Could the Tories join forces with the SNP?

Reports in Scotland suggest the Tories will perform a u-turn and pledge that they would be prepared to enter into coalition government - even with the SNP.

As the Conservative party conference gets into full swing, the Scottish press has been dominated by talk of coalitions. Reports in Scotland on Sunday suggest the Scottish Conservatives will perform a u-turn and pledge that they would be prepared to enter into coalition government in Scotland. During the 2007 elections, Tory leader Annabel Goldie made clear that her party would not contemplate entering into coalition government.

The paper quotes what it describes as a “senior Tory” raising the intriguing prospect of a coalition with the Scottish National Party. The report says:

“With the party in a coalition at Westminster, we would look daft ruling out coalitions here. In 2007 it was difficult to see us as a realistic coalition party. But nothing is ruled out now. The question is whether we coalesce with Labour or the SNP.

“A coalition with Labour would be extremely difficult, given the situation at Westminster. The SNP is difficult because of the constitutional issue. But if the constitutional issue could be parked and you ask ‘are there areas of common ground?’ The answer is yes. It would be difficult but possible. It is not inconceivable.”

The hostility of Scottish Tories to the idea of a coalition has been met with bemusement to many, summed up by the words of Richard Cook, candidate in East Renfrewshire and a former vice chair of the Scottish Conservatives, who said:

“Much of the electorate were bemused by our 2007 campaign, which when you broke down our rhetoric was essentially ‘vote for us and we’ll never be in government’… The narrative this time must be that ‘vote for us and we’re prepared to go into coalition government’.

The change in tactics clearly demonstrates a change of mindset on the part of a Scottish Conservative party which has yet to be forgiven for the days of Mrs Thatcher.

For Labour, meanwhile, leader Iain Gray, has made clear that if Labour is unable to muster an outright majority in the Scottish Parliament elections next May, his first hope would be to govern as a minority – though he also raised the possibility of coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

Mr Gray said:

“I think [coalition] is possible. The LibDems will be there, the Greens will be there. We need to look at the numbers. The SNP has struggled in part because they’re a minority and have trouble commanding a majority in parliament, but they’re also terrible at building a consensus.”

Encouraging news for Labour, however, as it appears Scotland’s Tories will have to either loosen or shed altogether their links with the party in London to have any chance of success. In a ComRes poll for the Independent, 53 per cent of respondents in Scotland were unhappy with the coalition’s performance as opposed to 29 per cent who feel happy with the government’s work.

Last month, Left Foot Forward reported on David Cameron’s attempts to cut his Scottish colleagues loose, a stance supported by Tim Montgomerie, editor of ConservativeHome, who writes:

“David Cameron has nothing to lose from allowing Scotland’s Conservatives to become semi-detached. At present they just bring one seat to the Commons. A new, patriotic, right-of-centre party, cut free from English baggage, might bring a dozen or more seats into a right-of-centre coalition with him.”

For the Conservative and ‘Unionist’ party the question they should ask themselves this week is clear – do they remain a party for the entire UK and risk an almost permanent slump in Scotland, or does it detach itself from a country that continues to eye it with deep suspicion?

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