A LEGITIMACY CRISIS AND THE POTENTIAL GAME-CHANGERS: AN SNP-LABOUR COALITION

by Katherine Lucas

With the election race officially underway, another hung parliament is looking an increasingly possible outcome in May, a scenario in which the Scottish National Party (SNP) have the potential to be game-changers.

Ed Miliband vs. David Cameron is a question advantageous to the current incumbent of Number 10 — to the general population, meanwhile, it is akin to being asked whether they’d like to be shot or hanged.

Miliband and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon looked close to coming to blows at the seven-party election debate, but in reality their respective parties can be advantageous to one another. The fear – at least in Westminster – is that the Left cannot be reliant on separatists which threaten the union. Spain is an obvious comparison, if their government were to seek out a Basque-based party. On the other hand, Northern Ireland is perhaps a more helpful reminder of a power-sharing experiment which has been relatively successful. Sinn Fein, rather than using their place at Stormont to peddle their campaign for Irish re-unification, they are basically a device putting pressure on the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to issue fairer policies across the community.

Ed Miliband vs. David Cameron is a question advantageous to the current incumbent of Number 10 — to the general population, meanwhile, it is akin to being asked whether they’d like to be shot or hanged.

This is the kind of compromise the SNP might have to make should they be invited to form a coalition, which at present is speculative. Regardless of their fundamental mission, if Nicola Sturgeon was to have a considerable influence at Westminster, it is doubtful that she would use it to renew the debate over independence, particularly with a ‘no’ vote still fresh in the memory.

On the contrary, the SNP could have a hugely positive impact on British politics. Under Alex Salmond, the party was primarily associated with independence, but by opting to change leadership – admittedly a forced decision – they can now manoeuvre into far more malleable policies.

Essentially, an SNP-backed Labour government would put pressure on the majority government to actually apply proper left-wing policies. Rather than a remodelling of ‘New Labour’, a return to traditional Labour values. The legacy of the likes of Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson haunts Labour in the run-up to the election. Blair’s fraudulent model of semi-socialism has left Labour in a legitimacy crisis. Alongside the SNP, however, they have the opportunity to restore that legitimacy.

Essentially, an SNP-backed Labour government would put pressure on the majority government to actually apply proper left-wing policies.

Without wishing to be too vague, Sturgeon’s personality is also of importance. Common sense holds that Labour are going to lose potential voters because of widespread concerns about Miliband’s credentials as a world leader. The thought of him arriving at the White House, or shrinking away from a glaring Vladimir Putin at European summits is somewhat embarrassing, and this is not a sentiment that will go away in a matter of months. For Labour itself, these thoughts are no longer worth entertaining, because Miliband – and not his equally questionable brother – was chosen to lead the party upon Gordon Brown’s departure. That is not something which can now be overturned, and their election campaign is henceforth making the best of a bad job. Sturgeon, meanwhile, possesses credibility.

Scotland is a Labour stronghold, which means that SNP votes have the potential to steal Miliband’s supporters away at the last hurdle, which alarmingly could be a factor in the Conservatives retaining power. This is a reasonable concern. Cameron echoes it in his warnings that a protest vote for UKIP from the right could have the undesired effect of gifting Labour victory. Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls appears to share this insular worldview, without considering the benefits that the SNP could hold for his party.

In terms of democracy, too, a coalition involving the SNP makes sense logistically. Devolution for Scotland was a key feature of ‘Better Together’, and as Scotland as a whole is such an important ‘seat’, a government featuring the SNP makes sense. Aside from democratic justification, an SNP-Labour coalition has arguably the best chance of creating coherent policies.

There is a reason that a decade ago, people would have laughed at the thought of a Conservative-Lib Dem coalition. Labour and the SNP, in contrast, have some sort of a middle ground. Cameron last week derided the Labour party as “socialists”. However understandable such ramblings may be from a product of the privileged, a graduate of both Eton and Oxford, he unwittingly struck at the heart of what has been wrong with the Labour party since it elected Blair.

There is a reason that a decade ago, people would have laughed at the thought of a Conservative-Lib Dem coalition. Labour and the SNP, in contrast, have some sort of a middle ground.

Miliband should never be made to deny he is a socialist, nor should Labour be spending its time assuring Business and the City that it is to protect their interests. Labour’s legitimacy crisis has left it without an identity. Should they be given the chance, it is up to the SNP to change that.

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