Ed Miliband’s caught between a rock and a hard place

Ed Miliband could be forgiven today for wistfully musing that Scottish independence at the end of last year wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world.

Never one to fear courting headlines, Alex Salmond was out in force yesterday. In an act of extraordinary chutzpah, the former SNP leader declared his party would use what looks likely to be a substantial Westminster presence to influence the Budget in the event of a Labour minority government.

You could almost hear Ed Miliband reaching for the paracetamol to tackle the latest headache Mr Salmond had inflicted on him. His mood will hardly have been lightened by reports that Len McCluskey, the General Secretary of Unite, is prepared to support rule changes that would allow Unite to back other political parties if Labour fails to win the general election.

While the weekend’s political news hasn’t been a picnic for either the Lib Dems or the Tories – both of whom continue to face questions over party funding and the conduct of individual parliamentary candidates – it’s arguably Labour who’ve come off worst with these dual announcements. The raft of party funding scandals of recent weeks, while serious, have not inflicted serious harm on any one party. Rather they have reinforced public disillusionment with the conduct of political parties en masse. And the conduct of individual candidates – while again serious – is unlikely to significantly affect the outcome of election, albeit that it may influence the vote in individual constituencies.

The problems for Ed Miliband are more acute. Labour’s response to Mr Salmond was an immediate and predictable assertion that the SNP influencing a Labour budget was as likely as David Cameron committing to a one-to-one debate. But it will have done little to convince voters in England, Wales and Northern Ireland that voting for Labour won’t result in the SNP calling the shots. Nor will it pacify any concerns that, current protestations to the contrary, Labour might enter into some of arrangement with the Scottish Nationalist in order to secure the keys to Downing Street.

If that is the proverbial rock for Ed Miliband, then the situation with Unite is the hard place. Labour continues to be financially reliant on the trade unions, and it’s common knowledge the Party would struggle to fund a second election campaign if a government can’t be formed in May. While ‘Red Len’s’ comments at the weekend might, ever so slightly, lessen the criticism aimed at ‘Red Ed’, the longer-term implications for the Parliamentary Labour Party are enormous.

The election campaign just got a bit more difficult for Labour.