If anything, quite the reverse. Photo:Getty
Show Hide image

SNP manifesto 2015: A document drafted in weakness

The SNP combine electoral hegemony with political weakness, and their manifesto reflects that.

Can you win a landslide, and still be powerless? The SNP might be about to find out. It now looks as if the party is nailed on to win at least 50 seats in Scotland and  it’s not unreasonable to suppose that they might win every seat on the Scottish mainland.

But what can they negotiate with, exactly? They’ve said before, and reiterated in their manifesto that they will not work with the Conservatives in any circumstances. Their leverage over Ed Miliband, my colleague George has blogged before, is vanishingly small. Stewart Hosie, the deputy leader, gave the Conservatives some good headlines with his threat to defund Trident through the budget or shutdown the British government thereafter, but neither weapon looks particularly sharp to me. Whatever the outcome of the next election there will be a large pro-Trident majority whatever the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Greens or the left flank of the parliamentary Labour party do. It is possible that the SNP could vote down Labour budgets thereafter – the Fixed Term Parliaments Act means this wouldn’t necessarily result in an election – but will the Nationalists really inflict a shutdown of government services on their own voters? It doesn’t seem likely and would be electorally lethal.

So the end result is a position of electoral strength and political weakness at Westminister, and as a result the SNP’s manifesto will leave the reader with a sense of déjà vu. A commitment to restore the 50p rate of income tax, a raid on bankers’ bonuses, the end to the married couples’ tax allowance, the abolition of non-dom status and further taxes on expensive homes: these are all Labour policies.

Far from offering a radical left alternative, it feels as if it is the SNP being pulled leftward by Ed Miliband. These are, for the most part, policies that have long been championed by the Labour leader but opposed by the Nationalists.  There are areas where the Labour leader has been outbid; a minimum wage of £8.70 an hour as opposed to £8. But on housing, the SNP fall badly short, promising half (100,000 a year) the new homes that Labour offer (200,000 a year). Tax breaks for businesses paying living wage has been Labour policy for several years now, and is in fact already being implemented by Labour-controlled local authorities in England.  

The trouble for the SNP, is, having ruled out any alliance with one party, they will have a hellish time getting concessions out of the other, particularly as Ed Miliband will be loath to be seen to concede anything to the Nationalists. (And the more seats Labour lose in Scotland this time around, the less they will have to protect over the next five years.) It may be that, far from providing a stronger voice for Scotland at Westminster , the SNP find themselves largely ineffective in the Commons.

Although that, of course, isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world as far as their big argument is concerned.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

Getty
Show Hide image

Why Angela Merkel's comments about the UK and US shouldn't be given too much weight

The Chancellor's comments are aimed at a domestic and European audience, and she won't be abandoning Anglo-German relationships just yet.

Angela Merkel’s latest remarks do not seem well-judged but should not be given undue significance. Speaking as part of a rally in Munich for her sister party, the CSU, the German Chancellor claimed “we Europeans must really take our own fate into our hands”.

The comments should be read in the context of September's German elections and Merkel’s determination to restrain the fortune of her main political rival, Martin Schulz – obviously a strong Europhile and a committed Trump critic. Sigmar Gabriel - previously seen as a candidate to lead the left-wing SPD - has for some time been pressing for Germany and Europe to have “enough self-confidence” to stand up to Trump. He called for a “self-confident position, not just on behalf of us Germans but all Europeans”. Merkel is in part responding to this pressure.

Her words were well received by her audience. The beer hall crowd erupted into sustained applause. But taking an implicit pop at Donald Trump is hardly likely to be a divisive tactic at such a gathering. Criticising the UK post-Brexit and the US under Trump is the sort of virtue signalling guaranteed to ensure a good clap.

It’s not clear that the comments represent that much of a new departure, as she herself has since claimed. She said something similar earlier this year. In January, after the publication of Donald Trump’s interview with The Times and Bild, she said that “we Europeans have our fate in our own hands”.

At one level what Merkel said is something of a truism: in two year’s time Britain will no longer be directly deciding the fate of the EU. In future no British Prime Minister will attend the European Council, and British MEPs will leave the Parliament at the next round of European elections in 2019. Yet Merkel’s words “we Europeans”, conflate Europe and the EU, something she has previously rejected. Back in July last year, at a joint press conference with Theresa May, she said: “the UK after all remains part of Europe, if not of the Union”.

At the same press conference, Merkel also confirmed that the EU and the UK would need to continue to work together. At that time she even used the first person plural to include Britain, saying “we have certain missions also to fulfil with the rest of the world” – there the ‘we’ meant Britain and the EU, now the 'we' excludes Britain.

Her comments surely also mark a frustration born of difficulties at the G7 summit over climate change, but Britain and Germany agreed at the meeting in Sicily on the Paris Accord. More broadly, the next few months will be crucial for determining the future relationship between Britain and the EU. There will be many difficult negotiations ahead.

Merkel is widely expected to remain the German Chancellor after this autumn’s election. As the single most powerful individual in the EU27, she is the most crucial person in determining future relations between the UK and the EU. Indeed, to some extent, it was her intransigence during Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’ which precipitated Brexit itself. She also needs to watch with care growing irritation across the EU at the (perceived) extent of German influence and control over the institutions and direction of the European project. Recent reports in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung which suggested a Merkel plan for Jens Weidmann of the Bundesbank to succeed Mario Draghi at the ECB have not gone down well across southern Europe. For those critics, the hands controlling the fate of Europe are Merkel’s.

Brexit remains a crucial challenge for the EU. How the issue is handled will shape the future of the Union. Many across Europe’s capitals are worried that Brussels risks driving Britain further away than Brexit will require; they are worried lest the Channel becomes metaphorically wider and Britain turns its back on the continent. On the UK side, Theresa May has accepted the EU, and particularly Merkel’s, insistence, that there can be no cherry picking, and therefore she has committed to leaving the single market as well as the EU. May has offered a “deep and special” partnership and a comprehensive free trading arrangement. Merkel should welcome Britain’s clarity. She must work with new French President Emmanuel Macron and others to lead the EU towards a new relationship with Britain – a close partnership which protects free trade, security and the other forms of cooperation which benefit all Europeans.

Henry Newman is the director of Open Europe. He tweets @henrynewman.

0800 7318496