Sturgeon’s speech: sound and fury, signifying… what?

Nicola Sturgeon.

Nicola Sturgeon.

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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7 thoughts on “Sturgeon’s speech: sound and fury, signifying… what?

  1. Neil Ross

    Can I remind you that Brown refused an offer from the SNP in 2010?
    The only party the SNP actively rule out doing a deal with are the Tories. But essentially, either Lab or Tory are going to need help to govern.

    Supposing there are very few Lab MPs returned from here, it’ll be because we’ve had enough of them. Scottish Labour doesn’t exist: it is solely an accounting unit of UK Lab. So any Scottish Lab MPs first priority is to what UK Lab wants. This doesn’t apply to SNP members, whose first priority is entirely Scottish.

    Besides, we did lose the referendum, and so we are still part of things; so why shouldn’t we go to WM and make ourselves heard? Why shouldn’t we postulate different economic ideas?

    Why shouldn’t we use the threat of sinking a Lab gov’t to get some concessions? Fracking? Nuclear weapons? Anything else? If you see it the way we do, great. If you don’t, you wouldn’t be representing the Scottish electorate. Not so great. Oops, vote of no confidence, New election please.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      The next person to send in a comment saying “Scottish Labour doesn’t exist, it’s an accounting unit of the national UK Labour Party; it’s a branch office” or any meaningful combination of those phrases will be banned from commenting again. We’ve all read enough of it; it’s meaningless in that it doesn’t stop there being a Labour Party in Scotland and dedicated to Scottish issues. Therefore it is a pointless message. I hope we’re clear on that.

      You are right that any Scottish Labour MP’s first priority is to what UK Labour wants; what you don’t take into account is that this includes whatever plans UK Labour has regarding Scotland, which will be based on local needs as described by members and representatives there. It’s not about being controlled remotely from Westminster – it’s about local issues being part of a nationwide strategy.

      Your last comments frame the problem exactly. “New election please” – and a British electorate, fed up with being messed around by Scottish demands about who-knows-what, votes the Tories in to shut them up.

      And then we’re all up the creek.

  2. Neil Ross

    So you would ban someone for pointing out a fact (verified by the Electoral Commission) wich is material to the debate, in the light of Johann Lamont’s resignation comments?

    It’s relevant in that the SNP, Scot Greens and SSP are much, much more in tune with what we want, than Lab are. How can they be, when they’re beholden to a party that is still in thrall to keeping Middle England’s votes? As far as those voters are concerned, they’re still swallowing the disprovable lie that we are subsidised. What hope do we Scots have?

    After Vow/Not A Vow/Super-Duper Vow, and watching the SLab contingent try to minimise the Smith report, what hope do we have that they’ll stand up for us? Very very little. We see it in our communities, where existing Lab MPs have failed, and still get voted in again. We see it when those people don’t vote in WM the way we want, and don’t even turn up half the time.

    And yet, we learned a lot in the last few years: we read, absorbed and understood things we didn’t know we needed to know, and which Lab MPs told us time and again not to worry our little heads about. (Actually the cadre of Scot Lib Dems are equally guilty on all charges, to be fair about it, but they’re in the firing line too.) Those three parties treated us fairly by and large, understood what we wanted and took it forward. Now the SNP have a chance to take it to the big stage.

    And do you know what? For the most part, we want the same as what you in Wales want. What good people in the Northeast and Northwest of England want. Anyone outside of the Southeast really. And like I say, nibbling at the edges or asking nicely isn’t going to cut it. We all need serious change and we need it soon. That’s what Nicola Sturgeon is on about.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      No, I’d ban someone for wasting everybody’s time.

      You’re not a Labour supporter, so of course they’re not in tune with what you want. You must not presume to speak for the whole of Scotland because you don’t. Your claim that Labour is “in thrall to keeping Middle England’s votes” is bizarre and suggests you do not understand the Labour Party. Scotland is subsidised – tax receipts are lower than spend. I’ve got a graph somewhere that I’ll try to add into this.

      I know nothing about Scottish Labour trying to minimise the Smith Commission’s report. Where was this reported? As you know, I’ve seen the Vow, the report and the command paper and have yet to find any evidence of anything being minimised, watered-down or whatever word is being used today. Don’t give us the nonsense about Scottish Labour MPs not turning up to vote in debates because that has been proved to be a lie too many times now.

      Maybe you do want the same as the rest of us, more or less. But lying to us isn’t going to convince us.

  3. Bookmanwales

    Unfortunately Labour being “in thrall to middle England” does seem to be the case. Recent comments such as limiting unemployment benefit for x period of time, compulsory jobs guarantee schemes (under threat of sanctions) , keeping to austerity and being just as tough on welfare show this only too clearly.

    All this rhetoric is not far removed from the Tories current position and is not inspiring confidence amongst Labour supporters no matter how positively one looks at it.

    A job for six months (Labour’s flagship policy) for 10 hrs a week on minimum wage is hardly curing unemployment, all it means is someone gets off the claimant count for 6 months before promptly being dumped once again, and again the taxpayer (that’s us) will pick up the bill.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      The claim that Labour will limit Jobseekers Allowance to a period of time is disingenuous as all those who would be affected would then be in work, according to the Jobs Guarantee, and being paid for it. There’s a bit of a difference between that and being sanctioned into the gutter by the Tories, wouldn’t you say? I notice that you have separated this from the jobs guarantee, which suggests that you haven’t grasped the meaning of what is being planned – or that you’ve swallowed the anti-Labour spin, which would be a shame. Are you at least aware that Labour would aim to ensure that people are offered jobs that are appropriate for them?
      The claim about “keeping to austerity” is again inaccurate as you must know by now. Labour has no intention whatsoever of sticking to Tory austerity plans. Perhaps you have been paying too much attention to the SNiPers on this page who feel it is their God-given duty to propagate this lie. Labour intends to get the deficit down, but at a slower pace than the Tories and with as little disruption to ordinary people’s lives as can possibly be managed. This too is a bit different from the Tories. The SNP also aims to get the deficit down, but at a slower pace again. UKIP and the Lib Dems have their own paces for the same end. They are all, therefore, parties of austerity as you are describing it.
      The phrase about being tough on welfare was debunked on this blog, for the umpteenth time, only a couple of days ago so I won’t give it any credence here at all. You should be ashamed of yourself for mentioning it.
      The aim of the six-month job – and you would know this if you had done some research – is to put the employee in a position to be offered a permanent job at the end of the placement. Don’t forget that Labour intends to raise the minimum wage, too.
      As for the taxpayer picking up the bill being a bad thing, you have been reading too much Tory rhetoric. Earlier this week another commenter was pointing out the true value of the welfare state in times of few jobs and you would do well to look it up and educate yourself.

  4. jim

    well said mike I’m fed up with the SNP liars because they are and scottish labour DOES exsist has he not seen the polls? jim murphy has made a difference scottish labour is making inroads it wont be as bad as they are putting out as for sturgeon has no idea what she is doing labour WONT be going into partnership with the snp (anything to get power she is getting desperate) there won’t be independence until the people want it not nicola and good old flag waving salmond she should stick to her fag packet promises we are starting to make inroads for the benefit of the whole of the uk and asking for votes but then wanting to help ED makes no bloody sense you may as well vote labour instead of the SNP she is another SNP leader who has no idea

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