Despite the recent Panelbase poll on Westminster voting intentions in Scotland showing that Labour has closed the gap on the SNP, the latter is still on course to have their best performance in a General Election. This comes only a few months after the party failed to succeed in its founding objective of Scottish independence; proving once again how quickly the winds can change in politics.
With this in mind, anything can happen between now and May. Despite the rapid increase in their membership and opinion polls showing significant electoral gains, you don’t know the result until the votes are counted.
However, regardless of how many seats the SNP win or lose, the overall outcome is likely to suit them. If the Conservatives win, then the SNP will be smiling behind closed doors. Nothing is better at re-fuelling the independence debate than if the Tories are back in power and, with UKIP also on the agenda, the SNP can play to this perfectly. Salmond was excellent at tapping into the left/right divide between Scotland and the rest of the UK during the referendum campaign. Furthermore, the prospect of a referendum on Europe if the Tories win will be jumped upon by the Nationalists, who know that Scotland is more pro-Europe than the rest of the UK. Sturgeon’s recent suggestion that Scotland should not be taken out of Europe against its will seemed absurd to many; but it actually served a meaningful purpose. It made Scots (particularly no voters) sit up and think about the constitutional situation once again and this is the type of situation that the SNP can use to their advantage. Of course, I can’t visualise an SNP/Conservative coalition for various reasons but mainly because the SNP would be undoing all of their work since 2007 of affirming themselves as the so called party of Scotland. They worked too hard to earn this title from Labour for it to be jeopardised unnecessarily, and therefore sitting on the opposition benches in this scenario would be good enough for them.
The second possibility is if Miliband is handed the keys to number 10. This is when we do start thinking along the lines of a coalition pact, which the Scottish Conservatives have already alluded to as Sturgeon and Miliband being ‘halfway down the aisle’. A minority Labour Government would give the SNP the opportunity to fulfil their pre-election mantra to Scottish voters of representing Scotland’s best interests at heart and holding Westminster to account over new powers. There is no better way to do this than to be the coalition partner, particularly to a first time Prime Minister and a party that has traditionally been a popular one in Scotland. Even if a coalition deal is not met, the SNP will be confident enough on the opposition benches with a solid block of MPs to constantly remind Miliband of why he couldn’t win a majority and use this to put pressure on his Government. Either way, I think that the SNP will be able to win concessions from Labour; mainly because Labour won’t want to be perceived as denying anything to the people of Scotland, who they desperately need to win back.
The only situation that would not work well for the Nationalists is a Labour majority but recent polling suggests that not only is this unlikely but that the SNP will be more likely than either the Liberal Democrats or UKIP to hold the balance of power.
Finally, the General Election always serves the SNP as a good testing ground ahead of the Scottish Elections, which will take place in 2016. They currently have a sizable majority to defend in Holyrood on the back of two terms in Government. Plus, I think that Scottish Labour will finally be a force in the next election. In 2007 they were complacent, and in 2011 they froze completely; but with an experienced new leader I believe that they will be more prepared for the challenge in 2016. With this in mind, the SNP will want to use May as a non-pressure election to see how their new membership, leader and presumed support from the referendum shape up and translate into votes. After all, it is commonly agreed that for the Nationalists to get their second referendum, they would need to be in Government at Holyrood rather than at Westminster.
All of this points toward the SNP doing well out of the General Election, and not only because it is widely expected that they will win more than the 6 seats that they currently hold. Instead, they will be able to make the best out of any political situation that Britain inherits, whether this is in coalition or opposition. They will then be hoping to carry this momentum into a potentially tough Scottish Election in 2016.
While in the past the SNP hastily approached General Elections, standing in the shadow of Labour and beaten before kick-off by the First Past the Post electoral system, they now see it as a golden ticket for a heap of opportunities. This election might just be the only thing about the UK that the SNP enjoy, but if they do have the balance of power in a few months time; how much will the UK enjoy them?
By Jonathan Adamson, Junior Writer for Daily Political View.