The news that Gordon Brown’s seat of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath is under threat is another ratchet of pressure on Jim Murphy. Brown’s seat is currently Labour’s safest in Scotland. Whilst Lord Ashcroft polls this week dealt a further blow to Scottish Labour, Sturgeon and the SNP have been performing a few tricks and U-turns to position themselves for life in Westminster after 7 May.
The new Ashcroft polling showed that even leader Jim Murphy would scrape through by a single percentage point in East Renfrewshire. This is a seat where historically the SNP have come a very distant third. The news has triggered an age-old Labour habit, internal dissention.
Labour figures anonymously briefed the Scotsman questioning whether Murphy’s strategy is targeting resources correctly. A senior figure argued that some constituencies in Glasgow and West of Scotland should be forgotten as they are “probably lost”. This includes the seat of Shadow Scottish Secretary, Margaret Curran – a sure sign of desperate times.
Scottish Labour MPs told a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party that there should be no post-election deal with the SNP. Addressing this issue at the Scottish Labour party conference tomorrow, Miliband will continue the rhetoric of ‘Vote SNP, get Tory’ and is expected to speak firmly against a formal deal with the SNP if he fails to win an overall majority. Labour fears any coalition deal with the SNP due to the risks of alienating its English base and being barraged by the right wing press due to its association with the SNP and handing power to Salmond et al. Of course, a ‘formal deal’ doesn’t rule out confidence and supply where the SNP would support a Labour budget and any other votes that could bring the Government down.
Miliband knows that if Labour losses in Scotland offset gains from the Tories in England, and Labour completely rejects working with the SNP, the party may be abandoning the possibility of forming a relatively stable government. The importance of the Scottish Labour conference and Murphy and Miliband’s speeches to galvanise Labour troops cannot be underestimated. It is set to be the biggest one-day conference the party has ever had, but members will need a heavy dose of zeal in the face of troubling signs.
On the SNP’s side, one of the major sticking points for supporting a Labour minority was cancelling Trident. Even in a confidence and supply arrangement, the SNP would need to support a budget with defence spending within it. In a report by the Guardian, the First Minister has now seemingly stepped back from Trident cancellation as a red-line issue. Whilst playing down a formal coalition deal, playing down any impasse with Labour on Trident is another push towards confidence and supply. With Sturgeon making friends with Plaid Cymru and the English Green party, SNP MPs could also lead the way in a parliamentary bloc left of Labour.
In further preparation, the SNP have also put in some disciplinary safeguards for new arrivals to the green benches. The party fears a media focus on candidates who may step out of party line – a similar media challenge faced by UKIP.
A leaked draft agenda for the SNP conference shows proposals for MPs not to “publicly criticise a Group decision, policy or another member of the Group”, or face disciplinary proceedings including expulsion. The discipline of the party is reaching new levels to achieve its goals. Even the Spectator’s Fraser Nelson tweeted this week that the SNP deserved its success, stating that its professionalism was paying off.
We must recognise that the only poll that counts is the one on the 7th May, and that polling always has to be caveated. But while Scottish Labour scramble to make ground, the SNP are paving their way to exerting influence over the whole of the UK for the second time in under 12 months.