On Friday night – right in the middle of the BBC’s Eurovision’s Greatest Hits, which was unbelievably fantastic, by the way – a big story broke about a Scotland Office memo of a meeting between Nicola Sturgeon and the French Ambassador in which this is the stand-out paragraph:
“The Ambassador also had a truncated meeting with the FM (FM running late after a busy Thursday…). Discussion appears to have focused mainly on the political situation, with the FM stating that she wouldn’t want a formal coalition with Labour; that the SNP would almost certainly have a large number of seats; that she had no idea ‘what kind of mischief’ Alex Salmond would get up to; and confessed that she’d rather see David Cameron remain as PM (and didn’t see Ed Miliband as PM material). I have to admit that I’m not sure that the FM’s tongue would be quite so loose on that kind of thing in a meeting like that, so it might well be a case of something being lost in translation.”
Within hours both Nicola Sturgeon and the French Ambassador, Sylvie Bermann, issued statements flatly denying the central allegation, that Sturgeon had expressed a preference for a Tory government in May.
It’s tempting to say that is all we know for now. But it really isn’t.
In fact we know that a number of SNP strategists do indeed hold the perfectly logical view that a Conservative government in Westminster is helpful to the SNP. It’s helpful to the SNP because it helps the cause of independence as it makes it easier to paint Westminster as out of touch with Scotland. We know this because the respected journalist James Cook has said so, and both Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond have endorsed him as a reliable source.
Indeed, anyone with any political nous knows this. Anyone who lived through the independence referendum knows that the most effective line by far that the SNP could muster was “vote Yes to get rid of the Tories”. Of course they want to keep that line in their armoury. I am, however, inclined to accept Nicola Sturgeon’s assertion that she didn’t say this to the French Ambassador, and I said so on Friday night. She’s simply a smarter politician than that.
We also know that David Cameron and the Conservative Party want the SNP to do well in Scotland, because the more seats they take off Labour here the better the Tories’ chances of returning to government. Again the logic is inescapable to those who are prepared to take an honest look at the political reality, but the evidence is also there: George Osborne openly briefing for Nicola Sturgeon after last week’s debate, and Tory mouthpiece The Sun continually spinning pro-SNP messages north of the border.
But so much for the spin and the briefings. It’s time to look at what we really know about the choice facing Scots in less than 5 weeks.
First we know that, despite what the SNP constantly claim, it is actually the Labour Party which has consistently made the running on progressive policy proposals that can improve people’s lives:
- Labour committed to restoring the 50p top rate of tax in January 2014, back when the SNP was still trying to butter up the wealthy to broaden the support for independence. The SNP finally announced their support for this Labour policy more than 14 months later – in fact, just a week ago.
- Labour has committed to applying a mansion tax on properties worth over £2 million across the UK, and redistributing the proceeds in Scotland into increasing funding for the NHS. The SNP don’t support the redistribution of wealth from rich to poor across the UK, so they don’t support this.
- Labour will end the bedroom tax across the UK, freeing up the £35m a year the Scottish Government is currently spending to mitigate the policy in Scotland, and has pledged to spend the saved money as part of a bid to fight poverty and end the need for foodbanks in Scotland. The SNP aren’t standing across the UK, and don’t care what happens south of Berwick, so they can’t support this.
- Labour has a carefully considered plan to improve working conditions through ending exploitative zero hours contracts and ensuring those who choose such contracts get far better protection from unscrupulous employers. Labour announced this plan in September 2013. The SNP rushed out a soundbite saying they will abolish zero hours contracts just two weeks ago.
It is clear from the evidence that, contrary to the constant spin from the SNP apparatchiks, it is Labour that is dragging the SNP to the left on policies, not the other way around.
But second, and probably most important of all, every single vote for the SNP gives more credence to their agenda of isolating Scotland from the rest of the UK. And that harms Scots.
The SNP’s policy, now that independence has been democratically rejected, is for so-called “full fiscal autonomy”. This is the notion that, rather than pool and share resources across the UK – like the revenues from the mansion tax, or the North Sea oil tax take – in order to even out the peaks and troughs in income and expenditure, Scotland should share nothing with the rest of the UK. It is nothing more than independence-lite – the same economically disastrous policy which Scotland rejected last year.
And last year, Labour and others were accused of “scaremongering” when we said that the risk of oil revenue drops could leave Scotland with such a massive multi-billion pound deficit that we couldn’t afford to run essential public services. Well, it’s not scaremongering if it’s true.
So let’s cut through the memos and the leaks and the spin.
We need to fight for a Labour victory in May, not because the SNP want a Tory government, and not because the Tories want an SNP win in Scotland, but simply because only through progressive Labour policies can we actually reverse Tory austerity and offer help to the people who need it.
Only Labour or the Tories can form the next UK government. Any seat taken from Labour by the SNP simply helps David Cameron to stay in power. So if we want to end this Tory disaster and get a progressive Labour government led by Ed Miliband, there’s only one vote that makes sense: vote Labour for Scotland.