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The SNP and the General Election: In the pocket or on the coat-tails?

12 March 2015

At present, you can fit the Scottish National Party’s entire Westminster contingent of six MPs around two tables in the Sports and Social Club of the House of Commons. It is perhaps indicative of the party’s “outsider” view of itself in Westminster that its MPs frequent a bar favoured by parliamentary researchers, as opposed to other MPs.

However, the party which last year threw itself heart and soul into campaigning to break up the United Kingdom is now again at the centre of the debate about the country’s political future.

Since the independence referendum, the SNP has opened up a massive lead over Scottish Labour in the opinion polls. In addition, detailed constituency polling carried out by Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft has shown the Nationalists to be ahead in many seats that Labour had considered safe.

The possibility of an enlarged SNP contingent arriving in Westminster after 7 May offers one of the boldest policy contrasts of the election campaign.

One example of tension between the SNP and its political foes concerns the issue of austerity, or a lack thereof. SNP Leader and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has published plans calling for a modest increase in public spending over the coming years of 0.5 per cent in real terms. She has already made common cause with Plaid Cymru and the Green Party to build an anti-austerity alliance in the run-up to polling day.

Stopping short of pressing for a second referendum, Ms Sturgeon is seeking full fiscal autonomy for Scotland while campaigning on a pledge to force the Unionist parties to live up to their alleged failure to fulfil the promise of further devolution set out in “the Vow”.

The party’s potential role in the next Parliament was spelled out by its deputy leader Stewart Hosie in an interview with DeHavilland:

“Our instinct is that neither [Labour nor the SNP] would want to go down the formal coalition route. Our judgement is that a confidence and supply arrangement would be the most likely outcome…”

There is a real prospect of the SNP holding the parliamentary balance of power. A sizeable block of MPs would carry out Ms Sturgeon’s wish not to support a Conservative Government, whilst Labour Leader Ed Miliband would be presented with a policy wishlist in exchange for vote-by-vote support. Notably, this set of demands would include the scrapping of Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent.

In addition, SNP MPs would be willing to take part in votes on English-only matters, such as the NHS, based on reasoning about the need to protect Scottish funding.

Any strengthened SNP presence on the Commons benches might boast faces unfamiliar to the Westminster bubble. These include 20-year-old Mhairi Black, the party’s candidate for Paisley and South Renfrewshire, who could become one of the youngest MPs in history. Or it might feature Chris Law, the long-haired, motorbike-riding PPC for Dundee West, who claims never to have owned a suit.

There could also be one very familiar face, as former First Minister Alex Salmond is bidding to return to Parliament as the MP for Gordon. As Parliament wound down and MPs prepared to head off for the short campaign, DeHavilland spied a relaxed Mr Salmond enjoying a drink in a Commons bar. SNP insiders nonetheless insist they are not counting their chickens.

However, if the polling predictions come true, they might need to pull up a few more seats around those tables in a few months.

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Mike Indian, Political Consultant
Mike Indian
Political Consultant

Mike Indian is Political Consultant and a member of DeHavilland’s Content team, leading on infrastructure and Scottish affairs. He leads on DeHavilland's dynamic content, specifically videos and podcasts, and regularly appears in the media as a political commentator. A graduate of Lancaster University, he has worked as a freelance journalist.