After reports that Labour would be changing its constitution to rule out the possibility of a coalition agreement with the SNP, the party has denied any planned changes. This is a huge mistake.
In 2019 at the last general election, Labour received their lowest share of the vote in Scotland since 1910. In order to win back the trust of unionist voters who have abandoned the party in the last decade, Sir Keir Starmer must present his party as a serious unionist force, and pledge against any collaboration with the Scottish Nationalists.
If he fails in this, he’ll be leaving his party open to the same Tory criticism suffered by Labour in 2015 – when the Conservatives ran an effective campaign depicting leader Ed Miliband in Alex Salmond’s pocket.
Today, with Conservatives fearful over the possibility of a hung parliament, it’s clear they’ll do whatever it takes to discredit Labour as SNP puppets. Starmer shouldn’t leave his party vulnerable to these rumours. He should pledge against working with the SNP on all grounds.
From 1964 to 2015, the Labour Party was the dominant political force in Scotland. While the Scottish National Party has always preached separatism, Labour was the major unionist party, especially in the wake of the Tory wipe-out in the 1997 general election.
However, ever since the SNP took control of the Scottish Parliament in 2007, Labour’s stance on Scotland’s place in the union has been under fire. The aftermath of the 2014 independence referendum led to traditional Labour voters turning away from the party and towards the nationalists. In 2015, Labour lost 40 seats in Scotland and were left with one. Although recent polling has given Labour second place (albeit distantly behind the SNP), Labour must position themselves as a solid unionist party by rejecting any kind of agreement with the separatists.
So when news broke that Labour would be changing their constitution to forbid a formal coalition with the SNP, it raised more questions than answers.
The idea of a formal coalition — as suggested in reports — between a national party such as Labour and a regional one such as the SNP would be impossible and highly unlikely. While it is clear that Labour wants to distance themselves from the nationalists, the proposal did not seem to rule out a confidence-and-supply arrangement whereby the SNP would lend their support to Labour in Parliament. Why Labour has retracted their ruling out of a coalition is puzzling. If anything they should go further and rule out any agreement whereby the SNP support a Labour minority government.
If Labour wants to beat the SNP, they need to trap them politically. If Labour requires the support of the SNP to form their next government, they must send the nationalists an ultimatum — either support a Labour government on their own terms, or stand against them and let the Tories into Whitehall for a fifth successive time.
It’s possible that the next election will result in a Labour minority administration that requires the support of the SNP. In such an instance, Labour must be willing to form a government and trust the SNP to support it. They will not support the Tories. If they want progressive change, they must surely support Labour. For Labour, they must not give red meat to the nationalist party and their demands for a second referendum, but they must cater more to Scottish voters and understand their concerns.
Voters believe the SNP listens to and represents them more than either the Tories or Labour do — that is the source of the SNP’s success. Therefore, a Labour government should put Scotland high on the agenda and implement positive economic change. Instead of fear mongering over independence, Labour must outline the benefits of our union and how both sides have succeeded because of it.
Labour will not face an easy campaign at the next general election. But to improve their chances amongst unionists, they must unequivocally rule out any collaborations with the SNP who must be left to decide their own fate. But whatever their position, Labour must quickly prove themselves in government to win back Scottish voters.