Nicola Sturgeon says this election – the UK Election on May 7th – isn’t about independence, and she is right. Whatever the outcome, Scotland will not emerge as an independent nation.
So why are more and more Scots saying they will vote SNP, the party whose core principle is the creation of an independent Scotland?
One reason is the credibility built by the SNP since it formed the government of Scotland in 2007 - the first four years as a minority administration and with overall control since 2011. Led by First Ministers Alex Salmond and now Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP Government has proved itself financially competent and responsive to the needs of the people it serves.
Ill-informed or downright dishonest British Unionists claim Scots are provided with free higher education, free prescriptions and free bus travel for senior citizens all paid-for by English taxpayers. However, the reality is that Scotland pays more to the Westminster Treasury than we receive back, and this has been the case in each of the past 34 years.
Free higher education, prescriptions and bus travel are fully-funded by revenue raised in Scotland and are delivered because the SNP Government has introduced legislation to make them happen. The UK Government in London could have pursued the same agenda and delivered those services, free-of-charge, to people in England, but the Tory-Lib Dem administration chose not to follow that course.
In Scotland, the SNP Government is delivering the moderate centre-left policies for which the people voted. For that reason the SNP is trusted by increasing numbers of Scots. It is almost unprecedented for a party that has been in government for eight-years to see its popularity grow, let alone soar, as is the case right now with the SNP.
So, people in Scotland are being drawn towards voting SNP because the party is already delivering as the Scottish Government and because the SNP is trusted by growing numbers of Scots.
However, no-one claims the SNP can form the UK Government, so why vote for the party at a UK Election?
Indeed, the Labour Party argues every vote for the SNP is actually a vote to re-elect David Cameron and the Tories. According to Ed Miliband and Jim Murphy, every seat the SNP takes from Labour increases the likelihood of a Tory Government because reducing the number of Labour MPs would mean the Conservatives emerge as the largest party and, because of that position, would form the next government.
The first part of that assertion has been used by Labour at every election in recent times: Scots have repeatedly been told that we “have to vote Labour to keep the Tories out (or get the Tories out)”. However, facts disprove this Labour mantra.
Scotland has voted Labour at every UK Election for the past 50 years, but for the majority of that time we have had Tory Governments imposed on us by the electorate of England. The reality is that every person in Scotland could vote Labour, but if England votes Tory then Scotland will have a Tory Government.
The newer element of Labour’s assertion – that the largest party gets to form the government – is simply a lie.
There is no law, regulation or rule that says the largest party after an election gets to form the government. That is why, following the last UK Election in 2010, then Labour leader Gordon Brown tried to form a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats despite the Tories having emerged as the largest party. Had Nick Clegg agreed to Brown’s overtures, there would have been a Labour-Lib Dem coalition because, together, the two parties could have outvoted the largest single party, the Tories.
This time, even if the Tories again emerged as the largest single party, a combination of Labour and the SNP could outvote them.
Of course, there will be no actual coalition between the SNP and Labour – both parties have ruled that out. It is unlikely there will even be what is described as a ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement, where the SNP would agree to support Labour’s budget and back them in any vote of confidence. The most likely outcome is one where the SNP would support a Labour Queen’s Speech, putting the party into government and Ed Miliband into 10 Downing Street as Prime Minister, and would then support or oppose a Labour Government on a case-by-case basis.
Of course, the question then, is why vote SNP to put Labour into power, why not cut out the middle-man and just vote Labour?
In Scotland, Labour is now widely distrusted because the party stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the toxic Tories during last year’s Independence Referendum campaign. Labour’s policies on a UK-wide basis are almost identical to those of the Tories. Put simply, more and more Scots do not want a Labour Government, either in Scotland or across the UK. However, worse even than Labour (the Red Tories) is the Conservative Party (the Blue Tories).
Scots want to prevent a Tory Government in London from being able to impose its will on us even after we have rejected them at the ballot box – but electing Labour would simply be replacing one Tory agenda with another.
However, a UK Labour Government requiring SNP support to remain in power would need to take onboard the moderate, left-of-centre agenda of the Scottish party. As Nicola Sturgeon has put it, the SNP would be Labour’s “backbone and guts”.
A large group of SNP MPs at Westminster would exert strong influence over the UK Government and would, for the first time, ensure Scotland’s voice is heard in London’s corridors of power.
The reality is that if the Tories or Labour formed the UK Government on their own or with Lib Dem/UKIP support, we would be bombarded with further devastating cuts to public spending and services: austerity would remain the only game in town. However, with the SNP influencing a Labour Government – providing “backbone and guts” – Scotland could direct UK policy onto a more progressive agenda, including modest increases to spending that would create jobs and alleviate the grinding poverty caused by relentless austerity.
So, why vote SNP at the UK Election on May 7th? The SNP has proved itself in government: the SNP has earned the trust of the people: the SNP would lock the Tories out of government: the SNP would drag a Labour Government away from Tory policies and would insist on an agenda that meets the needs of the people, including an end to Westminster-imposed austerity.