During the election campaign Jim Murphy repeatedly asserted that the SNP usually "vote with the Tories" at Westminster, and offered that up as spurious "proof" that the SNP would prop up a Tory government in a hung parliament. The lie was of course comprehensively given to Murphy's claim when we did indeed end up with a hung parliament, and the SNP moved heaven and earth to try to avert a Tory government, while assorted senior Scottish Labour figures were busily helping to smooth David Cameron's path to Downing Street. Indeed, rarely has Tom Harris shown so much passion for anything that didn't involve the storage of innocent people's DNA or the demonisation of teenage mothers.
But what Murphy actually meant when he said the SNP voted with the Tories is that both parties voted against the Labour government quite a lot. A rather fatuous observation given that it's much easier for parties that have little in common to find themselves in the same voting lobby when they're voting against something rather than for something. Whether they like it or not, I suspect Labour will find themselves regularly "voting with the SNP" at Westminster over the next few years.
Tony Blair used to like to pretend that anyone who veered from the true Blairite path by voting against his government's programme could automatically be lumped together as "the forces of conservatism", regardless of whether they came from the right or left (indeed, he specifically name-checked the SNP and Plaid Cymru in that original deranged speech). More than a touch brazen, of course, because so much of New Labour's programme was deeply conservative and authoritarian. But with the Conservatives and Labour both in opposition in the Scottish parliament, it now gives us the opportunity to observe which way Labour jump when a clear-cut conservative/progressive dividing line comes up - ie. a vote on a progressive policy which, by opposing, you can only really be doing so for conservative reasons. What about today's vote in the Scottish Parliament on scrapping prison sentences of three months or less, for instance?
The issues could hardly be more clear-cut. Short-term prison sentences are expensive, ineffective, and indeed counter-productive because they lead to a high rate of reoffending. The alternatives to such sentences are tough, productive for the community, and rehabilitative. The only conceivable reasons for opposing such an obviously rational shift of emphasis in the justice system is a wish to pander to populist instincts, and a boneheaded attachment to the traditional belief that "prison works", regardless of evidence. Conservatism in a nutshell, in fact. No surprise, then, to discover that the Scottish Tories are on that side of the argument (in spite of Ken Clarke's intriguing musings). But what about Labour? Yep, you guessed it...
Still, rather refreshing to discover that there is a progressive majority in the Scottish Parliament, even if Labour are determined not to be part of it.