In a speech at the Institute for Government on 25 April Stephen Flynn, the SNP’s Westminster leader, said there were now two routes towards Scottish independence.
He believes that the UK government would allow a referendum to take place if there was a “sustained majority over a sustained period of time” in favour of independence. That “sustained majority”, Flynn believes, is the only thing that would change the mind of a Conservative government. With support for independence currently falling away from 50 per cent, it won’t be realised any time soon.
The second option would be for the SNP to secure a referendum in exchange for supporting a minority Labour government after the next general election.
The electoral stars would have to align for this to happen. For a negotiation to even be on the cards, the next general election would have to produce four things: Labour win the most seats; Labour do not win a majority; the Lib Dems don’t win enough seats to strike a deal with Labour; the SNP and Labour can produce a majority. And that’s before we even consider whether Labour would want its first term in office for 14 years to be dominated by yet another referendum.
But even if these conditions aren’t realised, could the fact they’re being discussed help the Conservatives portray Labour as in hock to the Scottish nationalists? That’s what happened in 2015 when David Cameron stirred fears that a Labour government would have to rely on the SNP. One of the Tories’ most successful attack adverts depicted a diminutive Ed Miliband nestled in Alex Salmond’s pocket. Part of the reason that tactic worked was that the memory of the 2008 financial crash, which Labour was blamed for, was still fresh. Pushing the idea of a “coalition of chaos” under Miliband helped create a narrative that Labour was the risky option.
Politics is different now. Keir Starmer connotes many things; “chaos” isn’t one of them. The phrase “coalition of chaos” might now be more aptly applied to the Conservatives. Most importantly, Labour’s lead in the polls undermines the argument that it will have to rely on the SNP to form a government. But if the polls narrow, that may change.
[See also: Scotland deserves better than the parliament it has]