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by Liam Kirkaldy
17 April 2015
Refusal to work with Tories weakens SNP negotiating position, say leading academics

Refusal to work with Tories weakens SNP negotiating position, say leading academics

The SNP’s refusal to work with the Tories in the event of a hung parliament may help attract Labour voters, but it will weaken the party’s ability to negotiate with Ed Miliband, according to a new paper written by two of the UK’s most respected political academics.

The paper, written by University of Oxford’s Professor Jim Gallagher, a former director-general for devolution in the Cabinet Office, and Iain McLean, director of the Gwilym Gibbon Centre for Public Policy and former advisor to the Smith Commission, examines lessons from the experience of Irish Nationalists in 1910 and the implications for the SNP in 2015.

The paper, Nationalists at Westminster Ireland and Scotland a century apart, suggests that the SNP’s rhetoric of building a progressive alliance with Labour could be misleading. The authors also argue that by ruling out a deal with the Tories, the SNP has “no negotiating leverage”, asking, “Why should Labour offer any concessions to a party that has nowhere else to go?”

It says: “The idea of a ‘progressive alliance’ between nationalists and Labour is touted today, just as it was between (Irish) nationalists and the Liberals 100 years ago. It wasn’t quite that simple then, and certainly isn’t now. In both cases the nationalists’ motivation was, and is, to gain greater autonomy by whatever the available means.”

Although the authors state there is no constitutional law or rule stipulating that the largest party gets to form the government, there could be other problems with a Labour SNP deal.

It argues that while the need to attract former Labour voters prevents the SNP from agreeing to talks with the Conservatives, such a deal may hold greater legitimacy in the eyes of the electorate.

As well as being arithmetically workable, “as a government of the UK it would also have one critical advantage over an SNP–Labour grouping: it could claim legitimacy in governing Scotland, England and the UK as a whole.”

Greater devolution to Scotland is one area where the two parties could reach agreement.

“It might start small, trading yet more tax devolution for reduced Westminster influence. However, if its eventual aim were full fiscal autonomy, such a deal would come at the price of significant constitutional risk to the United Kingdom.”

Outlining the potential risks Labour would face in working with the SNP, it says: “First of all, it would be abandoning Scotland to the nationalists, thereby signalling to Scottish voters that it was safe to vote SNP rather than Labour, as doing so would still deliver a Labour government. That would hardly be in Labour’s interests.

“However, the effect on England would be much more significant. English voters might well see such a UK government as illegitimate (something which has had very serious consequences in the past). The political effect on Labour’s supporters in England of the party governing thanks only to the votes of secessionist Scottish members could be marked.”

Read the full paper here

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