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Giant strides

Giant strides

Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum… I smell the blood of an Englishman…

Wow, the SNP is really giving it large. A giant Alex Salmond splashed across London’s billboards, Nicola Sturgeon swinging on a wrecking ball in a teeny-weeny tartan bikini across a double-page spread in the English-only editions of The Sun and the Prime Minister mentioning the SNP so many times at Westminster that PMQs could easily be Scottish Questions.

It seems Scotland has now come to England and with Salmond cast as the giant bogeyman. And that’s entirely the political strategy at work.

With just weeks before the General Election and with neither Labour nor the Conservatives confident of their place in the polls, the Scottish Question puts the SNP in prime position to start calling the shots. And they don’t like it up ‘em.

Who would have thought that after a battering in the referendum and with Scots variously feeling the love, antipathy, bribe and then the Vow, that those pesky Nats would still rise to the top of UK politics like, er, oil on water.

Now, Cameron can risk the wrath of Scottish voters by mocking Ed Miliband and creating a hate figure out of Salmond. What has he got to lose? But Miliband cannot afford to further alienate Scots who have already turned their backs on Labour in large numbers.

So by trying to portray the SNP as a party that has hoodwinked the electorate, Miliband faces the risk of an electoral wipe-out because no one likes to be called a fool.

Alternatively, he could allude to the prospect of a Labour-SNP deal post May 7th. In so doing, he may not only alienate his own MPs but further risk decimation because if your choice as a Scot is Labour or the Tories, who feel very much the same in terms of austerity, or Labour and the SNP, then why wouldn’t you give it a shot?

Poor Miliband, he’s in a no-win and he knows it.

"Now, Cameron can risk the wrath of Scottish voters by mocking Ed Miliband and creating a hate figure out of Salmond. What has he got to lose?"

Last week at the Scottish Labour Party conference, Jim Murphy addressed, head-on, the damaging question of whether Labour in Scotland was simply a branch office of its UK counterpart. He got the party constitution changed, he got patriotism recognised and he ensured that Scottish Labour is now responsible for making decisions about Scotland in Scotland. 

Miliband sat on the stage looking distinctly uncomfortable, clapping as his party in Scotland made moves to distance itself from him and the UK. He looked into the middle distance as it voted for the word ‘patriotic’ to be included in its constitution and smiled inanely as maybe he wondered why M&C Saatchi had put him in Salmond’s jacket pocket rather than the other way round.

Murphy has brought an energy and drive to Labour’s campaign, but his short-term problem is vast. He has just six weeks to turn the polls around. He has a legacy of a party that has failed to recognise the reasons for its demise and he has the problem of tribal hatred for a party that is overwhelmingly approved of in a country that Labour used to call its own. He may have affirmed the party’s Scottishness but will it make a difference to the Scots?

One union leader I spoke to told me that he would be lucky if even a third of his members turned back – turned back – to Labour.

In this election, the SNP is left, right and centre. Salmond is the bogeyman and once again, we see the establishment rain down on the Nats which, of course, does their cause no harm. 

Last week Nicola Sturgeon launched an attack on the UK civil service, accusing it of acting in a “transparently party political” manner. In a strongly worded letter to Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, Sturgeon claimed that it was “clearly the case” that the SNP was being included “in political attacks prepared at the taxpayers’ expense”. She also hit out at David Cameron’s decision not to allow the SNP pre-election contact with the civil service, normally reserved for opposition parties that might form the next government.

“This inconsistency reeks of hypocrisy,” she said.

Now this may seem audacious, particularly in a week when the GERS figures cast a black mark over her own party’s economic credibility, but while the UK civil service has spent the last two weeks examining Sturgeon’s assertion that the SNP would be the party of anti-austerity – with a plan to reduce the national debt more slowly than any other and inject a further public sector spending of £180bn into the UK economy over the next four years – it has also refused to treat them as a possible party of government which, realistically, they could be. 

Ultimately, this election could end with a House of Commons filled with Tories who have nothing to lose in Scotland, Labour with depleted numbers from Scotland, and nationalists who ultimately want to be in an independent Scotland. It does rather beg the question, what place does Scotland have there?

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