At last, the picture is becoming clearer. We now have a better idea of what the SNP will demand in return for its support to put Ed Miliband in Downing Street. Nicola Sturgeon didn’t use the term ‘red line issue’ but this was the clear message underlying both the broadcast interviews she made this morning and her keynote speech at UCL.
We have known for some time that the SNP leadership does not favour a formal coalition with Labour. Rather, it would look for a ‘confidence and supply’ deal, backing Labour’s Budgets and opposing no confidence motions and expecting concessions in return. And now there appear to be two ‘red lines’ – concessions which the SNP would expect from Labour.
The first is scrapping the replacement of Trident. As Sturgeon claimed today: ‘Deciding not to renew Trident, for example, would save around £100 billion, at 2012 prices, over the next 35 years. That is money that could be – and should be – invested instead in health and education.’
She has mentioned this before but what we have never had is the detail on the public spending increases the SNP would demand. For the first time, Sturgeon has now set out what her price for a deal would be. She said:
‘I think it is important that we reduce the deficit and the debt but I would like to see a different way of doing that.
‘As an illustration, if over the lifetime of the next parliament we were to allow modest, responsible increases in public spending – say half a per cent in real terms – then debt and deficit would still be falling as a percentage of GDP over these years but we would free up something in the region of £180 billion over the UK to invest in infrastructure, in growing the economy and maintaining public services.’
‘I would hope that, if there is a Labour government and it is dependent on SNP support – which, actually the preferred most popular outcome of people in Scotland – then we could persuade a Labour government to take a more moderate approach to deficit reduction.’
Sturgeon stressed she wasn’t ‘wedded’ to that figure but was using it to illustrate her central point. So there is room for negotiation on this. But then came the clever part. Sturgeon used her interview on the Today programme this morning to appeal over the heads of the cautious Labour leadership to the grassroots Labour party membership. She said:
‘What I’m arguing does have a lot of support, I think there would be many voices in the Labour party who would wish the Labour party was arguing this more progressive, moderate, balanced fair approach to reducing the deficit.’
‘I think there are many people, across England as well as in Wales and Scotland, who would be crying out for this kind of thing.’
With the SNP looking to get at least 35 seats in Scotland in May, the party leadership clearly believes it has leverage with Labour. Not only that, but it is setting out its stall now, giving Labour plenty of time to consider the offer before the election.
This is going to be tricky. Miliband won’t want to give in to SNP demands but he will know that those demands are not going to be too hard to swallow for his party, particularly those on the Left. Miliband is being pushed to the left by the SNP. The question for the Labour Leader is the same as it has always been – how much does he want power?