Today saw the release of the SNP’s election manifesto and a renewed focus on the politics north of the border and the potential consequences for the rest of the UK. The SNP set out its “alternative to austerity” by positioning the party as a force for UK-wide change as a reaction to a ‘harsh’ Conservative agenda.
Indeed, it is the party’s growing focus on the role it can play outside of Scotland that is worrying the Westminster establishment. Many expect the Scottish Nationalists to win as many as 50 seats in Scotland, ensuring that it will hold considerable power as the King-maker to a possible minority Labour Government.
The threat of a SNP puppet master in Westminster has the other parties scrambling to head off such a prospect. David Cameron is in the North East today where he has announced that the Conservatives would commission an annual review of the devolution settlement after the election, in order to ensure that the devolved powers benefit the rest of the UK too. The announcement was designed to send a clear message to the English electorate that the Conservatives have not forgotten them and will always be their champion in the face of growing nationalist support in Scotland.
Indeed, shoring up the support of the English votes appears to be an emerging Conservative strategy. Cameron took to the Andrew Marr show over the weekend to appeal to voters in the West of England, declaring that people in the region “wouldn’t get a look in” if the SNP formed part of the Government. The Conservatives know that the Lib Dem swing seats in that part of the country must turn blue in order for the party to inch towards a fêted, but increasingly distant, Commons majority.
Many will see the hardening of the Conservatives’ focus as the result of a latent panic spreading through their campaign. Last Thursday’s opposition leaders’ debate, in which Cameron opted to sit out, brought with it an increased intensity in focus on the relationship between Labour and the SNP, and the potential for the two parties to form a workable administration following the 7th May.
Nonetheless, Miliband’ public defiance against a reliance on the SNP remains resolute. He will tell the Scottish TUC later that a Labour majority Government would immediately grant new powers to Scotland in the shape of a Home Rule Bill, designed to galvanise the party’s dwindling support north of the border.
Privately though, Miliband knows that a deal with the SNP is increasingly becoming his best chance of becoming Prime Minister as the days of a binary choice between Blue and Red look increasingly like relics of the nation’s political past.
Party focus – Lib Dems
We continue our weekly focus on each of the Westminster parties this week with a look at the Liberal Democrats. The party used their manifesto launch last Wednesday to announce an extra £2.5bn in extra funding for education, a pledge laced with much symbolism given the party’s U-turn on tuition fees in 2010.
The polls, it seems, suggest that many young people have not forgotten Nick Clegg’s change in stance and the party continue to poll in single figures behind UKIP, a far cry from the days it commanded as much as a quarter of electoral support in the run up to the last election.
The Lib Dems have, as they did five years ago, set out their stall as the party of moderation, and the only way to stem the tide of Conservative and Labour “extremism”. Nick Clegg is keen to portray himself in front of the electorate as the “honest broker”, reining in Tory ‘maliciousness’, and injecting competence into Labour’s perceived ‘chaotic’ economic agenda.
But what role might the Lib Dems play in the makeup of the next Government? The party is, in some quarters, expected to lose as much as half its seats, meaning it could relinquish its title as the third largest party in the Commons to the SNP. Realistically, the Lib Dems are the only go-to partners that the Conservatives could work with, meaning that electoral failure for the party could open the door for a Labour-led Government.