The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997


Article on Labour-SNP Coalition – 5 March 2015

The text of Sir John Major’s article on a potential Labour and SNP coalition, published by The Daily Telegraph on 5 March 2015.


If opinion polls are to be believed, a Labour-SNP coalition – or an informal agreement to keep a Labour government in power – is a possible outcome of the general election. So far, senior Labour figures have refused to rule it out. But if such an alliance were to happen, the consequences could be profound. Sworn enemies would have come together, with separate motives and agendas, and the aftershock would be felt by us all.

A Labour-SNP alliance would be a lethal cocktail for the United Kingdom. The two parties loathe and distrust one another in Scotland. At Westminster, SNP minds would not be focused on the well-being of the United Kingdom, but on their own party interests.

In collaboration, the two parties would make common cause at the expense of their natural enemies. For Labour, that will be to pick the pockets of the Tory Shires; and for the SNP, to boost Scotland at the expense of the rest of the UK.

I believe it is shameful that Labour have not already ruled out even the suggestion of such a partnership. For they would be relying on support from a party that will use every strategy it can to break free of the UK. Far from the recent referendum result settling the independence issue “once and for all”, the SNP’s surge in the polls has created a new opportunity for them to cause a breach.

The SNP would enter into any agreement with Labour with one overriding aim: to break up the United Kingdom. No doubt their Westminster leader, probably Mr Salmond, would exact a high price for their votes. Their Scottish leader, Ms Sturgeon, would demand even more policy advantages for Scotland. Is this fanciful? I think not. The Labour leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, has proposed raising the Mansion Tax in England to fund services in Scotland. In doing so, he has opened the door for the SNP to make even more extravagant demands – which they will surely do as their price for propping up a Labour government. The resultant policy could only further penalise UK citizens outside Scotland.

As policy unfolds – on public expenditure, health, defence and social issues – the SNP would hold Labour to ransom. They would ask for Scottish advantages to build their popularity for the Scottish Assembly elections next year and, more importantly, to widen the rift between Scotland and her neighbours. Separatism thrives on grievance, real or imagined, and the SNP would promote grievance wherever and whenever they could. They have done so for many years, and would not stop.

Slowly, but surely, they would try to prise the UK apart. That is why they may offer their support to Labour. And that is why Labour must reject it. The question is: will Labour’s ambition to be in government override what is best to secure the long-term unity of the United Kingdom and the prosperity of her people?

I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t know if the Unionists within Labour will see that danger and act upon it. I hope so. But if they do not, I believe they – and the UK as a whole – will pay a terrible long-term price. Neither history, nor electors, would forget if Labour facilitated the break-up of the UK. Or, under SNP pressure, weakened our defence capability and, in so doing, undermined our foreign policy. Or offered privileges to Scotland at the expense of others. Or followed economic policies that threw away the painfully made gains of the last few years.

None of this would be forgiven. Labour would be damned – and deservedly so. Labour knows the thuggish underbelly of the SNP – they faced it during the referendum campaign. I hope, for short-term political advantage, they will not forget the nature of the party, nor its separatist aims.

In the referendum campaign, the SNP attacked Labour from the Left. From the Left. SNP support in Parliament would drag an already Left-leaning Labour Party further Left – to more taxes, more spending, more borrowing, more debt. Renewed chaos for the people of the United Kingdom.

I am an Englishman with a profound admiration and respect for Scotland. I warned – in 1992 and 1997 – that devolution would lead to separation, and my alarm grew when I saw the terms of Labour’s 1998 Devolution Bill. Yet, to appease Scottish demands, and for their own electoral advantage, Labour ignored all the risks. Devolution will kill separation stone dead, they said. It didn’t. Instead, it fuelled it. In the referendum, to their credit, Labour fought for the Union, although they wholly failed to acknowledge that the crisis was a direct result of their own policy. The Union was battered, but survived. Labour would lose all credibility if they put it all at risk again.

The anti-English fervour of the SNP ignores all that our nations have in common. It has bitten deep into English souls – not merely in the South, but in the North of England too, where Scottish advantages are deeply resented. The divisive SNP oratory is heard not only by Conservative Party activists, but by many millions of voters of all political views. Even the Scots hear the bitterness of the SNP and have registered it. Every action has a reaction – and a Labour-SNP alliance would fortify Conservative and Liberal-Democrat support for many years.

We have a tragedy in the making and, by that, I do not only mean this possible alliance of political enemies. I mean something far more basic: the alienation of the Scots from the English. I do not wish to see this, and ask the people of the United Kingdom to remember the SNP speak only for the minority of Scots.

Over the last 300 years, Scots have played a mighty role in the development of the UK and its overseas interests. They took a leading role in creating our modern world. Yet, during the last 30 years, separatist opinion has sought every opportunity systematically to abuse the English and – tolerant and slow to take offence as the English are – this is beginning to have an effect.

So Labour now have to make a choice. They must summon the courage of their convictions and declare their intent. The British people – North and South of the border – do not deserve to be misled. Labour must remove any doubt. If the outcome of the general election is inconclusive, will they refuse to govern with the support of a party whose principal aim is to break up the United Kingdom? Or will they make common cause with Liberal and Conservative opinion, and fight to keep it together?

On Saturday, the Labour Party will be in Edinburgh for their Scottish Conference. I hope they will use that occasion to declare their intent towards the separatists. Clearly and simply. No agreements. No private understandings. No deals of any kind.

It is in the interest of the whole of the United Kingdom – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – that Labour make their position on this explicit and beyond any doubt. They should have done so long before now. They cannot and must not delay any longer.