Senior figures in the Scottish National party are planning to approach leftwing Labour MPs about forming a progressive bloc with the Greens and Welsh nationalists after the general election.
Party sources in Westminster told the Guardian they had begun talks on the proposal with the thinktank Compass in an attempt to build a coalition to block renewal of the Trident missile system and obstruct deeper cuts in public spending.
Neil Lawson, the chairman of Compass, which has close links to “democratic left” MPs and green groups, confirmed he been discussing tactics with the SNP but has cautioned the party not to make direct approaches to Labour MPs until after the general election.
Lawson said the scope for a deal depended on the election result. “Everything depends on numbers on 8 May. I think it’s all up for grabs and will be driven by numbers in the following days [after the election].”
The SNP, Greens and Plaid Cymru have already formed a Westminster alliance and expect to wield much greater influence in a hung parliament if the SNP group surges in size to as many as 30 or more MPs.
An SNP source in the Commons said: “There are lots of good people in the Labour party,” naming the MPs Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell of the Campaign Group. He said the party could make alliances over opposing fracking, Trident and austerity.
He said the prospects for some form of leftwing bloc were being boosted by Nicola Sturgeon’s calls for a “progressive alliance” at Westminster after the election. “There are people who are trying to find space to see if there’s a conversation like that to be had,” he said.
Angus Robertson, the SNP’s Westminster leader, said warnings by McDonnell in an interview with the New Statesman that 30 to 40 leftwing Labour MPs would vote against Labour government budget cuts showed that a large group of SNP MPs at Westminster could bolster that rebellion.
Confirming his interest in creating a new Westminster bloc, Robertson said: “SNP MPs will work to build a progressive alliance across the UK to put an end to plans for more cuts.
“Only the election of a strong team of SNP MPs, using their clout to support progressive policies, will end the austerity politics of the Westminster establishment.”
But Jim Murphy, the Scottish Labour leader, dismissed the idea of a coalition or alliance between Labour backbenchers and the SNP at Westminster as “fantasy politics”. He said: “Politics isn’t a game, it’s about the livelihoods and futures of millions of people.” Anyone who believed it was a political game where you just “move pieces around” wasn’t grown-up.
“The only alliance I want is a Scottish Labour alliance with the English Labour party and with the Welsh Labour party,” Murphy said. “It’s the coalition I want, it’s the coalition I’m aiming for and it’s the coalition I’m determined to get.”
With polls unanimously pointing at an SNP landslide in Scotland, with their average poll rating at a historic 44%, there are predictions that many leftwing Scottish Labour MPs could be defeated and replaced by the SNP.
That could add pressure on English and Welsh Labour MPs on the left to do deals after the election, but a smaller Labour party running a minority government may have the reverse effect, making it less likely Labour backbenchers will seek to destabilise Ed Miliband’s premiership.
Corbyn and McDonnell, both senior figures in the socialist Campaign Group in the Commons, dismissed suggestions they would work alongside the SNP in a formal way and disputed the SNP’s leftwing credentials.
Corbyn said like many other leftwing Labour MPs he would vote alongside them, the Greens and Plaid Cymru against Trident’s renewal next year or on anti-austerity issues, but there would be no closer relationship.
“So when a vote comes on Trident in 2016, as it probably will, I think you will find there will be quite an interesting alliance which will be Labour, SNP and other parties,” he said.
While there would be “huge debates in the next parliament” about public spending and austerity, he added: “One has to question the assumptions made that the SNP is such a radical party. They were given the opportunity to take ScotRail into public ownership and handed it over to a private contractor, and their proposals on corporation tax, essentially a race to the bottom, is hardly an act of redistribution.
“I do question the assumption that they’re a massive leftwing force. Yes, they do oppose Trident and yes they’re against austerity but the idea they’re a socialist party is far off the mark, actually.”
Despite Corbyn’s criticisms, the SNP under Nicola Sturgeon has now dropped Alex Salmond’s longstanding policy to cut corporation tax by 3p below the UK rate, as the SNP tacks to the left under her leadership.
McDonnell said he had no link to Compass and dismissed suggestions he could ally himself with the SNP. “For the record, my position is absolutely clear. The Labour left will pursue its own independent line,” he said.
“Given its track record in Scotland in supporting cuts in public spending, a race to the bottom on tax and privatising rail and ferries, there is a huge divide between what socialists in the Labour party stand for and SNP nationalists.”
Lawson indicated that Compass would also put the SNP in touch with Labour MPs other than Campaign Group members. “We are in a good position to do it because we’re a bridge with all the progressive parties; we’re a natural partner for that,” he said.
This article was written by Severin Carrell Scotland correspondent, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 31st March 2015 12.07 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010