Last week’s election debate provided an introduction to Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon for many voters south of the border. They may be seeing much more of her in the months ahead — despite Labour ruling out a coalition, polls indicate that some form of informal deal with her Scottish National Party may be Ed Miliband’s only route into No 10.
Ms Sturgeon’s much-advertised hostility to austerity provides some clues as to the price the SNP will try to extract for its support. But what impact might it have on a Labour government’s foreign policy?
One statistic speaks volumes. The Scottish government issued double the number of statements during last summer’s six week-long war in Gaza than it had during the previous three years of conflict in Syria.
That is hardly surprising — former first minister Alex Salmond’s position on Israel is well known. He was an early supporter of an arms embargo on Israel during Operation Protective Edge, while in 2010, he backed economic sanctions against Israel, terming its interception of the Mavi Marmara, the ship attempting to break the blockade of Gaza, “an atrocity on the high seas”.
Mr Salmond is hardly a yesterday’s man. Scottish Parliament member Ms Sturgeon is not standing for a seat at Westminster. With polls indicating Mr Salmond should comfortably succeed in his bid to return to the Commons, expect him to play a key role in relaying the SNP’s demands to Mr Miliband.
Ms Sturgeon’s own inclinations are not hard to discern. Last August she agreed to headline a Stop the War coalition Women for Gaza rally in Glasgow. That she would be appearing alongside the former journalist and Respect party candidate, Yvonne Ridley, who had days earlier called for a “Zionist-free Scotland”, did not seem to unduly concern the then-deputy first minister.
Mr Miliband would, no doubt, disown such rhetoric. But there are some potentially easy trades he could make with the SNP. Having whipped his MPs to support it last autumn, for instance, it is not hard to see him following the lead of Sweden’s Social Democrats who, days after winning power in October 2014, unilaterally recognised a Palestinian state.
The SNP’s views on the Middle East beyond Israel are equally worrying. Last August, its MPs joined Labour’s hard left in voting against air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq. Last month, its current leader in Westminster, Angus Robertson, made clear his party would attempt to nudge Mr Miliband toward an anti-interventionist foreign policy, citing “the joint approach we took on Syria” as an example.
Ms Sturgeon will receive another moment in the national limelight next week when, alongside Mr Miliband, she participates in the televised “challengers” debate . Foreign policy was, predictably, ignored in the leaders’ debate last week. Perhaps this time we will get to hear what she has to say on the subject.