I was amused the other night to see Flockers (our occasional visitor from Stormfront Lite) apparently licking his lips at the prospect of SNP supporters having to justify Alex Salmond's hints that the party may dispense with its recent practice of abstaining on English-only matters. Flockers' implication was that a core part of the SNP's sense of itself was about to be casually reversed in an "Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia" kind of way. Dear God. The mind boggles as to the number of Anglocentric assumptions that must be required to reach the conclusion that a Scottish pro-independence party's identity is somehow bound up with the stance it takes on English votes at Westminster. In truth, I doubt if there are many SNP members, supporters or voters out there who give a monkey's about the English votes policy, beyond its tactical utility.
And the question of tactical utility is exactly why the policy should be ditched if the SNP hold the balance of power next May. If a self-denying ordinance reduces the party's bargaining power and makes it less likely that a deal can be done with Labour to transfer huge powers to the Scottish Parliament, then that self-denying ordinance serves no purpose and needs to go. Full stop, end of story. The best interests of Scotland come first.
For weeks now, Tory commentators like Fraser Nelson have been congratulating themselves that the SNP's abstentionism on English affairs will make it easier for the Tories to run a minority government, and will also get David Cameron off the hook of having to do anything about English Votes for English Laws. But I'm afraid it's no part of the SNP's mission in life to make it easier for the Tories to rule. It would also be crazy for the SNP to reduce the pressure for EVEL through their own nobility of action, given that EVEL will introduce a severe instability into the UK constitution that can only be of benefit to the Scottish national movement.
In rightly noting Alex Salmond's tactical astuteness in revisiting the English votes policy, the Scotsman's editorial makes a claim that I'm not sure is entirely well-founded -
"Mr Salmond must surely know this plan can only come into play if Labour is the largest party but does not have an overall majority and would certainly not have a majority of English seats."
That's misleading in two ways. Firstly, it's perfectly possible that Labour will need the SNP's help to govern, even if they have more seats than the Tories in England. But just as importantly, it's not true that Labour would have to be the largest party in the Commons for the SNP to have leverage. Consider this highly plausible scenario -
Liberal Democrats 25
Sinn Féin 5
Plaid Cymru 4
The Tories are the largest single party, but a Tory-led government isn't arithmetically viable - or at least not without Labour's help. Assuming Sinn Féin don't take up their seats, the target for an effective majority would be 323 seats.
Labour + SNP + Plaid Cymru + SDLP + Greens = 323
The SNP, Plaid and the Greens have all said they would have nothing to do with the Tories (and it can reasonably be assumed that the SDLP take a similar view), so Cameron's only hope would be that useful idiots in Labour's ranks like Tom Harris repeat their antics from 2010 and actively campaign for the Tories to take office, on the grounds of "They won the most seats! It's only fair!" But I think after five long years in opposition, Labour's hunger for power is sufficient to ensure that those voices would be shouted down this time.
In some ways, the scenario outlined above would be better for the SNP than one where Labour is the largest party - because it would mean that Labour wouldn't have the option of simply trying their luck as a minority government without the help of others. In order to get their leader into Number 10 in the first place, they would need a deal with the SNP to demonstrate to the Queen that Miliband is better placed than Cameron to command a Commons majority.