The Conservatives are on course to form the most extreme right wing government of the modern era. It has been fun to speculate whether Miliband will refuse to govern with SNP support, or whether he can get away with pretending Scots votes don’t count. But if any of our political journalists could break away from the drip-feed of opinion polls and coalition chatter they might notice that the omens are all pointing to a Conservative election win. And this is not a caring Conservative Party.
The polls have predicted a hung parliament for so long that it seems analysts have suspended judgement. All the polls show a large number of undecideds. All the polls show the Tories ahead on the economy and leadership, which we know from previous elections will be key. We know from history that third party votes tend to get squeezed in a first past the post election. For all the BBC’s efforts to promote Farage, the UKIP vote is already on the slide. I will be very surprised if the Tories do not win 300+ seats. It is possible they may need DUP support to form a government, but don’t count on the DUP to moderate the impact of Osborne and IDS unleashed.
The Tory project is not about some short term pain to get the economy back on track. They are on an ideological mission to transform the UK into a neo-liberal small state country. They don’t want to cut public spending to pre-NHS levels because there is no money, they want to do it because their vision of society is the USA pre-Obamacare. Education and health will be further privatised, there will be more foodbanks and wider inequality.
The hope for Scotland is that we sustain a strong SNP vote and elect a majority of SNP MPs so that we can credibly challenge the mandate of the Tories to govern here. Even if they hold on to Mundell’s seat they will struggle to come to terms with the democratic deficit now that they are deprived of their Scottish LibDem figleaf. Nicola Sturgeon needs to be ready to play a tough hand in negotiations on full fiscal autonomy and a quasi-federal settlement. Part of that should be playing hardball on what proportion of UK debt we should pay for. The £56 Billion based on Scotland’s historical net fiscal balance would be a good starting point.
Talk of a progressive alliance in Westminster might be good short-term tactics. The SNP also faces a squeeze on votes as the UK media switches to a relentless two party narrative. The longer the Tory press portrays the SNP as barbarians at the gate the better in some ways. However, we need to keep a clear strategic focus on the Tory threat. We will not have the opportunity of a second referendum for a few years yet, so a strong Home Rule settlement will be our best short term protection. It will not be an easy negotiation. I hate to puncture the polling inspired optimism, but there are likely to be tough times ahead.