LONDON (Parliament Politics Magazine) – Keir Starmer’s staff is being asked to dispute Conservative allegations that the SNP would prop up Labour in office after the next general election by drawing up “red lines” against any deals with the Scottish party as soon as possible.
Several top Labour figures from the 2015 election campaign, during which the Conservatives constantly claimed that Ed Miliband, the leader of the party at the time, would be reliant on the SNP, are pressing the party’s leadership to neutralise this approach well before the next election.
Some wish the party to rule out a Scottish referendum or increased funds in exchange for SNP support during the next parliament.
Labour is currently in a position where no deals will be made before or after the election, but officials are already thinking about how they might better counter the Conservatives’ attacks based on a possible cooperation with the SNP.
After opinion surveys predicted spectacular gains for the SNP, Miliband’s 2015 team claimed the Conservatives “ambushed” them with suggestions about an agreement. Miliband was depicted on a poster in the pocket of then-SNP leader Alex Salmond. The Labour expressed shock at how the threat was impacting voters in its own focus groups.
Several others told the Observer that the party should take action now to address that threat, before the chaos of a general election campaign. Douglas Alexander, the chairperson of general election strategy in the year 2015 and had suffered the loss of the seat to the SNP, was one of those who wanted early action.
There was no economic alliance that the Conservatives could come up with in time for the next general election that made any sense, he stated. Instead, they would strive to form a cultural coalition. More calls to English nationalism were likely to be a big element of that. Labour was in a better position to articulate its position on the SNP than it had been in 2015. The SNP had long since lost the impetus they had had in the months after the 2014 referendum on independence.
His instinct was that Labour could deal with the issue early on by stating unequivocally in Scotland and across the United Kingdom that the path to a Labour government was simple… Elect a Labour MP.
It was entirely acceptable to say that the only coalition they were looking for was one with the voters. Labour would work to fulfil its manifesto, and other parties would have to decide whether or not to support them. Getting that clarity on the record served as a campaign message as much as a governing strategy, he added.
Other senior members of the Labour officials from the 2015 election campaign believe the party should go further. Miliband’s eventual assertion that no deals would be struck was “dragged out of us,” they added, after earlier attempts to dismiss the problem.
He said that he would strive to draw unambiguous red lines long ahead of an election. A coalition should be ruled out. A second independence referendum should be ruled out. The other apparent route was to rule out further funding for Scotland outside of the UK’s established resource balance. That would be a significant change.
Some argue that while Labour should think about how to respond to this line of attack, the argument will simply not work against Starmer’s party. Starmer is already fighting with Boris Johnson for the position of prime minister, something Miliband was never able to do, and advisers are not of the belief that Starmer is viewed as weak in the same manner.