SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon cautious about new push for independence

Scots have redrawn the political map and finding deal with Tories will be hard

Leader of the SNP Nicola Sturgeon celebrates during the Glasgow electon declarations.  Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Leader of the SNP Nicola Sturgeon celebrates during the Glasgow electon declarations. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

 

Scots were warned by the Labour Party during the general election campaign that a vote for the SNP would result in David Cameron returning in triumph to 10 Downing Street.

In the end, one in two Scots who voted ticked an SNP candidate, delivering 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats – a blessing for the party provided by a combination of first-past-the-post voting rules and the movement it led for independence last year.

The Labour charge has flaws, however, since Labour and the SNP together control 288 seats, far short of the 321 needed to hold a majority in the House of Commons.

Tempers were raised between the English and the Scots during the campaign, fuelled by a deeply cynical bid by the Conservatives to frighten English voters from backing Labour because they would be beholden to the Scots. It worked too, to some extent.

Having fuelled the rhetoric with talk of ‘Ajockalypse Now’, London mayor Boris Johnson yesterday performed a volte-face, saying that, of course, a new federal deal has to be reached across all of the United Kingdom.

So what happens now? Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon carefully sidestepped demands during the election campaign to commit to including a pledge to hold a new independence referendum during the life of the next Scottish parliament.

Sturgeon is rightly cautious. For many Scots, even many of those who voted Yes last September, the prospect of another two years of often-bitter constitutional debate is enough to prompt feelings of near-despair.

The SNP knows that a referendum can be lost once without irreparable damage but it cannot be lost twice. Privately, many in the party’s ranks believe that they would have to be sure of a two-to-one majority before they would even move.

For now, the SNP points out that Scotland was once ruled by Conservatives, who had little or no representation north of the border. Today, Labour is in the same boat, with just Ian Murray surviving from its outgoing stock of 41 MPs.

The SNP was blessed either way. A Labour victory would have left Ed Miliband dependent upon the SNP for support, which could have been used by the nationalist party as a platform to win another Holyrood majority in the Scottish parliamentary elections next May.

Last September, Cameron was rightly accused of having inflamed Scottish opinion by linking extra devolution for Scotland – promised in the days before the referendum – with “English votes for English laws”.

He quickly retracted but the damage was done.

Speaking outside Downing Street yesterday, he said pledges had been made to Scotland and would be honoured: “In Scotland, our plans are to create the strongest devolved government anywhere in the world, with important powers over taxation.”

Temper

Ironically, the SNP backed away during the election from its demand for control over all of Scotland’s tax and spending, in the face of evidence from the Institute for Fiscal Studies that it would cut £8 billion (€11 billion) at a stroke from public spending north of the border.

Now, the SNP says this is something that it still wants, but not quickly. Given the temper of some English Conservative MPs, the one power that the SNP does not want is the one that many of them would be only too happy to give.

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