SNP boosted by record £1m donation

Alex Salmond's party receives £1m donation from EuroMillions winners.

Alex Salmond's run of good luck shows no sign of ending. This morning the Scottish National Party (SNP) announced that Chris and Colin Weir, who won the £161m EuroMillions jackpot in July, have donated £1m to the party. It's the largest donation in the SNP's 77-year history and will be ring-fenced to fund the party's referendum campaign. The party's coffers had already been swelled by a £918,000 bequest from Edwin Morgan, Scotland's former Makar (poet laureate).

Mrs Weir said:

We have been supporters of the SNP for a long time but this is about more than party politics.

Every society, every country should have the right and the opportunity to determine its own path. That's something I've believed in strongly for a long time.

We want to give the people of Scotland a fair chance in the referendum campaign that's why we are supporting the SNP now and into the independence referendum.

The only people with the right to decide Scotland's future are the people of Scotland themselves and we want to support the SNP and the referendum campaign in helping Scotland make that decision fairly.

The couple called on the SNP to "go full steam ahead for independence". It's a reminder of one of the biggest advantages the SNP have over their opponents. The referendum will be the most important political event of their lives and they will throw everything they have at the campaign. In the meantime, the question remains: who will lead the No campaign?

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why Theresa May can't end speculation of an early general election

Both Conservative and Labour MPs regard a contest next year as the solution to their problems. 

One of Theresa May’s first acts as a Conservative leadership candidate was to rule out an early general election. After a tumultuous 2015 contest and the EU referendum, her view was that the country required a period of stability (a view shared by voters). Many newly-elected Tory MPs, fearful of a Brexit-inspired Ukip or Liberal Democrat surge, supported her on this condition.

After entering Downing Street, May reaffirmed her stance. “The Prime Minister could not have been clearer,” a senior source told me. “There won’t be an early election.” Maintaining this pledge is an important part of May’s straight-talking image.

But though No.10 has wisely avoided publicly contemplating an election (unlike Gordon Brown), the question refuses to die. The Conservatives have a majority of just 12 - the smallest of any single-party government since 1974 - and, as David Cameron found, legislative defeats almost inevitably follow. May’s vow to lift the ban on new grammar schools looks to many like an unachievable task. Former education secretary Nicky Morgan and former business minister Anna Soubry are among the Tories leading the charge against the measure (which did not feature in the 2015 Conservative manifesto).  

To this problem, an early election appears to be the solution. The Tories retain a substantial opinion poll lead over Labour, the most divided opposition in recent history. An election victory would give May the mandate for new policies that she presently lacks.

“I don’t believe Theresa May wishes to hold an early election which there is evidence that the country doesn’t want and which, given the current state of the Labour Party, might be seen as opportunistic,” Nigel Lawson told today’s Times“If, however, the government were to find that it couldn’t get its legislation through the House of Commons, then a wholly new situation would arise.”

It is not only Conservatives who are keeping the possibility of an early election alive. Many Labour MPs are pleading for one in the belief that it would end Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. An early contest would also pre-empt the boundary changes planned in 2018, which are forecast to cost the party 23 seats.

For Corbyn, the possibility of an election is a vital means of disciplining MPs. Allies also hope that the failed revolt against his leadership, which Labour members blame for the party’s unpopularity, would allow him to remain leader even if defeated.

Unlike her predecessors, May faces the obstacle of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act (under which the next election will be on 7 May 2020). Yet it is not an insurmountable one. The legislation can be suspended with the backing of two-thirds of MPs, or through a vote of no confidence in the government. Alternatively, the act could simply be repealed or amended. Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who have demanded an early election, would struggle to resist May if she called their bluff.

To many, it simply looks like an offer too good to refuse. Which is why, however hard May swats this fly, it will keep coming back. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.