Alex Salmond has piled pressure on Ed Miliband by pledging to force the hand of a minority Labour government by pushing for deals on a “vote-by-vote” basis in which the Scottish National party (SNP) would seek to water down Labour’s fiscal plans in its first budget.
On the eve of a pre-election visit by Miliband, the Labour leader, to Scotland, where polls suggest the SNP is heading for a landslide win, the former first minister declared on Sunday that he expected to “hold the power” in a hung parliament.
“If you hold the balance, then you hold the power,” Salmond told the Andrew Marr Show on BBC1 as opinion polls suggest that the SNP could capture as many of 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats. This would make the Scottish nationalists the third-largest party at Westminster.
The intervention by Salmond prompted the Tories to release an animated campaign video showing the former SNP leader playing a pipe while Miliband dances. The doom-laden voiceover claims Miliband could only secure power through a deal with the SNP and that Salmond would be able to “call the tune”.
Anna Soubry, the Tory defence minister, told Salmond on the Marr show that she thought his plans were “absolutely terrifying” and claimed it was a “backdoor way of breaking up the United Kingdom”.
Soubry said: “The thought that we are in a position whereby you could be actually controlling in the way you have described this United Kingdom, fills me with absolute horror. The audacity is astonishing: there was a wonderful debate in Scotland [last year], you lost it. We’re a United Kingdom – that’s what the people of Scotland wanted.”
Miliband had hoped to draw a line under the Tory attacks last week by ruling out a coalition with the SNP if Labour was able to form a government in a hung parliament after the election. But the Labour leader declined to say whether he would rule out a less formal “confidence-and-supply” arrangement in which the SNP would support Labour in a vote of no confidence and on the budget (supply) in return for concessions.
Salmond dismissed Miliband’s intervention as he said that the SNP had only ever talked of pressing for an informal deal with a Labour-led government in a hung parliament. “I think it’s more likely to have a vote-by-vote arrangement,” Salmond said, as he pointed out that he was the only leader in the UK who had negotiated with other parties as the head of a minority government (at Holyrood from 2007 to 2011).
He added: “If you hold the balance, then you hold the power ... Any minority government has to negotiate in order to win a majority for its proposal. That’s patently obvious and to deny that is to deny reality.”
The former first minister suggested the SNP could amend a Labour budget to ensure that work on the UK’s new high-speed rail link, HS2, started in Scotland as a price for backing a minority Labour government. Salmond supported proposals from Nicola Sturgeon, his successor as party leader, for funding a 0.5% increase in public spending worth £180bn by just slowing down the deficit reduction programme. He claimed that the National Institute of Economic and Social Research had said that this approach was fiscally sustainable.
In an illustration of how the SNP would seek to flex its muscles in a hung parliament, in which Labour led a minority government, Salmond spoke of how he would seek to amend an Ed Balls budget in a way that would appeal to MPs from Scotland and the north of England.
“So I propose an amendment to [that] budget,” the former first minister said on the Marr Show. “Let’s say instead of this very, very slow train coming up from London, I think we should start it from Edinburgh/Glasgow to Newcastle and I put that down as a budget amendment.
“It would have substantial support from the north of England and other parties and would carry the House of Commons. What does Mr Balls do then?”
Meanwhile, Jim Murphy, leader of the Scottish Labour party, underlined the challenge that his party faces from the SNP when he repeatedly failed to rule out a confidence-and-supply arrangement with the SNP in a hung parliament. In an interview on the Sunday Politics on BBC1, Murphy ruled out a coalition but declined to be drawn on a less formal deal.
Murphy said: “I am not getting into further detail of a post-match analysis of a contest that hasn’t yet taken place. We are in this contest to win, not for a near draw.”
Challenged by the presenter Andrew Neil, who said the Labour politician was tap-dancing around his questions about a supply-and-confidence arrangement, Murphy said: “With my size-13 feet, I cannot tap dance around anything. If we are the biggest party we will put our positions on the minimum wage, the living wage and much else besides. If the SNP vote for it, that’s nice, if they vote against it that is their mistake because if we cannot get a majority in the House of Commons … the SNP would be responsible for bringing down a Labour government, which they have done once before.”
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