We need to be careful about the SNP and coalitions

Labour appear to be saying they would entertain the idea of putting the SNP in charge of Britain in a government and that’s in my book just not going to happen. In the same way I’d never put UKIP in charge of Europe, I’d certainly never put the SNP in charge of a country that they would basically want to rip apart.

This is what Nick Clegg said about the SNP in today’s Call Clegg. It builds on an article written by Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie on here last week. Willie said:

We’ll always be asked by the media about various scenarios and outcomes. But the reality is that all of us are campaigning hard for  Liberal Democrat votes. We want to win here.

And just as you would not put UKIP in charge of Europe, it’s right that we make clear you would not put the SNP in charge of Britain.

This doesn’t mean we won’t take a reasonable approach to politics as a party. We have formed coalitions with the SNP on councils and, in the Scottish Parliament, we have worked with them on their budget and on a range of other issues. So have other parties.

But just imagine for only one second what would happen if Alex Salmond became Deputy Prime Minister. The minute you turned your back he’d take the screwdriver out and try to break up the UK.

This is in no way comparing the SNP and UKIP as some have suggested on earlier discussions. There is no direct comparison. Aside from the constitutional issues, there are many policy issues on which we could find agreement with the SNP and we could work with them. We could also temper their lack of respect for civil liberties. I can’t think of anyone in UKIP I’d want to even give the time of day to and our policy divergence is huge.  While I totally get the analogy Nick and Willie are making  I would urge caution about explicitly ruling out dealing with the Nationalists. It would be counter-productive to do so.

The SNP don’t want a progressive coalition. They want a Tory/UKIP government

Everything the SNP does has the aim of securing independence. Why on earth would they take part in a progressive coalition that might deliver good things across the UK? They’ve shown by making Trident their red line that they have no interest in in doing so and would walk away if they didn’t get it. I say let them. If they want to explain to the majority in Scotland who opposed independence why they inflicted a Tory/UKIP coalition on us, then we should let them. We shouldn’t do it for them.

Labour have so far been non-committal on the issue of SNP coalition. Ed Balls apparently wants to rule it out. (Can their front bench not agree on anything?). If we and Labour rule it out, it gives the SNP a get out. They can portray us as a unionist cabal trying to cut them out, playing the victim as they do so well. That would give them an advantage and diminish their culpability. Let them make the decision.

It would not be impossible to find enough policy common ground to put together something that would work. We shouldn’t talk it up, but nor should we throw out any babies before the bath has been run. It’s not, after all, as if we haven’t governed with people whose values bring us out in hives. We’ve held them back from the majority of their destructive instincts.

Who knows what hand we’ll be dealt on May 8th? There are so many possible permutations. All we can do upfront is our homework on all the manifestos and work out our negotiating strategy. Then we get on with selling ourselves. That’s the best way to get ourselves back into an influential position in the next parliament, in or out of government.

 

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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36 Comments

  • Alisdair McGregor 26th Feb '15 - 1:57pm

    “This is in no way comparing the SNP and UKIP as some have suggested on earlier discussions. There is no direct comparison.”

    There really is a direct comparison. In the same way that you highlight that the SNP have no interest in a progressive coalition that might make things better for Scotland in the UK (leaving aside for the moment of how a Labour-SNP coalition could ever be progressive when neither party is), so UKIP have no interest in making things better for the UK in the EU. That’s why they never turn up to vote in the EU Parliament, and why Farage personally missed key votes on fishing policy that would have helped British fleets.

    It’s precisely the same tactic from precisely the same mindset. Both will deliberately make matters worse in the union they want to depart to further their separatist aims.

  • “This is in no way comparing the SNP and UKIP as some have suggested on earlier discussions. There is no direct comparison.”

    Yes there is. Both are parties based on blaming all their own problems on foreigners. The SNP has had to work a bit harder to convince the people of Scotland that non-Scots (specifically English) are “foreigners” and then manufacturing a sense of grievance around that, but basically they are the same in that they rely on the politics of blame.

    What we can be sure of is that whatever our stance before 7 May, entering into any coalition with the SNP will be deeply toxic in the rest of the UK to whichever party does it.

  • “The SNP don’t want a progressive coalition. They want a Tory/UKIP government.”

    Can you point to _anything_ that a senior SNP person has said that backs this up?

    So far as I can see, Sturgeon is laying the groundwork for a coalition, and publicly discussing what her criteria would be for joining one. (Largely in ways I approve of.)

    Accusing them of wanting a right-wing government of the UK is, frankly, a despicable accusation.

  • Very sound and moderate words but as an Englishman denied equality in the UK because I’m apparently not allowed to be trusted with a national parliament for my country, I wouldn’t cross the street to put out a smouldering SNP for all the money in the world and I certainly wouldn’t give the petty wretches even a sniff of power in Westminster as their agenda is 100% destructive. That is where they are the same as UKIP.

  • Simon McGrath 26th Feb '15 - 2:13pm

    Clegg is entirely correct.
    Labour and UKIP both want to do what is best for the UK: both of them are deluded about what would be best of course but at least we would all have a common goal. The SNP don’t want what is best for the UK, they want a) to make the UK as unworkable as possible and b) to have as much extra money sent up to Scotland as they can.

  • The SNP want an independent Scotland. They will act in pursuit of that agenda as far as possible. Because of that, there can be no shared core objective within any coalition government which involves the SNP. In any internal debate on defence, for example, the SNP participants will be laying groundwork for a future independent Scotland rather than considering the best interests of the UK as a whole. That said, it’s difficult to see what the SNP would gain from participating in a Westminster coalition – so maybe we should be discussing something else!

  • @Andrew Ducker

    They want it as it would a perfect situation for them to call, and win, a second Indy Ref. Vast swathes of the 2014 campaign was directly about not having Tory governments, as they know that is their best way of securing the vote they need.

    They don’t want a country with Tory policies being implemented, but they do want one as a means of securing their goal.

  • @ATF

    Utter nonsense. There is no appetite and no mandate for such a quick rerun.

  • matt (Bristol) 26th Feb '15 - 3:47pm

    We have already ruled out a coalition with UKIP. In a possibly chaotic situation, ruling out any more parties would be tactically limiting. I can’t see a 3-party coalition working, anyway, but ruling out SNP coalition would potentially at this stage make us a less attractive party to Labour as it is arguably more likely Labour will need a 3-party set-up to govern (given the SNP appear to have ruled out the Tories).

    Ergo, making this a red line sends out an implicit message that we favour the Tories over Labour as our preferred party.

    But the tactical problem for us in Scotland is that if we wish to protect our MPs there by rallying the unionist vote ruling out coalition with the SNP is potentially a good card to play.

    Hmm.

  • Without reference to UKIP, I would suggest that in literal terms, Nick Clegg is correct that there will not be a formal coalition between SNP and Labour. That said, I think it highly likely that Labour and SNP would be motivated to find some sort of agreement if the numbers warranted it. Labour will be hoping id there is no overall majority that they could at least muster a majority if SNP could be persuaded to abstain.

    Naturally we could end up with all sorts of permutations, including a straight majority one way or the other, which despite the polls is more likely than not under FPTP.

    As for Lib Dems, having demonstrated that a coalition government can last the course, we should not get involved in anything that risks showing the opposite and thereby nullifies an important point to courting unpopularity by sticking with the present coalition.

    Clearly in the run up to an election it would be stupid to commit to rejecting a coalition beforehand, however if our support and number of MPs are sharply reduced, we should have the courage to say that since the voters had rejected us as coalition partners, we would go back to the opposition benches.

  • “Ergo, making this a red line sends out an implicit message that we favour the Tories over Labour as our preferred party.”

    I don’t know what part of “Nick prefers the Tories to Labour” I’m supposed to be surprised by.

  • matt (Bristol) 26th Feb '15 - 3:58pm

    Thinking further, whilst I still think we should not make pre-commitments on this, if coalition with under 40 MPs is risky for a minor party, then 2 minor parties of roughly 30 MPs (or less) in a coalition with a larger partner is more risky; they would just be played off against each other by their ‘big brother’ whose leader would be potentially able to posture as a reasonable broker between the two others.

    I also think Lab-SNP-LD runs the risk of increasing the future chances of a rightwing Tory-UKIP ‘English natoinalist’ coming together. And there would be no effective opposition in Scotland. That doesn’t feel right.

  • By the way, when are we going to stop pretending that the Lib Dems aren’t as ferociously tribal as any other party? I’d try to count the number of references I’ve seen to Nasty Tories, Authoritarian Labour, Racist UKIP, Treasonous SNP, and Red Greens, but I’d run out of digits. Pride in one’s party is great, but the Everyone Rots But Us mentality is destructive, particularly when the But Us is 92+% of the country.

  • David Allen 26th Feb '15 - 4:39pm

    Clegg’s and Rennie’s ferocious opposition to any sort of coalition with the SNP is revealing. As others have said, it provides one more way in which Clegg can favour the Tories over Labour without needing to be honest and say so explicitly. What it also shows is how, for our leadership, coalition is the only game in town. All this talk from the activists about an exhausted party which should renew itself from the back benches is anathema to a careerist leadership, for whom politics is about ministerial jobs, ministerial jobs, and ministerial jobs.

    So – Hey, you big party leaders out there – Don’t even think of treating with the SNP! Your preferred partners must be the Lib Dems – Flexible, adaptable, biddable, reasonable, and next to no policies that we can’t change if you want us to. You know it makes sense. Gizza job!

  • jedibeeftrix 26th Feb '15 - 4:50pm

    “They don’t want a country with Tory policies being implemented, but they do want one as a means of securing their goal”

    If the Scottish electorate can really be won over to the SNP by the prospect if ( yet another!) Tory government, then forgive me if I think less of them in their failure to vote the ‘right’ way in the referendum last year.

  • The basic dishonesty of Clegg and his coterie is well set out in —
    David Allen 26th Feb ’15 – 4:39pm
    “Clegg’s and Rennie’s ferocious opposition to any sort of coalition with the SNP is revealing. As others have said, it provides one more way in which Clegg can favour the Tories over Labour without needing to be honest and say so explicitly. What it also shows is how, for our leadership, coalition is the only game in town. All this talk from the activists about an exhausted party which should renew itself from the back benches is anathema to a careerist leadership, for whom politics is about ministerial jobs, ministerial jobs, and ministerial jobs.”

  • I note that the article says that Clegg’s comment — “….builds on an article written by Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie on here last week.”

    If the opinion polls are a guide to anything, Willie Rennie will be the leader of a party in Scotland that will have no more MPs than the London Borough of Sutton.
    Why should anything that Willie Rennie says be taken seriously when it comes to Westminster Government ?

    If the number of Liberal Democrat MPs in Scotland is derisory as expected they will have lost and lost badly and if the SNP offer a way of getting Cameron out of Downing St we should accord with the voters’ wishes.

  • David Allen 26th Feb '15 - 6:07pm

    “The SNP don’t want a progressive coalition. They want a Tory/UKIP government.”

    I think this assertion should be treated with great caution. Here is some alternative logic:

    A Tory/UKIP coalition would horrify SNP voters, but paradoxically, it would also provide the SNP great opportunities. They could demand and win a second Indyref, by arguing that Scotland needs independence in order to stay in the EU. Therefore, if the SNP were cynical b*stards, they would actively favour a Tory/UKIP coalition. They would play cunning games. They would pretend to want a coalition with Labour, but then covertly do clever things to scupper it, thereby helping the Tories. Since the political risk of the SNP being found out helping the Tories would be appalling, the SNP would also need to be masters of duplicity. The SNP would also have to be big-time gamblers and risk-takers. They would have to be crazy enough to take huge political risks for the sake of independence, just at the time when a straightforward no-risk campaign would clearly win them massive gains.

    There is no actual evidence that the SNP are totally cynical b*stards, and also masters of duplicity, and also a bunch of crazy gamblers. However, it would help the SNP’s political opponents if they could tar the SNP with all those brushes. Therefore, the SNP’s political opponents should do their best to confuse opportunity (the SNP could choose to play dirty if they wanted to) with actuality (“therefore, the SNP are bound to play dirty”).

    I don’t support the SNP. However, I don’t think firing off wild allegations that they are helping the Tories will impress anyone. It will backfire because it is not very credible.

  • There is a possibility that both SNP and Lib Dems could be significant opposition groups of MPs to a minority government after the next election. I know it is difficult at the moment but I do think the Party should be establishing behind the scenes contacts, exploring areas of agreement, common strategy and coordination, with the SNP in preparation for such an eventuality. Obvious areas such as EU issues, devolution and decentralisation, but I am sure there is a lot more.

    Either a Conservative or a Labour minority government would be looking to exacerbate and exploit differences amongst smaller parties, we should not allow ourselves to be caught on the hop.

  • Little Jackie Paper 26th Feb '15 - 6:39pm

    There is another possibility here though. A CON-SNP arrangement (as distinct from a deal). SNP support for an EU referendum with the promise of a second Independence referendum in return isn’t totally outlandish as a deal. Indeed, if the UKIP/CON vote is greater than 50% it might not even be that controversial.

    That way, Cameron gets his EU referendum and the SNP get the neverendum, which is probably what they wanted this time. It has advantages for both as an arrangement. Cameron could quite credibly say that a second vote to stay in the union would kill off independence, and he gets to deliver the EU referendum and would bypass any LDP objections. If he is able to deliver an EU referendum probably the Conservatives might be able to manage as a minority government (at least for the short-term). The SNP get a second bite at the cherry.

    The difficulty is that (as I understand it) the SNP has argued that an EU referendum that produces an OUT majority should have a majority in Scotland, England, Wales and NI – i.e a de facto Scottish veto. (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/oct/29/nicola-sturgeon-scottish-veto-eu-referendum).

    But if Sturgeon thinks that theUK-wide result would be to stay in she might see it as a risk worth taking for the second independence referendum.

    All unlikely of course – but perhaps not outlandish?

  • Let’s be honest; no matter what is said in the run up to the GE…Afterwards, everything will be up for grabs….

  • So if the SNP will be in charge of the UK in the event of being a minor partner in a Westminster coalition then I take it the Lib Dems have been in charge for the last 5 years?

    This is the UK Parliament we are talking about, Scotland is part of the UK therefore if the maths work and the policies can be agreed then they have every right to part of a coalition. It seems that having spent the recent referendum campaign convincing Scottish voters they should wish to remain part of the UK they are now saying that their freely elected MP’s should have no part to play in UK policies.

    I do not like the SNP but if they are elected in large enough numbers they have a right to influence policy…

  • Eddie Sammon 26th Feb '15 - 8:05pm

    Whatever the Lib Dems policy towards UKIP is the same has to apply to the SNP. Sending out a message that the party is going back to trying to present itself as further left than Labour will not be good.

    There’s no space being between the centre and Labour, or being Labour, so if the idea is to become further left than Labour then it will just have no credibility.

    I’m not saying SNP and UKIP are moral equivalents, but it is important not to “nit pick”.

    Regards

  • Steve Way: I thin you have exposed some fairly crude pre-election hyperbole. Presumably Clegg feels secure saying this as he knows a formal coalition between Labour and SNP is very unlikely, however this was a call in programme, I have seen no other reports so have no idea what the context was.

    Of course having a pop at other parties is all part of the electioneering jostling, but what is missing up to now are the substantial Liberal ideas that help us stand out as a party with a (Liberal) direction rather than a few worthy causes. Education for example is crying out for radical decentralisation with integrated, joined up policies at a more local level. My suggestion along with this would be to change the remit of Ofsted or preferably a reformed inspectorate so that rather than inspect individual schools, inspection should be of educational opportunities for specified localities.

  • Eddie Sammon 26th Feb '15 - 8:30pm

    By the way, Caron does make a good point about the dangers of being painted as unconditional unionists. I refused to get off the fence on Scottish independence until a few months before the result when in my opinion it became clear the case was overwhelming, but independence should always be on the table.

  • Philip Thomas 26th Feb '15 - 9:34pm

    The polls suggest the SNP will have 30-40 MPs at the next election. More than us. Many times more than UKIP. Common sense suggests that ridiculing them and alienating them may not be all that wise. Personally, I would rather the SNP didn’t form part of the next government, but I would suggest that decision is in the hands of a) the electorate and (if the electorate gives him the choice) b) Ed Miliband.

    In the unlikely event that the Liberal Democrats get a say in this, the choice is likely to be between the Conservatives (possibly +DUP/UKIP) and Labour+SNP: If we have tied our hands behind our backs by ruling out a coalition with the SNP in advance, we will have absolutely no negotiating strength with the Tories.

  • It makes me smile to see LibDems saying they would never go into a coalition with UKIP. If UKIP has half a dozen MP’s after the GE and the Tory/LibDem coalition are two seats short of a overall majority, I think we all know what will happen.

  • Philip Thomas 26th Feb '15 - 9:46pm

    @malc- yes, the Tories and Lib Dems will team up with the DUP. Next!

  • UKIP Kiddie

    We’ll see who has more MPs after the election…

  • David Allen 27th Feb '15 - 9:45am

    “In the unlikely event that the Liberal Democrats get a say in this, the choice is likely to be between the Conservatives (possibly +DUP/UKIP) and Labour+SNP: If we have tied our hands behind our backs by ruling out a coalition with the SNP in advance, we will have absolutely no negotiating strength with the Tories.”

    Spot on. So why have the Lib Dems tied their hands behind their backs by ruling out any form of deal with the SNP? Because the Lib Dem leadership do not want any negotiating strength with the Tories. Their appeal to the Tories is precisely the opposite. It is “Give us jobs, we will do everything you ask, so we are your best partner”.

    That’s why so much effort has been put over the last few years into de-principling this party. The Lib Dems no longer object to nuclear power, no longer object to fracking, no longer pose any real challenge to the renewal of Trident, no longer make waves about constitutional reform, no longer make waves about anything. The party is just a hollowed-out husk, a vehicle for careerism.

  • Theres an interesting article on “Labour Uncut” on this issue – “A Labour/SNP deal would be a disaster for Britain & Milliband.”

  • Denis Loretto 27th Feb '15 - 2:24pm

    I think the formula Paddy Ashdown always used is best -“Here is our manifesto. The more Lib Dem MPs you elect the more of this you will get.” I think we should agree with the universal view that the election result is the most difficult in living memory to predict, assure the electorate that when we have their verdict we will act (as we always have) in what we see as the best interests of the British people and refuse to discuss the likelihood or desirability of any particular coalition or other form of co-operation which may emerge in the likely absence of any overall majority for a single party.

  • SIMON BANKS 4th Mar '15 - 6:22pm

    It makes electoral sense for the SNP to be making positive noises about a centre-left coalition or other electoral arrangement involving them. I disagree with Andrew Ducker in that it’s merely electoral commonsense to see that the outcome that would best suit the SNP’s understandably main objective of independence would be a more right-wing government than the present one with hardly any Scottish support.

    But “putting the SNP in charge of Britain”? Apart from the point that this appears to exclude them from power over Northern Ireland, they wouldn’t be in charge of Britain any more than we’ve been these last five years. Unless, of course, Salmon became UK Prime Minister. Now that WOULD be a devious move by unionists.

  • Keith Houston 14th Mar '15 - 9:00am

    Far from wanting a UKIP, Tory coalition the SNP don’t care which party or alliance controls Westminster. This campaign is about showing how little influence Scotland’s votes have within the present establishment. The narrative put forward is designed to accept the independence referendum decision, whilst advocating maxim powers. Scotland’s constituinal future wasn’t decide last year because BetterTogether failed to make a positive case. By relying on doubts about currency, pensions etc. independence was only delayed.

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