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9 March 2015

Say hello to the Tories’ secret weapon: Alex Salmond

The SNP has already ended Labour's hopes of a majority. The Conservatives believe it can do even more damage to them than that.

By Stephen Bush

The SNP surge now looks certain to deprive Labour of a parliamentary majority. Our sister site, May2015, currently predicts that the SNP will win all but three seats in Scotland, wiping out 38 of Labour’s 40 seats in the process. But for all the Conservative glee at Ed Miliband’s woes, it isn’t particularly good news for the Tories, either.  

The SNP have already ruled out supporting a Conservative government, which means that Labour losses in Scotland may not change the parliamentary arithmetic in terms of coalition talks all that much. (One hopeful Labour strategist describes a “CDU-CSU” scenario, where Labour would form a permanent alliance at Westminster with the nationalist party, much as the Bavarian Christian Social Union allies with the Christian Democrats in Germany.)

Significantly, Nicola Sturgeon has moved to remove the barriers to an alliance between the two – indicating that while the SNP would oppose renewing Trident, it wouldn’t bring down a Labour government that did – which is making some senior Labour figures hopeful that a deal can be done between the two. But the Conservatives think they can use the prospect of any deal to damage Labour in England and Wales. 

Both Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon have asymmetric approval ratings – they are hugely popular in Scotland, but strongly disliked in England and Wales. Labour already looks to be stalling somewhat in Wales, and the country is the biggest loser from the Barnett formula. Some Tories think that they could use the threat of a marginalised Wales under a Labour government in hoc to the Scottish Nationalists and fixated on taking back its former strongholds to outperform expectations in that country, although it’s in England that they believe that focussing on the prospect of a coalition between Miliband and the SNP will do Labour the most harm. As one Conservative staffer puts it: “They want to get into bed with the people who want to destroy Britain. What could be more potent than that?”

 

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