How To Bring Down A Government

salmond-sturgeon_2745954bIf you’re anything like me (in other words, a geek) you’ll have been keeping one eye on every blip in the opinion polls as we head in towards the big day.

There’s not much going on there. They jump from one side to another, but nobody is going to hit much more than 35% – if either side even reaches that on the night – and so things are pretty much stagnant, with no party even close to making the breakthrough that will give them a majority.

Dan Hodges is but one commentator who still expects that to change, but he and others have been saying it’ll come for the past year, with most of them leaning towards the Tories as forming the next government, some even suggesting they’ll be able to rule alone.

They are barking at the moon.

David Cameron himself knows he’s lost this one. His unrelenting negativity in recent days is the ultimate sign of desperation and the focus on the SNP, from all the parties as well as the mainstream press, makes them into the key players.

That’s as it should be.

Whilst Clegg and his people scramble for influence and votes it is the SNP who are holding all the cards. There are some, inside and outside the Westminster Village, who believe their hand isn’t as strong as Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond seem to think.

In a sense they have no hand yet. But in due course they will, and the strength of it will be measured in MP’s they send to the House and the strategy those individual men and women pursue. If they get the strategy right then they can do more with that hand than you might realise.

The corner Labour has retreated into is interesting. I talked about it a little in the last piece, about how they refuse to move left in pursuit of votes and instead continually look for ways to tag right, where there can’t be many more votes to be had.

This allows the SNP and the Greens to flank them on the left, even as the Tories and their allies in the right-wing press can beat up on them from the opposite direction.

This is a trap of their own making, and I have limited sympathy for them.

Some in their party don’t think this will matter. They really do believe they can simply run the country as a minority government and that the SNP will be forced to vote with them or bring down Miliband, allowing the Tories another shot at dominating the Commons.

Aside from being an affront to democracy and setting them up for all sides of the House to accuse them of lack of legitimacy and governing without a mandate, they underestimate two things; the determination of senior members of their own party to get, and stay, in office … and the political imagination of the SNP leadership.

Let me talk about the lack of a mandate before I move on.

Senior commentators on the right are already lining up to start hitting Miliband and Labour with this one should they not finish with more seats that the Tories. Labour is going to have a major perception problem as it is on that front should they not be the largest party. Nevertheless, Miliband will be in office if the Labour-SNP seat haul gives him the Commons majority he needs.

The media and the Tories can scream blue murder about a lack of a mandate, but if Scotland has voted SNP and enough of the English and Welsh constituencies have voted Labour to give the two combined the majority they require then those people can whistle Dixie for all anyone should care.

But that is only if both parties are, broadly, working together.

If Miliband shuts the SNP out completely, then, in those circumstances, he really is a squatter in Downing Street with no right to govern. It will be hard enough for him to get over the line as it is; if he and his party maintain this intransigent position past Election Day then he’s going to have a real issue with the left wing media as well.

It actually feeds in to the general point … Labour’s leaders want the win too much to risk it.

The SNP will support the legitimacy of a Miliband premiership only as long as it’s legitimate. In a hung parliament parties have to work together and the minute Labour refuses to play ball and accept that the trouble will fall on them like rain.

The SNP will want to encourage co-operation from the off and they will be testing Labour with suggestions and ideas, and the more Labour rebuffs them the more the SNP will be studying polling on what the public thinks of that attitude.

If public opinion turns against Labour on the issue – and the Scottish numbers will be the key to anything that happens – then the threat of the SNP withdrawing support doesn’t look quite as empty as Miliband and his cohort might think.

They will not voluntarily walk off a cliff. I expect that when they realise the SNP came to play hardball they will do what they have to do in order to survive.

I am sure there are ways for the parties to come together behind the scenes and work for the common good, back channels that can be explored and developed, so that it doesn’t look like Nicola and Alex are running rings round them. It would be in no-one’s interests, long term, for it to look like Miliband really was dancing on their string.

In other words, progress will be made without anyone losing face.

That will happen, and not only because the SNP might be tempted to call Labour’s bluff on a confidence vote. It will happen because there are worse things for Labour than just losing face and there may even be worse things than having to give up office after six months and call a new election, with all the attendant risks that brings.

The truth is, the SNP can unleash Hell on Labour.

There are ways to bring a government to its knees without removing it from office.

You doubt me? Believe it. There’s a very simple strategy for doing it too.

The objective is to put the other party on the wrong side of every public debate by raising issues which resonate with the electorate but which the government can’t possibly support.

It’s a tough one for an opposition party to do, which is why you see it so infrequently. But it has worked in Scotland before, where the SSP made a lot of hay to Labour’s left by proposing policies they couldn’t directly oppose … but couldn’t get behind either.

For a party dealing with a minority government, supporting it in public with confidence and supply, something like this would be simple enough anyway … but the SNP has some of the best political operatives in Europe at the moment. It would be child’s play.

The SNP has adopted a posture of being more left wing than Labour. That is deadly to Ed Miliband, and it will get deadlier with every day the SNP spend in the corridors of power, without being allowed to wield real influence.

Alex Salmond and his people will have proposals they want as part of the next Queen’s Speech. Labour is claiming that it will not implement the key ones, and Salmond has already given a hint of what the consequences could be of Labour refusing to.

In an earlier piece, I spoke about watching Alex on television. When he was asked what the SNP would do if Ed Balls simply pressed ahead with writing a budget without them Alex simply said he would offer an amendment to it, whereby the HS2 rail link would start in Scotland and wind up in Newcastle, instead of being another London infrastructure project.

I gasped watching that performance. It was a naked display of intellectual arm-twisting that although strictly theoretical still bristled with menace.

I hadn’t been expecting it. I know for sure Labour strategists were jaw-dropping stunned at the same time as me. I was thrilled. I am sure they weren’t.

And I suspected, and said in the piece, that it was just a warm up. I also cautioned against anyone thinking that it was an off-cuff remark or a joke. It was neither.

Imagine my surprise – and joy – to find that a version of the idea has made its way into the manifesto. Imagine the despair of many down south who never expected such a nod in the direction of the north east of England in an SNP policy document.

I suspect there’s a lot more to come, stuff that is being kept under the table.

Someone, somewhere, in SNP HQ, has already compiled a list of these things, and if Labour proceeds with its stated plan of simply ignoring their substantial parliamentary numbers I expect that these proposals will start to appear in the media, in draft alternative budgets and in Early Day Motions, timed to perfection, when they can cause most carnage.

The objective is simple; to put Labour in the horrible position of having to vote down bills the vast majority of its voters, its members and perhaps its MP’s are in favour of.

There’s a clear one, and that’s Trident. I’ve long said that a case could be made for dumping this wasteful weapon system, one that would resonate across the chamber.

Whomever the SNP appoints its shadow for Defence needs to be doing his or her homework and getting prepped for a battle that proves Trident sucks money from a military budget already creaking under the weight of cuts the Tories have made.

Our army lacks basic essentials. The navy and the air force are being ridiculously embarrassed by probing Russians on a frequent basis.

In the meantime, we have submarines we can’t use.

Yet Trident is small potatoes when it comes to an ability to unleash chaos in Labour’s ranks. I suspect the SNP could pull off a win on this, but they’d need to build a cross-party coalition on the subject and that takes a long time to do.

For Labour, Trident is a minor irritant.

Let me give you another six policy proposals, which are far deadlier to them.

Here’s the lead off hitter: rolling back anti-union legislation.

Imagine the SNP puts that on the table for discussion.

Can you imagine the terror in Labour’s ranks as their leadership is forced to contemplate the proposal? The SNP has worked hard to forge links with the unions here in Scotland, but they’ve been unable to make a real breakthrough there.

Nothing would change that more than a proposal like this.

Jim Murphy would squeal like a pig. Ed Balls and Miliband would suffer simultaneous heart failure. The Labour Party would split down the middle on the subject, with a large number of its members prepared to go along and vote for it.

The leadership, faced with such a split, would have to go to the Tories to block it. Can you imagine the enormous damage that would do? That might put Miliband and his people in a position that was truly beyond recovery in some parts of the country.

You can already see, I’m sure, the parameters of the strategy.

Second up, abolishing age rates in the minimum wage.

When I was on the STUC Youth Committee we organised a campaign against this. Once again, Labour’s own ranks would be split as some rushed to back the idea. The Treasury would cry foul, ever mindful of satisfying business. Of course, the unions would back it in full.

In truth, it’s hard to see how Labour could realistically oppose this. I suspect it would end up law because the alternatives would be ghastly.

Third is a corporate criminal responsibility act. This would make executives of major companies legally responsible for the welfare of their employees and the wider society. In short, it would be an extension of existing Health & Safety regulations, but ones that would cover all manner of corporate malfeasance and neglect. There would be mandatory jail terms and unlimited fines for those companies whose recklessness results in serious injuries or death.

Again, it would find union backing and a lot of public support. But would Labour dare go up against the CBI on an issue of such importance? Doubtful, but some in their ranks would want to.

Fourth, recognising Palestine as a sovereign state and recommending that the UK offer them full diplomatic relations, including recognising the Mission in London as a fully-fledged foreign embassy. You have no idea the tremors that would spread through Labour. You would hear the screaming all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, in Washington.

Fifth, and it’s positively deadly; waiting until voices within Labour start screaming for the EU referendum many of them want and telling Miliband that the SNP will abstain from the vote on it unless it comes with the “triple lock” guarantee.

The issue of EU reform is not simply something that poses a threat to the Tories. It has the potential to tear the Labour Party in two as well. Few fully understand what a devastating effect it would have on the internal workings of Labour if the deep divisions over Europe were exposed. If Labour backbenchers get their way, and they and the Tories force the vote, the SNP could quite literally run the table by threatening to sit it out unless they get their way.

This is in the SNP manifesto, but few have yet realised the bind it puts Miliband in. This could be devastating if Nicola and the party turn the volume up to full on it.

It’s a dangerous road to take, but those voices within Labour who are saying that this is something Miliband will have to do anyway, have a lot of support. Without SNP support for the government on the issue, I can see the Commons narrowly passing a referendum bill even with the Labour leadership opposed to it. And this, of course, would give Nicola the pretext for including an independence referendum in the Scottish Parliament manifesto.

Number six is to propose widespread banking and stock exchange reforms, complete with financial transaction taxes for those companies which want to abandon Britain to go and set up elsewhere. Add to that taxes on offshore funds and you have the makings of a heavy duty piece of legislation some in Labour would be only too happy to support.

Except that Miliband and Balls would never put their names to it.

All of these policies, and a host of others, could be proposed by the SNP for no other purpose than to create turmoil in the ranks of the Labour Party. All have massive popular support and would be appealing to many on the left. Other policy ideas – such as renationalising the railways and having a state owned energy supplier to guarantee the lowest possible price to those in hardship – would be tremendously successful too, and some may even force Labour to rethink its own positions.

Then again, maybe not.

What is not in doubt is that this strategy would succeed in chewing up the Miliband premiership. As I said earlier, you don’t need to remove a government from office to bring it to its knees. You can force it to stagger along, despised, and enfeebled, at war with itself and alienated from its own core support, dooming it to future electoral oblivion, which is a far worse fate.

Ask Nick Clegg. In many ways, this is a mirror image of what’s happened to the Lib Dems.

At worst, this strategy would expose the true nature of what motivates those in the party, those who claim to be moved by principle but instead lust after only power.

It has succeeded, to an extent, in Scotland already. One of the things that saw the SNP forge such a lead in the last two Scottish Parliament races was their seizure of ground that Labour itself ought to have had staked out but was too timid to plant the flag in.

That Ed Miliband and Balls are still moving right leaves enormous territory to exploit on the left flank, and there is no doubt that the SNP strategists see the value in grabbing for it, knowing it will put their Scottish lead in the bank.

If needs must, they can uncap the guns and make the Labour leadership wish they’d been a little more conciliatory and far more respectful of democracy.

Of course, if Labour does that anyway there’ll be no need for such drastic measures.

The ball is wholly in their court.

There’s not long left to go now friends.

Two weeks and counting.

Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Tick-tock.

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15 comments on “How To Bring Down A Government
  1. I cant see SNP bringing down a Labour Government before the Holyrood election in 2016. SNP MPs need to go down there and win peoples confidence. Then next year wipe the floor with everyone in Scotland and it will be interesting to see what is in the manifesto then. Keeping the momentum going is the key, work with everyone and let people see that someone is fighting for them. Even though they will probably lose on trident and other issues people will accept that they are trying. Holyrood 2016 is massive and could be the one that takes us to Independence.

  2. The assumption that bringing the next Labour led UK Government “to its knees” is a prime motivator for SNP MPs is an error IMO. If I thought that they wanted to do that I would not be working hard to try to ensure that the local one SNP MP is elected, nor would I be a member of the party in the first place!

    Their main motivation will surely be to try to ensure that the “The Vow” is implemented as promised…even though the timetable has already fallen by the way side.
    I also agree with Robert McKendrick that the SNP will likely be working hard to try to ensure that no Westminster apple carts are upset before the next Holyrood elections.

  3. In simple terms the SNP have to make sure the “Vow” is kept.Then work for progressive policies.We wont rock the boat,but there is a big expectation of how the vote will go for SNP,I remember all the we are breaking through now,I was rooting in Hamilton in ’67,and was ecstatic at the result OK only a by election but Winnie won.Onward to 11 MP,s and the Labour promises of MOD moving to Glasgow,and well they never,but weren’t told till we had dropped to 4 MP,s and again lied to and stuffed,we were disheartened for a while but now I see 15 MP,s is great any more a bonus,and we just might manage some more but expectations cant get to high or the fall,might make me cry.I have a sneaky suspicion that the Tory press is building us up so that we fall from a greater hight than before and we lose heart and give up.I will never lose heart but may cry a little,then back on the horse and ride to next victory.

  4. Very interesting article. 2016 election Indy majority in seats and votes counts. Greens and SSP, and others very important in replacing unionist MSPs. Will improve parliament and help re-inforce idea that parliament has an Independence majority as opposed to or as well as an SNP majority

  5. I agree with Charles Patrick O’Brien LVSS – ‘I have a sneaking suspicion that the Tory press are building us up so that we will fall from a greater height than before …….’. – we should all remember that ‘The Establishment’ is a very dangerous beast that will do ANYTHING to preserve it’s ‘way’ at ANY cost !. The stunt that ‘The Torygraph’ pulled (and failed) was probably just an example of what’s coming in the run-up to May 7th. I fully expect a major ‘scandal’ will be cooked-up, either involving Nicola, Alex or the entire SNP which will turn out to be false but won’t be established until too late ! We should also remember that so far, it’s only ‘Opinion Polls’ (one led by a ‘TORY LORD’ !!) and not get carried away or we run the risk of doing long-term damage to ourselves. I just worry there’s too much\many thinking that we’ve already won !

  6. A most perceptive and intelligent analysis of the possible road ahead, James.

    I just hope none of Ed’s army of advisors (for he has no convictions of his own) reads your observations.

    Unfortunately, none of this matters unless we stack up the votes on the eighth.

    Come on, Scotland.

    Heads up!

  7. The MSM would have a field day with strengthening the unions, Y’know the sort of thing; “Unions to be given power to hold the country to ransom” bollocks. That’s the only fly in the ointment that I can see.

    Still a brilliant effort, as usual.

  8. I too agree with Charles Patrick O’Brien LVSS, in that, I believe we are being built up too much, both by the TORIES & the media, to look as though we have failed if we do not get the HIGH number they have being scaring unionists with. And fooling SCOTLAND at the same time, as for our own supporters, too many already think we have won the fight up here, or at least they talk that way. After the disappointment of the referendum result, I would have thought lessons would have been learned. I still hurt inside when I think about that defeat, & I just do not believe these polls, oh! Trust me, I want so much to be proved wrong on THAT. However I am lowering my expectations to around 20 SNP MPS being sent to parliament. And every ONE over that, will make up for Sept11.

  9. Well argued and an accurate analysis of a Labour/SNP government.
    There is another possible scenario, far fetched perhaps but with the ramping up of the legitimacy issue from Labour, Tories and the press, one that may become more likely.
    If the legitimacy question gains sufficient traction with the English electorate what is the likelihood of the two main parties joining together in a ‘grand coalition’ to defend austerity, trident etc and keep the SNP away from power? If Labour are the largest party it could still deliver Miliband to Downing Street. The two main parties would seem to have more in common with each other than they do with those to the left and right of them.
    Of course this would still be a ‘win’ for the SNP in that it allows them to claim that the Union cannot work for Scotland and provides the ‘significant change’ for another referendum to be called. Would the main parties sacrifice the Union to keep the SNP away from power?

  10. The voters will let us know when they are ready for independence. What we don’t want is a Quebec scenario, where they had two referenda in five years, lost the second one narrowly in 1995, and haven’t had one since.
    For the moment we should concentrate in accruing more powers to Holyrood, and using them wisely. As Holyrood becomes more and more the focus of Scottish politics, Westminster will become less and less relevant, until eventually independence will seem the natural next step.

  11. Hi James, Further to my comments above, I apologise for allowing myself to be misled by the headline. I initially read the article too quickly in the belief that “”macho” politics was going to be the name of your game after GE. I hope that this is not the SNP’s main ambition re westminster post GE politics. I hope also that your article will become a useful touchstone in the post GE Westminjster set up. Please keep ink in your pen to continue to write such potentially useful stuff.

  12. What about calling for an english parliament(assembly) and having it based say in Sheffield. With it having identical powers to the Scottish Government.

    Immediate abolition of the House of Lords is another.

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