Alex Salmond was accused last night of making a “deeply sinister” threat to try to force out the Conservatives and lead to the installation of a Labour government in a post-election hung parliament using procedures that could involve no negotiations and no deal with Ed Miliband.
The former Scottish first minister, who is standing for Westminster, pledged to lock David Cameron out of Downing Street by saying he would be “voting down” any Conservative minority government and use provisions in the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act that would allow Labour to try to form a government.
But the Tories said such a manoeuvre would amount to sabotaging the will of the British people.
The warnings were issued after Salmond told the New Statesman that the SNP, which is on course to become the third-largest party at Westminster, believes the fixed-term parliament could lead to the creation of an effective SNP-Labour block even if Miliband kept his distance from the nationalists.
Under Salmond’s scenario, Cameron would initially remain as prime minister in a hung parliament in which the Tories would be the largest party. But the prime minister would lose a vote on the Queen’s speech if the SNP and Labour voted against the Conservatives because their combined votes would be higher than the number of Tories. This would then trigger a no-confidence motion in the government which Cameron would also lose.
Under the terms of the fixed term parliament, a 14-day grace period would then be triggered, at the end of which a potential prime minister has to win a confidence motion. This could be Cameron or a new Tory leader. But Salmond would hope that Miliband could win this vote because the SNP would at this stage back Labour.
Salmond told the New Statesman: “The Tories would have to go straight effectively for a vote of confidence, usually the Queen’s Speech, although it could be otherwise, of course, and we’d be voting against. So if Labour joins us in that pledge, then that’s Cameron locked out.
“And then under the [Fixed-Term] Parliaments Act that Westminster parliament’s passed but nobody seems to have read, you’d then have a two-week period to form another government. Of course you want to form another government because this might be people’s only chance to form another government.”
Bob Neill, the Conservative party deputy chairman, said: “This is a deeply sinister threat from Alex Salmond, who would do whatever it took to put Ed Miliband in Downing Street and under his command. The policy demands he’s made public – higher taxes, uncontrolled immigration and uncertainty over Trident – would cause chaos for Britain. We just don’t know what else he would squeeze out of weak Ed Miliband.”
The SNP’s chief spokesman confirmed Salmond’s proposal was part of the party’s strategy to impose its influence after the election, and was an extension of Nicola Sturgeon’s view that Cameron could be “locked out of Downing Street” by a large enough group of anti-Tory MPs.
Labour sources said Salmond was guilty of hypocrisy. In April 2007, three weeks before he formed the SNP’s minority government in Holyrood, Salmond insisted that the largest party had the right to form the government. Under his scenario outlined in the New Statesman, Cameron would be leader of the largest party.
Professor Adam Tomkins, an expert on constitutional law at the University of Glasgow and a Tory delegate to the Smith commission on extra powers for Scotland, said Salmond’s gambit was “designed to anger the English. Salmond is being very clever”.
Tomkins said Salmond was modelling the strategy on moves by Charles Stewart Parnell, Irish nationalist leader whose Irish Parliamentary Party used disruptive tactics and filibustering in the Commons in the 1880s to anger British politicians.
“[Salmond] wants the English to give him what he wants, with his fun and games, just to get the English to say bugger off. The threat for us Scottish unionists is that the English aren’t ready for this and the English will overreact in the way that Salmond calculates. He’s going to carry on doing this for as long as he possibly can.”
Labour saw Salmond’s intervention – followed by the quick Tory response – as another example of what Miliband described in a speech in Clydebank this week as an “unholy alliance” to keep Cameron in power. A Labour source said: “The SNP and the Conservative party have a shared interest in deeply damaging the Labour party in Scotland.”
A Labour spokesperson said in response to Salmond’s New Statesman interview: “This is not a news story. Alex Salmond has been saying this for months, the only way to get rid of the Tory government is to vote Labour.”