Alex Salmond: "We'd be voting against" any Tory government. Photo: Getty.
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Exclusive: Alex Salmond says SNP would vote down the Tories in a Queen’s Speech

Alex Salmond, former First Minister of Scotland, tells the New Statesman that the SNP will not let David Cameron return to power.

Alex Salmond has ruled out any type of post-election deal between the SNP and Conservatives, in an exclusive interview with the New Statesman.

Speaking to NS editor Jason Cowley, he was unequivocal about what would happen if the Tories tried to form a minority government.

“The Tories would have to go effectively straight for a vote of confidence, usually the Queen’s Speech…and we’d be voting against.”

“So if Labour joins us in that pledge, then that’s Cameron locked out.”

Salmond’s intervention comes with just over six weeks until polling day, and confirms that David Cameron has little chance of winning a second term – let alone a third – unless the polls shift.

The Tories are set to win around 280 seats in May. That would be more than 40 seats short of the 323 any party needs to hold a majority and pass a Queen’s Speech. The Lib Dems are likely to only win around 25 to 30 seats; another Tory-Lib Dem coalition will fall short of a majority.

For Cameron to remain in power he will have to form a four-party pact between the Lib Dems, DUP and Ukip. Even then, he will probably fall a few seats short.

If Labour and the SNP vote down a Tory-led government, they will have two weeks to form an alternative. If they don’t, they will trigger a second election. Salmond told the New Statesman that he thinks Labour will therefore strike a deal with the SNP at any cost.

“Under the [Fixed-Term] Parliaments Act, that Westminster's parliament passed but nobody seems to have read, you’d then have a two week period to form another government, and of course you want to form another government because this might be people’s only chance to form another government.”

The key issue in this campaign is now whether there will be an “anti-Tory” majority. If Labour, the SNP, Greens, Plaid Cymru and SDLP together hold more than 323 seats, it is impossible to see how Cameron can survive in Number Ten.

An average of five current election forecasts suggest these five parties would hold 327 seats. Whatever happens, the SNP are intent on toppling the Tories.

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In the interview:

  • Salmond says that Ed Miliband shouldn’t have ruled out a full-blown coalition with the SNP: “If I were him, I wouldn't have ruled it out.”

  • Says that Gordon Brown’s intervention saved the Union.

  • Says that David Cameron announcing his plan for English votes for English laws on the morning after the referendum was a mistake. “I’m going to quote Churchill: because in victory, magnanimity.”

  • Predicts that Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and Labour’s shadow  foreign secretary and election co-ordinator Douglas Alexander will lose their seats to the SNP.

  • Says that the party with the most seats won’t necessarily end up forming the government.

  • Tells us that that the political figure he most identifies with is Nelson Mandela.

Read the full interview, to be published in our Easter Double Issue, here. 

Harry Lambert was the editor of May2015, the New Statesman's election website.

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.