Scottish National Party
can vote on issues affecting the English National Health Service after the general election, Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon has said, formally abandoning the SNP's self-imposed ban on voting on English issues.
Her decision could be critical, given the latest poll in Scotland which forecasts that the SNP could wipe out Labour. If this happened, it would make it all but impossible for Labour to form a government.
Justifying her decision, Ms Sturgeon said blocking the privatisation of services in England would help to protect Scotland's own independent National Health Service since its budget is affected by decisions that hit England's NHS spending.
“The current Westminster agenda of austerity, privatisation and patient-charging in the NHS in England threatens to harm Scotland’s budget, on which our NHS depends,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“Therefore, SNP MPs elected in May are prepared to vote for a Bill which would restore the National Health Service in England to the accountable public service it was always meant to be.”
Her decision was taken as further evidence that the SNP is positioning itself for the May election, where it will argue that it can win a better deal for Scotland in Westminster than Labour can manage.
Meanwhile, an Ipsos Mori poll for STV News claims that the SNP now enjoys the support of 52 per cent of Scottish voters, compared with just 28 per cent for Scottish Labour, which is now led by MP Jim Murphy.
The poll, the eighth in a row to show rising support for the SNP, comes despite another poll finding that nearly half of Scottish voters believe the party did not tell the truth about Scotland’s economic prospects during last year’s referendum debate.
So far, the SNP has been undamaged by the collapse in oil prices – which it marked at more than $100 a barrel in its economic figures, saying that today’s price did not matter since Scotland would not have become independent until next year if Scotland had voted Yes.
Scotland's only Ukip MEP David Coburn caused a storm yesterday when he claimed that the falls would have seen Ms Sturgeon and her predecessor, Alex Salmond, "hanging from lamp-posts" by now if Scotland had voted Yes.
The SNP’s strategy offers it an each-way bet on the May election. If successful, it can damage Labour beyond repair; yet Labour is also dependent on the SNP for support if it is to form an administration in London.
If it makes gains off Labour, but not enough of them, then a Conservative or a Conservative-led government is more likely – a move that will no doubt anger Scottish people and encourage demands for a second independence referendum. Either way the SNP wins.
So far, Labour's Ed Miliband has refused to deal with questions about a coalition deal with the SNP, but it will become increasingly difficult for him to hold that line as the election looms closer.
Mr Murphy will at some point have to rule it out if he is to head off the SNP’s campaign message that it can win better terms for Scotland – an argument that is intuitively accepted by many Scottish voters.
The price of a coalition deal for Labour will be high, if it happens – as was made clear by Tuesday’s Commons vote where the SNP, the Greens and Wales’s Plaid Cymru supported demands to scrap plans to replace the UK’s nuclear weapons arsenal.