Why the Tory Scaremongering About the SNP isn’t Ending Anytime Soon

by George_East on April 20, 2015

david-cameronHaving not got much traction with their initial ploy of going directly after Ed Miliband – which veered from portraying him as an uber-geek to a Terry-Thomas style ladies’ man, the Tories have bet their house on going after Ed Miliband through the proxy of the SNP.    It has felt as if they (and their allies in the press) have talked about little else for the last week or so.  With 17 days left until the election I don’t think that is going to change.

The immediate purpose of the attacks is clearly designed to scare the bejeesus out of undecided voters in English marginals.  The calculation is that if they portray Nicola Sturgeon as the puppet master and as a half-crazed radical bent on destroying England then wobbly voters in Lib Dem/Tory and Labour/Tory marginals might stick with the Tories as a way not of keeping Labour out but of keeping the SNP out.  The language being used by the Tory campaign is extraordinary.  Boris Johnson described Nicola Sturgeon as the equivalent of King Herod (of slaughter of the first born fame). Right wing Scots journalist Iain Martin described the SNP manifesto launch today as reminiscent of Nuremburg.   There is some evidence that the scaremongering is working, with several reports of a shift to the Tories recently in Tory/Lib Dem marginals (particularly in the South West) and polling showing that many voters are worried about the SNP being involved in the government of the UK.

There are though in my view two other purposes to the attacks.  The first is, perversely, to shore up the SNP position in Scotland.  The Tories are playing a bizarre game of both stoking fear in English voters of the threat of the SNP to the union and all things good and decent and talking up the brilliance of Nicola Sturgeon (something that was the first line of spin following last Thursday’s debate).  The crude calculation is that the more the Tories harp on about the SNP the more there will be a reaction to them in Scotland, in the same way there will be a reaction against Labour and towards the Tories in England.  Although an SNP sweep of seats does not assist the Tories in obtaining a majority, it clearly does increase their prospects of being the largest party as it will come very largely at the expense of Labour.  In extremis if the SNP won every seat in Scotland then the Tories would lose one seat, but Labour would lose 41 seats.   If Labour’s base line in England and Wales is as low as 216 (ie its current seat total minus all its Scottish seats) it is a real stretch to see how it becomes the largest party (even if picking up Tory seats does in effect count double in reducing the gap between the parties.

By far the most significant reason though for the Tory attacks on the SNP is not to do with persuading people to vote on 7 May, but rather to set the media and political tenor for what will start on 8 May.  The Tory calculation is that they won’t have an overall majority and they may not even be able to reach the magic 323 (assuming, as expected, Sinn Fein win 5 seats and don’t take them up) with the assistance of their likely allies: the Lib Dems, UKIP and the DUP.   They are also calculating (rightly in my view) that they are likely to end up as the party with the most votes and because of Scotland the most seats.

Constitutionally of course being the party with the most seats in the Commons is neither here nor there if you can’t command a majority in the House.   Yet the Tories calculate that politically it could be everything.   The idea is to delegitimise the SNP and more importantly to delegitimise a Labour-led government reliant upon the SNP (even if that reliance is nothing more than an informal arrangement that the SNP won’t vote the government down).  It is for this reason that the frankly unconstitutional language of the SNP holding the country to ransom is being used.

We shouldn’t under-estimate for a second how ruthless the Conservatives will be in seeking to cling on to office they consider theirs by devine right or how vociferous the Tory press will be in support of this. You may remember the absurdity in 2010 of the Daily Telegraph leading with the headline ‘A Very Labour Coup’ simply because the Lib Dems had the audacity to break off their talks with the Tories for part of one day to negotiate with Labour in the immediate aftermath of the election (as it later turned out completely tokenistically).

The closest model we have is the Bush v Gore election in 2000, where despite Gore winning the popular vote and Florida being on an absolute knife edge, the Republicans and their allies in the media were able to construct a narrative of Gore being a sore loser and seeking to overturn a result.  Again as studies have later shown Gore won Florida too (if only those recounts had been allowed to continue).  We can expect very similar tactics this time – the Tories will declare that they have won if they have the most seats even though there has never been a convention in our parliamentary politics that you win by having the most seats.  The test is whether you can command a majority.

All the indications are that the Lib Dems are going to support this line too, presumably in the hope of retaining their seats in government in a further coalition.  Ed Davey has spoken of a duty to speak to the biggest party first and Danny Alexander about not being right to support a ‘coalition of losers’, which of course is predicated on the notion that the Tories will have won, even if they fall heavily short of 323.

Labour had better be prepared for this.     As all hell is going to break out and they are going to need all of the media, intellectual and political support they can get.  Oh and a shit load of resilience.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Fionauk512 April 20, 2015 at 5:34 pm

Perhaps to take the wind out of those sails the SNP could declare that in the interests of the country as a whole they will not further any independence agenda for the next five years, if a deal with Labour is struck, seeing as a referendum has just been held.

Then what could the Tories do about it, flip to yet another hobby horse which would just make them look even more desperate and ridiculous.?Might also pull back those worried target voters.

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John Stone April 20, 2015 at 6:19 pm

The problem is that sadly the seeds have now been sown to ensure that any Lab/SNP coalition will result in wipeout of Labour at the following election.

Have to say that this Cameron/Crosby campaign is utterly despicable. Fear, fear and more fear.

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George_East April 20, 2015 at 6:31 pm

The thing is that both Labour and the SNP have already ruled out coalition. What the Tories are trying to do is delegitimise even the most informal of arrangements by making the SNP (like the miners before) the enemy within.

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Charlie East-West April 20, 2015 at 7:46 pm

I witnessed Project Fear spew out industrial levels of fear & loathing during the Scottish independence campaign, but this is even worse. It is like Groundhog Day propaganda politics.

Whenever the right wing feel threatened, they resort to terrible tactics (reinforced via the media). Power is everything to these fuckers. They will work by all means neccessary to preserve it.

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Moira Lindsay April 21, 2015 at 8:13 pm

I totally agree about the outpouring fear and loathing against the SNP. However it is not only the right wing who are joining the chorus, but also the so-called left. Labour have joined the scaremongering as they did during the referendum. It is ironic that the party who once were the champions of the working class are now fighting tooth and nail against a party who has a progressive manifesto, while they (New Labour) are all about austerity and the status quo. The Westminster establishment and all they stand for are the ones we should fear.

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