to resist the temptation.
The 59-year-old Scot last left Westminster in May 2010 having represented Banff and Buchan for 23 years. He quit the SNP leadership in the wake of the defeat of the Yes campaign in September’s Scottish independence referendum, admitting independence was unlikely to happen in his lifetime.
But since the referendum, the SNP have soared in the opinion polls and according to one recent poll could wipe out all but four of Labour’s 41 seats in Scotland – making Ed Miliband’s task of winning a majority at the May 2015 general election considerably harder, if not impossible.
The question is, could the Scottish Nationalists turn round and save the day for Miliband by agreeing to go into coalition with Labour?
Salmond, appearing on yesterday’s Andrew Marr Show, refused to rule it out. “I certainly think that there’s no chance whatsoever of the SNP ever going into coalition with the Conservative party, with their attitude towards Scotland, and their attitude towards people in general,” he said.
“I think it’s unlikely [with Labour],” he went on, “but who knows? People change sometimes, parties change sometimes, party leaders change sometimes and lead them in a different direction.”
Salmond told Marr that Labour would not be “forgotten or forgiven for a generation in Scottish politics” having teamed with the Conservatives to fight against independence in the referendum.
“Every single Labour personality who has been pictured in that referendum campaign in that pose, that hand-in-glove, shoulder-to-shoulder pose, will pay a heavy price for many years to come.”
Or in other words, if Labour needs the SNP’s help either in a full coalition or on a case-by-case basis after May 2015, they will be forced to pay dearly for the privilege.
As the Daily Telegraph’s political correspondent Matthew Holehouse put it: “The SNP would demand far greater powers for Scotland than Mr Miliband is willing to countenance as the price for keeping him in power.”
The possible solution to Labour’s woes comes as the pressure builds on Miliband.
A new YouGov poll shows his personal rating has slumped even below that of Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg to an all-time low: just 18 per cent of voters think the Labour leader is doing a good job while 77 per cent say he is doing badly — giving him a rating of minus-55. Clegg is on minus-54.
And the attacks on Miliband keep coming, from within the party and from the press.
Veteran Labour bruiser Lord (John) Prescott used an article in the Sunday Mirror to say: “It seems [Labour] strategy is driven by pointy-heads, not the lion-hearts.”
Alistair Darling, the former Labour Chancellor who ran the Better Together campaign in the Scottish referendum, has announced he is standing down as an MP at the next election – but not without firing a passing shot at Miliband. He told the Financial Times how frustrated he was that Labour had not used the successful anti-independence campaign to do better north of the border.
And in an editorial today headed ‘Miliband’s Malaise’, The Times thunders: “Labour coasted complacently on the expectation that the quirks of electoral arithmetic would put Mr Miliband in Downing Street. Quite suddenly, it faces the serious risk not just of failure but of disaster.”
Whether Salmond and his Nationalists come galloping to Labour's rescue remains to be seen, not least because we have no real idea how the current surge in the Ukip vote might translate into seats at the general election – ten or so? 25? 100? Or whether the Lib Dem collapse will be as sertious as some predict.
But with political observers increasingly predicting a hung parliament rather than a Labour majority in May, a Lab-SNP coalition cannot be ruled out. And if that happens, why would Salmond not demand the same deal Nick Clegg negotiated with Cameron last time – the deputy premiership? Don’t write it off.