In today’s Telegraph, John Major, still very much the Tory partisan, argues for Labour to rule out a deal with the SNP. This makes perfect sense for the Tories, since it would remove one significant means of Labour forming a minority government. In the meantime, the Tories are working hard on the Lib Dems for a repeat of 2010. If Clegg survives in Sheffield and, with the SNP discounted, the Lib Dems hold the balance again, there’s surely little doubt they’ll go with the Tories even if Labour is the largest party.
Of course, the SNP would prefer a Tory government, since that’s the outcome most likely to produce another referendum in short order. But for now, telling Labour/SNP swingers that an SNP vote will help deliver a Labour government with extra resources for Scotland is obviously the sensible thing for the SNP.
Some folk argue that the Scottish Labour MPs that are left, if there were enough to hold the balance, would prevent Ed Miliband from doing a deal with the SNP. Certainly, such a coalition would be at the expense of doing Scottish Labour further great harm. But that scenario would require Labour MPs to actively effect a Tory UK government – and that’s out of the question. Plus, a fair few of them will get to be ministers and that chance may never come along again. In the end, people go into politics to hold the power to change things.
What’s more interesting in many ways, maybe because it’s a bit less obsessed over, is the Blairite direction of travel.
Here’s Phil Collins, Tony Blair’s former speechwriter, in The Times (paywall) arguing the same as Major re: Labour/SNP. And here’s The Herald (sign-in) missing something important in its reportage of Tony Blair donating a grand to 106 constituency Labour campaigns across the UK. What the Herald fails to decode, although I don’t doubt the journalist Michael Settle understood this, is that spending a grand on any of the Scottish constituencies mentioned in the piece is simply, at face value, ridiculous. Dundee East as a ‘marginal’? No, the only constituencies which count to Scottish Labour right now are ‘defensive’ ones. And I don’t mean marginals, either. I means those with huge majorities at the moment. So what are the Blairites up to?
Well, spending money on constituencies directly, rather than just giving it to the party, speaks volumes for a start. And spending money on what would have been ‘offensive marginals’ if Blair were PM today is essentially seedcorn investment for the future. It tacitly lays out a vista in which the SNP is dominant in Scotland but have moved to the left and lost old Tories and some Lib Dems, and a Scottish Labour Party led by Blairite Jim Murphy hoovers up those lost Tories and others. Think there’s no future in such a plan? Most Scottish voters group around the centre, just like across the UK. SNP MPs all know this, since they’re the beneficiaries of what used to be a strong Tory vote on the East coast. The daft, self-indulgent, far-left rhetoric of some noisy SNP supporters and maybe some new MPs too will help move that centrist vote to a Blairite Scottish Labour Party which delivered 40 seats for 3 elections. Well, that’s the theory.
The Blairite direction of travel is to loyally sort-of work for a Miliband government but to plan much more seriously for another Cameron one, by concentrating on old-fashioned marginals for now, then working for a new Blairite Labour leader aided by as many Scottish Labour MPs as possible. Ironically, that leaves the Tories, most Lib Dems, the SNP and many Blairites all wanting, tacitly or otherwise, a Cameron win.
The great risk for the unionist parties of wishing a Tory government ‘for now’ is that Scots might simply not put up with it for another 5 years. As I said a few days ago, though, I think that’s a risk people in England are increasingly open to. Contrary to popular belief (although often reiterated by journalists, to be fair) the Blairites didn’t need Scotland in the slightest to form a UK government.
Here’s a final thought. When Jim Murphy was helping run David Miliband’s campaign, I told him I’d vote for him (Jim) for leader but not for his wooden, strangely distant and self-entitled candidate. Now David’s gone (although thinks he hasn’t) and Jim’s standing for Westminster again. Imagine a defeated UK Labour party after the next election looking for a proper Blairite leader to bring back the good old days. And imagine Jim Murphy, against all odds, holding on to a decent clutch of seats in Scotland. Bloodied but unbowed, his leadership qualities properly tested in battle with a formidable SNP machine.
Maybe the Labour Party hasn’t had its last Scottish leader after all.