He’s been at it again: how many times has Ed Miliband ruled out the prospect of a coalition with the SNP when any such deal will clearly never be offered by Alex Salmond?
Salmond himself, just days after his independence referendum defeat when the polls were forecasting a nationalist landslide in Scotland come May, made it absolutely plain that he would only support a future Labour government on an issue by issue basis.
The reason is because he knows that Labour could never contemplate giving up Trident at the behest of the SNP and then hope to hold credible power at Westminster; there would be another general election within weeks.
But he would very happily pull the strings when required and demand his version of Devo-Max, for example, which he hopes Labour would find impossible to oppose if they wanted to remain in government.
Alas, poor old Ed foolishly took weeks to think about it and by saying nothing stoked the coalition speculation —only to realise that he was suddenly on the losing end of a highly-effective Conservative poster campaign which portrays him as small-time player in Salmond’s top pocket.
With this image slapped across the south east of England, the latest Conservative You Tube attempt to ridicule him has Salmond playing a penny whistle as Ed dances to his tune like a demented puppet.
So yesterday in Clydebank, Ed took yet another opportunity to repeat his firm determination that any attempt by Salmond to come crawling to him with potentially 50 Westminster MPs, in the hope of getting a seat in cabinet, would be refused.
This was despite Salmond again making his position absolutely clear when he appeared on the Andrew Marr programme 24 hours earlier and said that the only coalition he would consider was one with the Welsh nationalists and the Greens —an electoral pact to campaign against austerity.
If Ed really wants to run the show, he’d better start coming up with ideas which can convince voters that he has what it takes because, right now, the people aren’t hearing him which is the reason he must repeatedly rule out an SNP coalition…which the Nats had already ruled out themselves.
The general election campaign hasn’t officially started yet but can there be any doubt that it’s going Salmond’s way and that nothing is going to stop the SNP bandwagon; their party membership has now passed the 100,000 mark.
Put bluntly, this means that six in every 100 Scots is an SNP supporter while only one in every 32,000 Scots supports Labour, a calculation which just 10 years ago would have been deemed impossible even to contemplate.
Salmond has now become the most feared politician in the land upstaging and overtaking the UKIP leader Nigel Farage.
Even the most pompous politician of them all, the LIb-Dem peer Lord Ashdown, has been having a go at Salmond by ridiculing his book The Dream Will Never Die as an exercise in “literary masturbation” which is not a bad line for a man who was once caught In Fragante Delicto which his own trousers down.
Salmond’s retort was that more people queued to buy his book in Aberdeen last week compared to the number who attended the Scottish Lib Dem party conference in the same city, an observation borne out by the rows of empty seats seen on television during the keynote speeches.
Meanwhile, the Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy is attempting to rewrite history by suggesting that the SNP would not dare to vote against Labour because they would be repeating their treachery of 1979 when the party plotted to help Mrs Thatcher enter 10 Downing Street.
Perhaps it’s just as well most voters this time round will have no memory of Labour’s Winter of Discontent during 1978-79 when the hapless Callaghan government couldn’t even get the dead buried as public service unions went on strike and brought the nation to a shuddering halt.
With just six weeks to go before polling day, it’s possible that the SNP has peaked too early and will be held back by a late onslaught from Labour but, frankly, this seems highly unlikely.
Far from being defeated in last September’s referendum, Salmond is reaching heights which even he never dreamed of making this the most exciting UK election since Churchill was turfed out in favour of Atlee in 1945.
Just to keep on rubbing it in, Salmond’s latest book event is at the George Hotel in Edinburgh tomorrow night (Wednesday March 24) starting at 6.30.
Tickets are priced at £15 but you also get the book (RRP £12.99) thrown in. Those who wish to simply hear The Great Man speak about his adventures will be charged £5.
Needless to say…the event is sold out.