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.

Photo: Getty Images
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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.