It is reported that David Cameron is urging Ed Miliband to rule out any possible co-operation between Labour and the SNP. Of course, this is merely an attempt at gaining a few more votes in the forthcoming election. Miliband would have to be extremely stupid or barking mad to do as Cameron demands, and I do not believe for one moment that Miliband is either of those. (Neither do I think that Cameron is stupid or mad, but I do not think much of his trustworthiness.)
Let us assume that the election produces the result that the polls are indicating as likely, with Labour and the Tories winning roughly the same number of seats, the LibDems losing most of their current total and the SNP winning most of the Scottish seats, and that between them Labour and the SNP have a small majority. What will be the possible outcomes in this situation, if the SNP say to Miliband that, if no deal is reached between Labour and the SNP, the SNP will adopt a policy of abstaining on any confidence votes? (I am not saying that the SNP leadership would, or should, take that stance, but it can be argued that Nicola Sturgeon’s assertions that the SNP will not support the Tories leave open the possibilty of the SNP supporting neither of the two main parties, and instead remaining neutral.)
Firstly, the Tories and Labour could agree to hold a new election, but since the Labour party is apparently in a much weaker financial position than the Tories, I suspect that they would be reluctant to face the expense of another election campaign, unless they expected to fare better in a second election, in which case the Tories would probably not want one. (Under the terms of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, a Commons motion to hold an early election requires at least 434 votes in favour of it to pass, and so either of the two main parties would be able to block one.)
Secondly, Labour and the Tories could form a coalition, but Miliband need only think of how much damage has been done to the LibDems by their partnership with the Tories. Clegg may well go down in political history as a leader who destroyed his own party; would Miliband wish to copy him? Also, Miliband is not very popular within the Labour party, and an alliance with the Tories would surely be very unpopular with many within the Labour party. Miliband might be quickly replaced as leader by someone who would break with the Tories. From a Unionist point of view, there would be a danger that a Tory/Labour partnership would be perceived in Scotland as anti-Scottish and push support for the SNP to new heights.
Thirdly, one of the two main parties may put together the best alliance it can without including the SNP, and form a minority government. Assuming that the LibDems are willing to work with either the Tories or Labour (or with neither), then it will almost certainly be the party which wins the most seats which forms the government in this situation. If this is Labour, then in theory they can spurn the SNP’s advances, but their government will be a weak one which could struggle to pass new legislation without support from the Tories. Neither being an ineffectual government nor relying on Tory support will do anything to improve Labour’s prospects at the following general election.
The real dilemma for Miliband arises if the Tories win a few more seats than Labour, and are therefore better placed to form a government if the SNP takes a neutral stance. Polling has shown that an overwhelming majority of Labour voters in England back a deal with the SNP if the alternative is a Tory government. There would also be a number of Labour MPs who would be angry at being denied the possibility of a ministerial position, salary and perks. Therefore, if Miliband were to continue to refuse a deal with the SNP and let Cameron form a government, his position as Labour leader would be untenable and almost certainly he would quickly be replaced by someone who would be willing to enter an alliance with the SNP. One no confidence vote with the SNP voting in favour would see Cameron deposed as PM and the new Labour leader being invited to form a government. (In any case, it seems to me unlikely that Miliband will survive for long as leader of the Labour party unless he becomes Prime Minister.)
Finally, Miliband can do the sensible thing and strike a deal with the SNP to ensure that, as a minimum, they will back him in any confidence vote. That way, he can probably look forward to at least one term as Prime Minister and the opportunity to make his mark on history, for better of for worse.
In short, a deal with the SNP may be the only way in which Miliband can prevent his leadership of the Labour party, and with it his political career, coming to an inglorious end. If you were in Miliband’s position, would you give your main political rival an assurance that, unless your party wins more seats than his, you will commit political suicide?