Lord Ashcroft’s poll has sent a chill up and down the spines of every Labour MP, candidate and activist this morning. Some had clearly hoped that it wouldn’t be as bad as the national polls have indicated since the autumn. But their fears have been realised.
The poll underlines the fact that the referendum campaign and outcome has caused a momentous shift in Scottish politics. Scottish Labour is faced with electoral oblivion with less than 3 months to polling day and there is only damage control left to achieve.
Assuming the SNP secures a landslide, what does this mean for the next UK government and the Union? Can this ongoing constitutional uncertainty continue and could the result in May be the tipping point for a long-term solution?
If Cameron wins in England and is given the chance to form a government, a long-lasting, stable coalition is looking increasingly unlikely. The Lib Dems won’t supply the numbers and Nicola Sturgeon has refused to ‘prop up’ a Tory government, clearly seeing the parallels to 1979. A coalition with UK Labour is therefore more palatable for the SNP, but made more unlikely by its own success.
Both the Conservatives and Labour parties would struggle to govern as a minority and are not used to working with smaller parties. It is conceivable that we will head to the polls again in 2015 if a workable solution is not found. If a minority party was to govern, sorting out the constitutional mess we find ourselves in will a necessary priority.
William Hague outlined the Conservative Party’s preferred option for EVEL or English Votes for English Laws, fundamentally changing how legislation is scrutinised in the House of Commons. This has received a luke-warm response, being painted as a cynical attempt to shore up the Conservative’s chances of maintaining power. As has Scottish Labour’s ‘Vow +’ which appears to promise Home Rule (but not actual Home Rule in the historical definition of the term) and deliver powers they say the SNP can’t.
If the SNP hold the balance of power, its manifesto becomes very important and will be focused on gaining more powers beyond Smith towards real Home Rule. This could well be a deal-breaker and potentially undeliverable for Labour or Conservatives, unless English MPs are satisfied that their concerns are met.
UK Labour supports a constitutional convention where the UK’s constitutional future could be thrashed out and a fair settlement delivered for all. It is certainly right to say that back room solutions proffered by each party exacerbate tensions from those not round the table, but is a collective solution any more likely to be found or agreed?
Jim Murphy and Ed Miliband can crow as much as they like that the SNP is handing the keys of Downing St back to the Tories. However, this is only happening because of its failure to tackle the SNP and the fact that voters in Scotland continue to turn away from Westminster. It is clear that UK political leaders need to articulate a vision for meeting the concerns of voters in Scotland (and for that matter, Wales and Northern Ireland). Ridiculous argument on TV debates just underline how patronising and out of touch they really are.
Ashcroft’s polling is fascinating. However, the inevitable outcome is uncertainty. This is bad for the economy, bad for public services, but might give us all the impetus to really tackle the constitutional cross-roads we find ourselves at.