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Take a careful look at the manifestos and the nationalists are promising more and longer cuts than Labour, writes Alan Mackinnon.
DESPITE the many column inches and dire warnings about the “threat” from Britain’s most dangerous woman, Ed Miliband will probably not enter post-election negotiations with Nicola Sturgeon on Trident or any other issue.
He does not have to. The SNP leader has pledged her support for a minority Labour government anyway. It’s not in her or her party’s interests to be seen to bring it down with the Tories waiting in the wings.
That’s why voting SNP won’t get rid of Trident. But it might ensure that Labour does not form the next government.
Only a Labour government has any possibility of scrapping Trident. The tribal nature of Scottish politics means that pressure from a tranche of nationalist MPs on this issue is likely to be counterproductive.
The crucial pressure would come internally, from within the membership and trade union base of the Labour Party — most of whom are strongly opposed to Trident.
Moreover, polls show that 75 per cent of Labour general election candidates oppose it.
There is, in other words, a real prospect that a clear majority of the incoming parliamentary Labour Party could be opposed to renewing Britain’s nuclear weapons — giving it the potential, backed up by pressure from the trade unions and the wider peace movement, to change Labour’s policy in the 12 months before the Trident “main gate” decision in 2016.
Meanwhile the Tories seem to be entering panic mode.
Having failed to shift their poll ratings, the party of austerity and “fiscal probity” has taken to issuing wild promises of new uncosted billions to be spent on health while continuing to attack Labour as the tax and spend party which can’t be trusted with the economy.
It’s easy to understand why disillusion with Labour is running high.
Like social democratic parties across Europe, it has failed to protect its supporters from austerity in the wake of the deepest recession in living memory.
And the Scottish Nationalists are perceived as being to the left of Labour and present themselves as the party that can protect Britain from Labour-imposed austerity.
However, the reality is a little different.
The new report from the Institute for Financial Studies (IFS) calculates that Labour and SNP spending commitments are not far apart — but that it is the SNP that is more pro-austerity.
Its programme involves imposing deeper, longer cuts in spending than Labour.
Earlier the same week, the IFS issued another warning aimed at SNP plans for Devo Max — another concession the SNP hopes to wring out of a Labour-led government.
By ending any redistrubution of wealth across Britain (the Barnett Formula), full fiscal autonomy for Scotland would leave a black hole of £7.6 billion at the heart of Scotland’s economy — a funding deficit that would grow to almost £10bn a year by 2020.
Such a plan could wreak havoc on public services, pensions and public-sector jobs in Scotland unless there were substantial tax increases.
Voters in Scotland must confront an uncomfortable truth.
No matter the plethora of parties and possible post-election coalitions (formal and informal), this election will present only two real choices — a Labour or a Tory government.
A Tory government would make it virtually certain that Trident would go ahead in its present form.
However, this election is about much more than just Trident.
Another five years of Tory rule will devastate the lives of people on both sides of the border, shrinking, fragmenting and privatising what is left of the welfare state and forcing through new anti-union legislation which could fatally wound the only organisation capable of leading a fightback.
There was never a time when the old dictum — vote SNP, get Tory — was more relevant.