SNP will continue to take Scotland on a steady fiscally ‘conservative’ course…

Very perceptive take from Professor Paul Cairney on where the SNP is after their conference. The reality is there will be no second push for a referendum until the answer is likely to be significantly different (an expression of doubt that the new converts to the SNP would trundle happily into the Yes lobby this time).

Nor will there be any sharp move towards the Nordic model of social democracy. (For a start the money is not there.) Paul notes clear fiscal policy of the SNP in a speech to be given by John Swinney:

…Scotland’s equivalent of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, confirms that the SNP likes to combine ‘social democratic’ ideas on spending, but strategies on taxation that would generally not look out of place in George Osborne’s Red Box. Swinney will propose to give local authorities the power to reduce rates of business tax (well in advance of Osbourne granting the same powers in England).

This initiative follows a series of speeches by Alex Salmond, while First Minister, which suggested that the SNP would also like to reduce corporation taxes and airport charges, to increase economic competitiveness and encourage inward investment. It also reinforces the SNP Government’s decision to (effectively) ‘freeze’ the rates of council tax, which remain the more regressive option than its previous plans to introduce a local income tax, and likely aversion to raising income tax (the most toxic taxation instrument) in any meaningful way.

In that context, the economic lines between a Conservative UK government and SNP Scottish Government are far less clear than we might deduce from the vociferous debates that took place during the referendum debate in 2014 and were repeated in the run up to the UK general election.

Indeed, the biggest dividing lines were in areas that the SNP knew it could not control – when it argued for an alternative to ‘austerity’ and a slower rate of budget cuts to allow for economy boosting investment – which make the differences seem more rhetorical than substantive. [Emphasis added]

Convenient that. As Torcuil Creighton argued before the first IndyRef, the parallels with De Valera’s maxim that Labour Must Wait (a line which later was substantially mythologised as the actual reason Labour failed in Ireland)  are striking. Not least when you examine the policy detail:

In cases where the SNP has demanded more powers successfully, its actions tend to relate to ‘hot button’ issues, such as its intention to mitigate the effects of the ‘bedroom tax’. Rather than propose a major reform of tax and benefit provision to get to the ‘root causes’ of socio-economic inequalities via redistribution, it talks instead about the use of public service delivery to mitigate their effects.

This strategy relies largely on public service reforms, localism, and the idea of ‘prevention’ policies – to intervene as early as possible in people’s lives to improve their life chances, through interventions such as parenting programmes – which are also promoted by the UK Government. Further, these strategies generally come in second place behind the higher profile spending decisions which often exacerbate inequalities.

For example, the SNP Government maintains free tuition fees in Universities which, in the absence of redistributive fiscal policy, and the continued presence of an attainment gap, doubly reinforces major inequalities in education.

It has to be said that the SNP will be given a very broad licence to fail in these regard, as was Labour before them. That may be a reflection of the sheer scale of the problem of social exclusion that lies ahead. People need change they can believe in after all.

For now, Independence (or the dream of it) appears to be it:

As long as independence remains the main reported story of SNP conferences, and the SNP remains unusually popular, few will pay meaningful attention to these socio-economic policy issues.

 

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty