WITH Scottish Labour smelling blood, a debate within SNP ranks about to confront its main opposition was inevitable.

After the First Minister denounced Keir Starmer’s Labour Party as “a replica” of the Tories, his colleague Stewart McDonald publicly dissented, warning that telling people that Westminster’s biggest parties “are the same won’t get us far".

We must show we can answer the economic, social and global insecurities reaching into every community.”

In truth, both have a point

Taking a long view, no government in British democratic history has proven so calamitous. The cheerleaders of New Labour and Thatcherism can both recite what they consider to be their proud achievements: Yet what is the record of the Tory administrations?

A fall in living standards without precedent since the Battle of Waterloo, stagnant growth, disintegrating public services, falling life expectancy and a bitterly divided kingdom: This is their lot. They will be remembered for chaos: That’s it.

Our governing party is in the grip of a form of migrant-bashing demagoguery you would normally expect from far-right movements. Labour’s current offer includes, among other things, a £28 billion investment in climate measures, scrapping the non-dom tax rule and adding VAT to private school fees, none of which the Tories would ever match.

But there has, nonetheless, been a dramatic convergence between the parties on policy, thanks to Keir Starmer reneging on his leadership election promises.

Both are opposed to hiking taxes on the rich and big business further.

Both believe that utilities such as energy should remain owned by profiteers, and that England should remain the world’s only nation to have a fully privatised water industry, even as it churns out excrement into our rivers and seas.

Both believe young people should be driven into tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt for daring to dream of a university education, a social good from which we all benefit.

Both believe in harsh treatment of migrants and refugees.

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It would be deceitful to deny there is now a broad consensus on critical issues.

This is reminiscent of what was known as “Butskellism” in the 1950s, referring to the convergence between Tory chancellor Rab Butler and Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell. At least that racket was on the terms of the Labour, given that it involved accepting widespread nationalisation, high taxes on the rich and strong trade unions.

Not so today

Margaret Thatcher once remarked that Tony Blair was her greatest achievement, and were she alive today, she would have no reason to fear a meaningful reversal of the political and economic settlement that she established.

Labour are now run by devotees of Tony Blair, but it’s not even the political formula of 1997 they are attached to: That combination of a windfall tax on privatised utilities, the minimum wage and devolution was more ambitious than their current offer.

No, they hark back to the latter half of his administration, which centres on marketising public services and allying with the US hard-right to devastate Iraq. To say they don’t have answers to the crises defining a country in its greatest turmoil since the war is an understatement.

Where McDonald is clearly right is that simply decrying the convergence between Labour and the Tories only takes you so far.

The National: Glasgow MP Stewart McDonald said the move was ‘a real concern’

For example, Scotland’s child poverty rates remain at the same level as when the SNP took power 16 years ago: It’s not just a lack of devolved powers to blame.

Labour have every chance of securing a majority because of these factors in order of importance: The disastrous Liz Truss experiment, the cost of living crisis, the NHS in England, relentless political scandal and turmoil at the top and the Tories’ anti-immigrant rhetoric fused with high levels of immigration infuriating their base.

Throw in anti-Tory tactical voting, and a question mark over how the SNP’s current troubles will end, and a path to an outright Labour win is clear.

But in a hung Parliament, other options open up

If they’re canny, SNP MPs can pressure a Labour government to go further than it wanted on public investment, and repealing Tory laws Starmer has pledged to retain. It could have another important role, too. Both Labour and the Tories are in the grip of authoritarians.

In the case of Starmer, he reneged on promises of party unity to smash the Labour left, stitching up parliamentary selections to block almost anyone who believes in public ownership, higher taxes on the rich, or scrapping tuition fees.

He’s called for the authoritarian Public Order Act to be bedded in, and demanded the Government go further in cracking down on climate protesters.

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Commitments to give power away are rather undermined by, for example, an attempt to impose a council leader on Birmingham. In a hung Parliament, the SNP could block this authoritarianism, empower demands for a greater devolution of power – and not just to Scotland – and endorse proportional representation at Westminster level.

So yes, it’s true that Labour and the Tories are not the same: But the gap has become much too small, and neither leader believes in democratic freedoms.

The SNP’s primary cause will always be independence, of course, but they could yet play a historic role across the whole of these islands.