Scottish National Party finds itself in sweet spot

Nicola Sturgeon’s party in that rare position where every move seems to offer benefits

For three weeks, the British election campaign has, outside of Scotland, only occasionally interested voters, as politicians struggle to break through an impermeable fog.

Now, with nearly three weeks to voting, it has taken on a pantomime air, in which everyone takes up exaggerated positions.

Boris Johnson in his £5,000-a-week column for the Daily Telegraph says putting Nicola Sturgeon in charge of the UK's finances would be like "putting Herod in charge of a baby farm".

TV presenter Piers Morgan huffs ludicrously that the Scottish National Party (SNP) leader is “the world’s most dangerous woman”.


Even if Sturgeon criticised Johnson for “entirely offensive” behaviour, the Punch and Judy-style language will not bother her because the more Tories froth at the mouth, the more Scots like it.

Playing a game

Everyone is playing a game, even if it is one that is being played for the highest of stakes. The Tories believe that middle-ground, slightly older voters in battleground constituencies in the Midlands, where they and


are duelling, can be frightened off voting Labour if they can be persuaded of the consequent dangers.

Social media comments suggest that many in England like the colour of the SNP’s jib, but the Conservatives demur, saying that the influence it could wield is being brought up unprompted by voters at the doors.

Today, the Tories will seek to put some rigour behind the hyperbole of recent days when former prime minister John Major takes to a stage in the Midlands to warn of the threat posed by Scottish nationalists.

The SNP is reasonably content because it portrays posh, educated Tory southerners in the condescending image so ingrained in Scottish society, and often supported by evidence.

Backed by years of diligent slogging, the SNP is in that sweet spot so desired by politicians – but so rarely achieved – where every move seemingly offers benefits, whichever way the dice tumbles.

Stronger rhetoric

Urging Labour voters in Scotland to abandon past loyalties, it has forced Scottish Labour to adopt ever stronger rhetoric to win an audience, which, in turn, has prompted slap-downs from Labour HQ in London when it has gone too far.

Even the weaknesses in its plans for “full fiscal autonomy” – in which Scotland would take charge of its own taxes and spending – have not struck home.

Over recent days, some SNP figures have been unclear about whether such a move would lead to the cessation of block-grant payments from the Treasury. Because of the fall in oil prices, such a move, if implemented now, would leave Scotland having to find £7.6 billion in debt, or spending cuts just to stay at the UK’s existing borrowing levels.

However, it matters little, it appears. Scottish Labour has plugged away at the issue for days seemingly to no effect. Now, the SNP has rebranded its plan as “full fiscal responsibility”.

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy is News Editor of the The Irish Times