Greens : Nats :: Nats : Tories?
Alex Salmond is away this week at the Alex Salmond Annual Conference 2009, and everyone sounds like they're having a lovely time counting their chickens ahead of the UK General.
The Maximum Eck therefore went on GMS this morning to set out his strategically sensible but odd-sounding ambition for this election: a hung Parliament.
Brian Taylor captures the thinking perfectly. The comparison to Steel's "go back to your constituencies" line may be brutal, but, as BT observes, this approach is much smarter because it excuses Salmond from having to admit he'd love nothing more than a Cameron victory. Apart from a Thatcher victory, that is. Fortunately it's just him and Norman Tebbit on that one.
The SNP attitude to the rest of the UK is changing pretty fast. Salmond said last week that Westminster would be "hung by a Scottish rope", a stark contrast to the more charming line he took before the last Holyrood election. Back in 2007 he said England and Scotland would be "the best of pals, the closest of buddies". I prefer my pals not to try to hang me with a rope, but I'm sure Kevin Pringle knows where he is on the message calendar.
Last year, at the midpoint of the transition from best pals to hanging with a rope, Salmond said he'd "make Westminster dance to a Scottish jig". That might still sound like a relatively friendly metaphor, but note the compulsion. It actually reminds me more of the brutal ending of Snow White, where the evil queen has to dance in red hot iron shoes until she dies.
In Salmond's the cause of death is now hanging, not dancing, but dead is still dead. If you like you can also pick a role from Snow White for the First Minister to play. Anyone picking Bashful will be laughed at.
Back to his appearance on GMS. This morning he said that:
"A Scottish block would be influential regardless of the outcome of the election. What I think is true is that a balanced Parliament, a Parliament without an overall majority would be the most influential, give us the most ability to extract concessions and win gains for Scotland.
"I think there's no doubt that in a Parliament without an overall majority, then if you have a block of MPs then you can achieve fantastic things, and I only point out that of all the politicians in these islands I am probably the one with the most experience of minority government. I'm on the receiving end of it.
"Obviously, if you take the first Budget the SNP brought in last year then the Green Party with two MSPs were able to have an extraordinary influence because we're a minority government, because it's a balanced Parliament."
(on iPlayer until next week, roughly 2 hours and 10 minutes in)
I remember that Budget. What happened is that a small opposition party (that's us) brought forward an eminently sensible and pragmatic proposal, but an overweening minority administration tried to bully them into accepting something negligible and almost entirely different. When that bullying failed, the Budget fell.
What exactly the SNP actually learnt from this process it would be good to know. Was it that larger parties tend to get their way in the end? Pleasing as it is for him to tell a UK-wide audience that Greens are influential, the fact is that he turned us over and the policy never happened.
The equation doesn't hold for other reasons too. Our only objective in the Budget talks he refers to was a policy one, to get the idea implemented, to cut bills and carbon emissions and to boost jobs. There was no hidden agenda, although we'd obviously have been happy to take credit for the idea (which regular readers will know we nicked from Kirklees Greens).
Salmond, on the other hand, would be going into UK Budget negotiations striving to demonstrate that the new Tory government doesn't care for Scotland, and that only the SNP can stand up to them.
This would make the SNP almost impossible for Cameron to deal with, just as a minority Labour government found them in the 1970s. The Tory leader's long term future may well depend on ensuring he avoids both their rope and their red-hot shoes, just as the polls predict he will.