David Cameron seemed all but assured of another five years in power last night after his pro-austerity Queen's Speech was passed amid angry scenes in the Commons. The vote was carried by 296 votes to 71, with only the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Greens and a handful of Labour rebels entering the opposition lobby in an attempt to kick the Tories out of office. Outgoing Labour leader Ed Miliband instructed his troops to sit on their hands, even though his party and the SNP would in combination have had easily enough votes to oust the Prime Minister.
Constitutional experts warned that Labour were now "caught in a trap of their own making". Having abstained on the pretext that the largest single party has a "moral right" to form the government, it will be nigh-on impossible for them to seek to bring the Tory administration down at any point over the coming five-year term. Mr Cameron will however be well short of a majority in parliament, meaning he will require help from Labour to implement his programme. With the Fixed Term Parliaments Act making an early election very unlikely, Labour know they will be severely punished by the electorate in Middle England if they create a US-style 'gridlock' scenario by failing to cooperate with the government.
Speculation mounted overnight that a leading Blairite will be lined up as Mr Miliband's successor, in order to smooth the path for the informal Tory-Labour alliance that now seems inevitable.
Immediately after the vote, former SNP leader Alex Salmond rose to his feet to denounce Labour's "final and deepest betrayal of the Scottish people". In an ironic echo of Neil Kinnock's attack on the Militant Tendency thirty years ago, Mr Salmond observed : "You end in the grotesque chaos of a Labour opposition - a Labour opposition - allowing their blind hatred of the SNP to lead them to install a slash-and-burn Tory Prime Minister in 10 Downing Street."
Westminster observers broadly agreed with Mr Salmond's contention that the only real bar to Labour voting against the Queen's Speech had been the party's unwillingness to work with the SNP. Although it was believed that Mr Miliband had been keen to explore the option of forming a minority Labour government after narrowly failing to take top spot at the general election, he found himself boxed in due to the "Nat-phobic" views of several Shadow Cabinet members and a significant chunk of the Labour parliamentary party.
One seasoned Scottish political commentator drew a parallel with the stigma suffered by the SNP after helping to bring down the Callaghan government in 1979. He suggested that the opprobrium that will now be heaped on Labour north of the border "could be a hundred times worse than that", because the SNP's actions in 1979 had merely brought a general election forward by a few weeks, whereas Labour have just needlessly put the Tories back in power until 2020.
A Scottish poll published this morning showed the early signs of a backlash, with 74% of respondents - including 53% of Labour voters - agreeing with the statement that "only the SNP were serious about getting the Tories out". Meanwhile, support for independence had crept up again to 54%.