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Election Comment: Terry Murden

Tory-Nat alliance has been 20 years in the making

David CameronNicola SturgeonSome 20 years ago, with the Tories overseeing the dying days of the Edinburgh-based Scottish Office, it may have seemed beyond credibility to suggest that the fast-emerging SNP might one day regard its arch-opponent as a valuable ally.

As it happens, it was a theory I put forward at the time in The Sunday Times Scotland: that the SNP’s growth depended not on making war with the Tories – who were in government, but in terminal retreat in Scotland – but by cosying up to the party in Westminster in a joint campaign to annihilate the powerful Scottish Labour Party.

I was ridiculed. An alliance of Nationalists and Unionists was no more likely than one of the Old Firm being relegated from the Scottish Premiership (er…that also happened).

Fast forward from the mid-1990s to the current General Election campaign and there is more talk of the Nats and Tories working together to squeeze Labour’s election chances.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is quoted in a civil servant’s notes as preferring David Cameron to Ed Miliband as prime minister. She denies saying it, embarrassed no doubt that having campaigned on a ticket of getting rid of the Tories she may secretly hope they form the next government.

On the face of it, a combination of the two really is the ultimate political absurdity. Yet, in an election that will most likely feature more tactical voting than any that has gone before, it makes perfect sense – the proverbial win-win situation for both camps.

The Tories have nothing to gain from fighting a battle in Scotland that has long been lost. They have everything to gain from abandoning their Unionist traditions and surrendering to the nationalists’ wishes, particularly with Scottish Labour facing the prospect of following the Tories’ into oblivion. If Labour loses perhaps 30-35 Scottish seats to the SNP, it would put David Cameron’s party into an unassailable lead at Westminster.

If the Tories secure a majority on 7 May, the presence of so many SNP MPs on the backbenches should be enough for the Scots to demand an instant transfer of powers north of the border. This is something they could not achieve if the General Election is won by Labour which will hope and, indeed need, to rebuild in Scotland.

With the nationalists packed off to Holyrood, happy with a new constitutional settlement, Mr Cameron would be left to run the rest of Britain until he decides to hand over to his successor.

Ms Sturgeon’s discomfort over these latest revelations is clearly understandable, but commentators noted how she and Mr Cameron avoided engaging in too much hostility in Thursday’s leaders’ debate, both of them preferring to focus their attacks on Mr Miliband.

Whether or not this was a deliberate pincer movement on Labour it may have had the desired effect of edging us closer to a nationalist-unionist alliance at Westminster that will serve short-term objectives for both sides.

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