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Monday 9 February 2015

SNP: ‘The more seats we have here, the more powers we’ll have in Scotland.’

Thus runs the slogan on the first welcome image (reproduced below) displayed on the SNP’s website landing page. However, for the English this statement, given projections regarding the possible composition of the next House of Commons, would be better displayed next to the SNP’s peculiar logo, which looks for all the world like a noose.   

Opinion polls indicate that we are heading towards a second Parliament with no party possessing an overall majority. For a number of months, the national polls – at the headline level – have remained relatively static, but what has changed, as widely noted by commentators, is the situation in Scotland. As matters stand, the SNP is on track to oust Labour as the leading parliamentary party in the country, routing the latter in a number of its historic strongholds. Rather than laying to rest the question of Scotland’s constitutional status within the United Kingdom, last September’s Independence Referendum has bequeathed a situation in which the Scots have come to perceive themselves as very much separate to the rest of the UK, albeit whilst remaining part of it.

Much of this change in national self-perception can, perhaps, be attributed to the Westminster panic over the possibility of a ‘Yes’ vote, and the associated granting of additional concessions to the Scottish Parliament which amounted to the ‘Devo Max’ that had previously been denied as an option to Scots. Having woken up to the efficacy of voting SNP in leveraging additional powers and privileges from Westminster, Scottish voters seem intent to play the nationalist card in pursuit of further concessions from the rest of the UK, to pay for policies that are deemed unaffordable in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Doubtless, Ed Miliband’s lacklustre leadership of the Labour Party and absence of a coherent political vision also plays poorly with Scottish voters when contrasted with an SNP, which is making a direct play for the traditional Labour vote north of the border. 

Amongst the SNP’s pledges is to continue to ensure that ‘There will be no tuition fees for Scottish students’. This situation understandably makes many English students envious and resentful, particularly so when considering that whereas English and Welsh students studying in Scottish universities have to pay fees equivalent to the maximum chargeable to domestic students in England and Wales - £9,000 per annum – if you happen to come from anywhere between Lisbon and Tallinn that happens to be part of the EU, you pay nothing. Not only that, but even ‘if you’re the child of a Turkish worker in the UK’ you can apply to have your tuition fees paid in full. You could not devise a more unjust anti-English system if you tried. Alongside this remarkable pledge, is a statement that the party wishes to see ‘a minimum income of at least £7,000 for the lowest income students’ (although presumably not for sub-Turkish English students).

This SNP approach to policy, with its pronounced anti-English tenor, spells trouble ahead. According to today’s UK Polling Report rolling average of polls, Labour stand on 33%, Conservatives on 31%, UKIP on 15%, the Liberal Democrats on 8% and the Greens on 6%. The others, amongst whom are included the SNP, account for the remaining 7%. However, whereas UKIP are highly likely to end up with far fewer seats than the Liberal Democrats, possibly winning a handful in total, the SNP, because of their natural concentration in Scotland, look set to play the role of power brokers, just as the Liberal Democrats have done since 2010. Such an electoral outcome will doubtless fuel pressure for both constitutional and electoral reform, given the far higher number of votes that will accrue to UKIP, but failing to yield electoral MPs. 

On 3 February, UK Polling Report reported that the four opinion polls carried out thus far this year in Scotland revealed the following stated voting intentions: Labour 27%, Liberal Democrats 5% and the SNP 47%. This represented swings of 21% from Labour and 20.5% from the Liberal Democrats to the SNP. However, swings are never uniform, so although the polls suggest a near if not complete wipe-out for Labour in Scotland this May, most pollsters believe that Labour will retain some seats. Nonetheless, it is generally anticipated that the SNP will take upwards of 40 Westminster seats if current voting intentions hold firm. This raises the spectre of a Miliband minority administration propped up by the SNP, possibly, depending upon the precise distribution of seats, also being reliant upon a cobbled together coalition including one or two Greens and the Liberal Democrats. This would probably be the worst possible outcome for the UK, running the risk of fracturing it irrevocably, whilst ceding further sovereignty to the EU and sinking ever further beneath the weight of near-untrammelled mass immigration. Who would pay for Scotland's spending spree, particularly during a time of likely declining North Sea oil income? 

A Labour minority Government with SNP support could sound the death knell for the United Kingdom. Wouldn’t Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon et al be delighted with the anti-democratic havoc that they could play with the Sassenachs! 

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