SNP poised for greater influence at Westminster after election gains

First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon TV interview

Scottish National party leaders expect the party to wield far greater power at Westminster after the general election by winning seats on key committees and earning substantial Commons speaking rights.

With the SNP on course to become the third largest party at Westminster, its Commons leadership said that would entitle the party to sit or win chairmanships on many of the most influential select committees, including the Treasury, defence and foreign affairs committees.

It would also entitle Nicola Sturgeon’s party to have automatic speaking and tabling rights during Commons debates and at prime minister’s questions – putting it ahead of the Liberal Democrats for the first time in the party’s history.

With Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, insisting he has no intention of negotiating a pact or voting arrangement with the SNP, Sturgeon is expecting to cement already close relations with the English Greens and Welsh nationalists Plaid Cymru to create a centre-left alliance to amplify their influence.

So far, the SNP’s public scenario planning has centred around a Labour government taking power at Westminster: a Tory victory would allow them to present themselves as a vigorous champion of Scottish interests but could leave them much less influential, with Labour still occupying the more dominant role as the official opposition.

One SNP MP described the lack of any formal coalition deal with Labour as a “liberation”, allowing them flexibility to wield their votes and influence on an issue-by-issue basis. SNP MPs have already opened up lines of communication to centre-left Labour MPs in an effort to build alliances over renewing Trident and opposing deeper spending cuts.

In a further challenge to Labour, its nearest rival in Scotland, the SNP’s boost in influence at Westminster will be matched by a dramatic increase in the party’s finances. It will be entitled to millions more in official funding, known as Short money, as well as extra staffing.

Sturgeon is to fly down to London later on Friday morning after supervising the party’s election night operations in Edinburgh and visiting the Glasgow count in the early hours of Friday, for the first in a series of second world war commemoration events.

The first minister is already scheduled to take part in the Victory in Europe day celebrations at the Cenotaph at 3pm, and is prepared for talks with other party leaders and, potentially, Whitehall civil servants.

She will also take part in a VE day service at Westminster Abbey on Sunday, opening up further opportunities to convene strategy meetings with her parliamentary team lead by Angus Robertson, the SNP’s Westminster leader and MP for Moray, and SNP deputy leader Stewart Hosie, MP for Dundee East.

Despite leading the party from the Scottish parliament, Sturgeon is planning to take a pivotal role in any negotiations after the election.

SNP sources confirmed they expect Alex Salmond, their leader for 25 years and former first minister, to take a senior role in any future talks or strategy decisions – assuming he wins the former Liberal Democrat seat of Gordon. “We’d want to ensure that Alex’s experience and contribution would be available to the team as well,” said one senior strategist.

Despite expecting huge losses in Scotland, Labour sources believe that if Miliband forms the next UK government, the party will be able to prove to Scottish voters it can implement the radical tax and spending policies it promised, including the mansion tax and 50p top rate of income tax, and isolate the SNP from its key policies.

They point to Gordon Brown’s final campaign speech earlier this week when he said “the SNP can demand change but the Labour party can deliver”. That would allow Scottish Labour to regain trust with Scottish voters before the 2016 Holyrood elections, and help offset the SNP’s huge increase in political influence at UK level.

“I’m confident that will use the advantage of a UK government incumbency to implement Labour policies in Scotland, which will help build Labour’s campaign in 2016,” he said.

SNP sources said a minority government led by Miliband would be under far greater pressure to collaborate with large minority parties like the SNP in order to deliver those policies, allowing the SNP to cement their credibility with voters.

“If they put priority on getting their legislation and business through the House of Commons, it really does come down to their attitude towards us,” he said. “If they put a premium on getting things through the Commons, they would want to minimise the argy-bargy.”

SNP sources insist they are not alarmed by Miliband apparently closing off options for cooperation, either dismissing it as pre-election bluster or feeling confident in the areas that they have already ring-fenced for discussion. These include pressing for spending increases, blocking Trident, reversing the Health and Social Care Act 2012 and ensuring the full delivery of the Smith commission recommendations for far greater devolution of tax and welfare powers to Holyrood.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Severin Carrell and Libby Brooks, for theguardian.com on Thursday 7th May 2015 21.16 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010