THE BLOG

Scottish Takeover

12/02/2015 13:46 GMT | Updated 13/04/2015 10:59 BST

On 18 September, the people of Scotland voted against independence. The Scottish National Party (SNP), created in 1934 with independence as its central goal, had lost. Yet just five months later, they are now positioned as one of the big potential winners in May's UK General Election.

In her final speech before the referendum, the SNP's Nicola Sturgeon declared that the Scottish people were about to make "historic decision". Talk from the 'Yes' campaign was that this was the chance of a lifetime. The end goal of the SNP's breath-taking rise - a Scottish referendum on independence - was in sight.

You would have been forgiven for thinking that losing the vote would mean the end of the party. But in an age in which political discussions are met with disaffection and apathy, the SNP's brand of populist, enticing and not unintelligent politics was bound to find a way to endure.

In fact, they are threatening to thrive.

Having failed in their primary goal of achieving independence for Scotland, the SNP's backup plan appears to be even more audacious than their bid for independence. With a new vote for Scotland off the table in the short term, Sturgeon and her former leader Alex Salmond are setting their sights on an achievement that would have been unthinkable before the referendum.

The SNP plan to conquer the UK as a whole.

"Hyperbole!" I hear you cry. Well, perhaps. And admittedly their plan is a back-door takeover rather than resurrecting William Wallace to lead a military invasion. But bear with me. The SNP have spotted an opportunity, and neither Salmond nor Sturgeon have ever knowingly passed up one of those.

Contrary to traditional belief, the British 'first past the post' system is not immune to the need to form coalitions, as the current Westminster government demonstrates. Given the public's general indifference, combined with (and exacerbated by) largely centrist mainstream parties and identikit career politicians, it will be no surprise if neither Labour nor the Conservatives are able to command an overall UK majority in May.

At the same time, Labour's election of the very un-Scottish Ed Miliband as leader has coincided with the SNP's continued rise to decimate their support in Scotland - one of their traditional heartlands. At a time when both major national parties are struggling to attract votes, to lose such a large swathe of support has surely put paid to any ambition Miliband had of gliding in to Downing Street on the back of a burgeoning majority.

And here is the SNP's opportunity.

Simple arithmetic suggests that the SNP would be sensible coalition partners for the aspirant Prime Minister Miliband. Allowing for Labour's fall in Scotland and the Liberal Democrats' fall nationwide, there is even a chance that the SNP could find themselves as Westminster's third biggest party. In almost all potential scenarios, a Labour-SNP coalition would form a workable majority.

Ideology strengthens the point. Avowedly left wing, the SNP have made no secret of their hatred of the Conservatives. Their ambitions for Scotland would be far more closely aligned with a Labour government in Westminster. It would be understandable for them to offer words of support for Miliband's party on this basis.

But the SNP has moved beyond that. A vote for the SNP in Scotland, they suggest, is already a de facto vote for a left wing coalition in Westminster. Even SNP supporters in Scotland, it transpires, have a tendency to back Labour in a General Election, for fear of enabling the Conservatives to seize power. With Salmond running for a seat in the UK parliament, and the SNP sensing their opportunity, the party are pushing to take advantage.

Of course, all of this can be said to be in the interests of the SNP and, they would argue, the interests of Scotland. But in looking to seize their opportunity, some disturbing tactics are being deployed, which may come back to haunt a potential Labour-SNP coalition.

Chief among these is the issue of English votes for English laws. Supposedly fundamental supporters of national suffrage, it would seem strange for the SNP to be willing to vote on issues in England when their Scottish equivalents are decided in the Scottish Parliament. The argument that matters of finance have a knock-on impact on Scottish finances is spurious at best.

And this week Sturgeon has widened her party's stance, branching out to include a more left-wing approach to deficit reduction as a condition of any potential coalition with Labour. Delivering her thoughts at a speech in London, the move was a representation of the SNP's increasing desire to impact United Kingdom policies. There is even a hint of looking for support - for their policies if not the party as a whole - south of the border.

For Labour's part, they have pointedly avoided commenting on a potential coalition with Scotland's biggest party. There is some talk that they know such a thing would be best avoided. But privately there must surely be a realisation that, in order for Ed Miliband to call himself Prime Minister, the SNP might represent the only option.

The backdoor takeover might just be on.