It was less an image, than an omen for Ed Miliband’s fortunes in the 2015 election campaign. A picture of a tiny, gormless Labour leader in the pocket of Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister.
The Conservative campaign ad was a rip-off of the 1980s Spitting Image TV sketch, in which the Liberal leader David Steel was depicted in the pocket of Social Democratic Party founder David Owen. Steel’s wife later complained the sketch killed off his political career.
In the 2017 election campaign, Tory after Tory warned of a “coalition of chaos” if Jeremy Corbyn was to win enough seats for Labour to work together with the Scottish National Party, the Lib Dems and the smaller parties.
Theresa May’s dogs of war – the Daily Mail and the Express – used the phrase in headline after headline. The main target was the SNP. Apparently there was nothing worse than the concept of Labour working with a centre-left party that believes in (among other things) “a prosperous country where everyone gets the chance fo fulfil their potential” and “a fair society where no one is left behind”.
The Tories also took every opportunity to paint Corbyn as the friend of terrorists. Look! He met people from Sinn Fein! May painted him as a man who did not understand “there can never be an excuse for terrorism”.
Then came 8 June 2017. The Tories are in talks with the Democratic Unionist Party in order to form a government. Voters are googling the Democratic Unionist Party. They are discovering this is a party that makes the Tories look positively hipster.
This is party that opposes abortion rights and equal marriage. Among their number are climate change deniers, former members of the terrorist group Ulster Resistance, and politicians with links to the far right. One DUP politician was caught apparently agreeing with a member of the public who said,”Get the ethnics out”.
And then there’s sectarianism. Not just in Northern Ireland, where the DUP’s allies are lobbying for more marches, but in Scotland as well.
If one thing was clear from the Scottish election result, it’s that voters want stability, not more referendums. But as I’ve written before, the fringes of the pro-union debate are worryingly orange.
The proposition of Tories in hoc to a bunch of extreme unionists is a very different proposition from Ruth Davidson’s pitch for a tweedy constitutional status quo.
There are plenty of reasons why Labour should not form a coalition with the SNP – like the fact it’s more fun to win seats off them, and voters don’t really like coalitions in the first place. But the idea of a centre-left party teaming up with another centre-left (albeit managerial) party that will only countenance independence through democratic means, and whose fanatical supporters’ idea of taking up arms involves ceremonial daggers, is far less disturbing than the current alliance desperately put together by Theresa May.