Is David Cameron talking up the SNP as a naughty campaign tactic to hurt Labour? This morning the Prime Minister denied that charge in his Today programme interview, saying:
‘I don’t accept that; I’m fighting the nationalists in Scotland. Indeed, I’ll be there later today standing up for Conservative candidates who want a strong United Kingdom and also want our economy to continue to grow and continue to create jobs and all the other things the United Kingdom can do together.
‘But if you want to know, what would I do as prime minister on Friday to make sure our United Kingdom stays together, I would say let’s complete the work of devolution and have Scottish and indeed Welsh parliaments with tax-raising powers so they’re not just bodies responsible for spending money but actually responsible for raising it as well, which I think would help settle our devolution settlement down and make sure we maintain our United Kingdom.’
But the Tories have decided during this election campaign that talking more and more about the SNP really works on the doorstep. They have consciously decided to ratchet up the rhetoric on the nationalists, presumably considering the hit that their own party in Scotland will take both in the polls and in terms of a Unionist force in the future is worth it if they can just get over the line in this election.
Ruth Davidson has managed just about to stick to the line to take, distancing herself only from the most absurd language (she called Theresa May's claim that a Labour government backed by the SNP would be the 'biggest constitutional crisis since the abdication' a 'bit hyperbolic'). But this use of Scottish politics as a campaign tool must be deeply frustrating for a party leader trying to build up support for the Tories in Scotland.
Cameron did end up distancing himself from Boris Johnson's 'Ajockalypse Now!' comments in his Today interview. But he defended his own claim that Ed Miliband was engaged in a 'con trick', saying 'I’ll tell you why I think it’s a con trick, because what Ed Miliband is saying is ‘I’m not going to do a deal with the SNP, I won’t have an agreement with the SNP’, but actually he knows the only way he can become prime minister is with the backing of SNP Members of Parliament'.
After this election, though, there needs to be a concerted effort at rebuilding a pro-Union message on both sides of the border. Given the parties didn’t manage that after winning the referendum in September, they cannot just expect this to happen by chance after what looks set to be a much better night for the SNP on Thursday.