The leader of the Scottish National Party gave a speech in London yesterday, as has been noted in the mainstream media. This writer had intended to run a piece about it on Vox Political, but other matters pushed it back. At the behest of SNP-supporting readers, here’s what would have appeared – although I really don’t think they’re going to like it…
The speech could not hide the fact that the SNP and its supporters are going to have to go through some pretty rigorous mental acrobatics, if they’re going to make other people feel justified in voting for that party in the general election. Their only chance of having any effect at all is an alliance of some sort with Labour – and they have made this problematic for themselves.
“It may be a tricky message to get across to Scottish voters,” wrote Douglas Fraser on the BBC News website: “‘Vote SNP to kick out your Labour MP, because Scottish Labour has failed and is out of touch – and then watch the SNP put Ed Miliband into Downing Street’.” He’s exactly right – but it’s actually worse than that.
The SNP is appealing for Scottish people’s votes with dire claims about Labour in Scotland – but it is not the Scottish branch of the Labour Party that would be in power in Westminster if Scotland did vote Labour – it’s the national Labour Party; and it is the national Labour Party that the SNP would be supporting, even if only on a ‘confidence and supply’ basis. Why not just vote Labour?
“Ah!” say the SNP and its supporters. “Because we can demand concessions that benefit Scotland and the journey to Scottish independence!” But any Scottish MP who places the good of Scotland over the good of the whole UK will be derelict in their duty and – in case anyone hasn’t noticed – Scotland only just voted against independence in a referendum. What’s being proposed is divisive and could make any government existing on such a basis extremely short-lived. No wonder Labour backbenchers are so disturbed at the possibility.
Ms Sturgeon’s claim that “austerity economics” is “morally unjustifiable and economically unsustainable” is inarguable, though. This blog has been saying it for years, and it is pleasant to hear a mainstream politician coming out with it.
But what’s her response? £180 billion more spending than the Coalition between now and 2020. Hmm. The Conservative Party is expecting to make cuts of at least – at least – £33 billion. It means the SNP would spend £147bn more than the Tories are spending now – around £29.4bn a year.
Mr Fraser wrote: “The SNP message to Scottish voters is that Labour has signed up to the same austerity measures deemed necessary by incumbent Conservatives, and instead, the SNP offers higher spending.” But that simply isn’t true. Labour is projecting cuts of £7 billion (although this may change once Ed Balls has a chance to see the books). There’s a big difference between £33 billion of cuts and £7 billion. Labour is not the party of austerity that Ms Sturgeon and the SNP are claiming.
And Labour wants to stimulate the economy in order to pay down the deficit in any case. If tax returns rise, then the deficit can come down. If they rise significantly, then spending can increase and the deficit will still come down – and then there’s no need for the SNP plan, which is still about austerity; just at a slower rate.
Even worse, going back to Mr Fraser again: “If you increase spending, unless tax returns take an unexpected hike, then your deficit will rise. And so long as you run a deficit, your debt keeps going up. Servicing a growing debt takes more and more out of your budget.
“You also want to avoid showing a lack of commitment to fiscal discipline costing you more in the money markets. As Greeks are now being reminded, bond traders charge a high price for uncertainty and deficit defiance.”
Faced with all that, Ms Sturgeon’s proposals seem – while hopeful – politically naïve. They rely on an economic upturn that puts money into the pockets of the masses, rather than the rich – and we’re all in favour of that, I’m sure – but at a speed that may be unrealistic. If it is, then she would set the UK racing to pay up the interest on its debts, while tempting the wrath of the credit agencies and bond traders.
One of the myths about Scotland is that its people are very canny about money. What would these Scots think of Ms Sturgeon’s plan?
Apart from that, it was a terrific speech. She said she did not believe “any economic policy can be seen as a success when it has caused such severe anxiety and misery to so many of our most vulnerable citizens.” Absolutely right. The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have let us all down and should be punished at the polls.
“The current UK Government’s economic policy has failed even on its own terms. It has failed to reduce the deficit as planned, and it has failed even more comprehensively to rebalance the economy.” Again, absolutely right – unless you think economic rebalancing includes ensuring money that would have gone to the masses now goes to the ‘one per cent’ instead, from which they then donate freely to the Conservative Party. That’s what the last five years have been about.
“But what the UK Government is now telling us is this: austerity hasn’t worked, so we need even more of it.”
She said: “The cuts have had a disproportionate effect on women, people with disabilities and people on low incomes. The most vulnerable are bearing the heaviest burden. This human cost is in itself too high a price to pay for current policies.” Again, exactly right – and it is welcome to see the SNP actually attacking the parties responsible for causing the misery, for a change.
So what did the speech achieve, in real terms?
Not a lot.
There was a great deal of sound and fury, especially at the human cost of austerity, but the plan to ease the burden on the poor is potentially hugely dangerous for the UK’s economic future. Not only that, but it could only take place via some form of alliance with a Labour Party that the SNP has busily vilified over a very long period of time.
The intention might be good but – with these plans – the SNP will be very hard to trust.
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