“How deep is Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dudgale’s social democratic commitment?”

I don’t share David’s view of the Spanish election result. The most remarkable thing (apart from the low turnout increased turnout, actually) is how poorly Podemos performed compared to expectations earlier in the year. The limited returns from Syriza’s pitch in Greece perhaps coloured expectations?

Scotland by contrast got its play for freedom in earlier, with a promise of radical change which set the country alight, and in the process all but burning down Labour’s Scottish mansion.

In the great column for the Sunday Mail Gerry Hassan talked about the emergent conservativism which is quietly displacing some of that radical talk, and looking unsettlingly like the fatalism of the old Scottish Labour establishment…

Scotland is in a strange place. The SNP have positioned ­themselves as the party of Scotland’s interests. Labour are lost, regrouping and confused. The Tories have a niche but little more. The Lib Dems self-destructed years ago. The Greens are the only party ­challenging any of this, with a distinctive, ­coherent message, but firmly on the margins.

Despite the inflated rhetoric, underneath it all Scotland’s mainstream parties are fiscal conservatives and ­intellectual and political ones too.

They know voters like the idea of ­Scotland being distinctive. They know they like the warm words “social justice” but won’t do anything to make it happen, like taking significantly more from wealthy and affluent voters. They are all in hock to middle class interests and professional groups but with the exception of the Tories, pretend otherwise.

This could be a description of the Labour Scotland of the 1980s but it is the climate of today’s post-referendum SNP-dominated politics. Life after “the Big Bang” that was Scotland’s democratic explosion looks rather like it did before – business as usual, complacency and smugness, while people in SNP and Labour portray themselves as having long-term radical intentions.

Scotland has become a land of fiscal, intellectual and political conservatism, which begs the question, how deep is Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dudgale’s social democratic commitment?

In the SNP’s case the new overwhelming mandate they can expect at the next Holyrood elections in May may give them the impetus to start innovating new policy approaches to some of Scotland’s inveterate social exclusion and public health issues.

But as Hassan notes:

This is a safety first social justice world, where all the main parties mouth compassion and solidarity, with even the Tories trying to distance themselves from their wicked cousins down south.

Sadly, no one wants to confront any of the big issues, such as slow economic growth, structural divisions and ­inter-generational and social mobility gridlock. These are just too difficult for anyone – with the SNP able to blame Westminster and everyone else.

This has become a bit of a pattern. This week the commission on local tax reform reported. After more than 40 detailed meetings and thousands of ­consultations, they avoided coming up with a single clear recommendation.

Instead, they undertook research, offered a direction of travel, and weighed up options post-council tax.

Scotland is not alone ]. As noted by Richard Wynne Jones earlier in the year, most politics in Wales revolves around the same class of emotional marketing which promises change but which then carefully purges legislation of the possibility of having an effect.

  • Scots Anorak

    I think that we have to be slightly wary of Gerry’s columns for the Sunday Mail, which are written very specifically for a Labour-supporting payer of pipers — and are often a somewhat garbled reflection of his own, themselves slightly garbled, views as a result. It would be a brave neutral observer who suggested that Labour in Scotland had reached the stage of “regrouping”, for example. For that to happen in the short term, the party would have to do much more: split from PPE-graduate Labour in London; and embrace Home Rule, perhaps even in the name of the party.

    Many of those who expressed disappointment at John Swinney’s budget were labouring under the misapprehension that he could actually have raised the higher rate of income tax while maintaining or lowering the standard rate. He could not, for the form of income tax devolution under the Calman proposals expressly linked the two, very likely to ensure that the new “power” could not be used and thus provide a stick to beat the SNP. We saw the same nonsense in the not yet fully implemented Smith Report, which proposed devolving abortion (because the Scots might fall out about that) but not broadcasting (which I believe would have proved a resounding democratic and cultural success). And that sums up the Unionist approach to Scotland: trying to be clever and ending up looking duplicitous.

  • kensei

    I for the life of me can’t see the comparison between the SNP and the Left parties that have arisen in Europe in response to austerity. The SNP was on an upward curve far beyond the current crash, occupying solid centre left ground that Labour abandoned as it moved right. If anything, the crash weakened the SNPs prospects of achieving it’s aim – it lent heavily on the “ring of prosperity” and the previously successful Euro as an answer to the currency question. it is shockingly intellectually lazy to make the comparison. I mean there is some mileage with SF, but even they have roots far deeper than most of the other leftist parties that have arisen. Corbyn’s Labour have more in common.

    Seems to be the SNP is the Labour party everyone says they want. Rhetorically strong, have used their power to tame the worst excesses of the Tory austerity drive (see tax, bedroom) but relatively cautious in approach and keen to remain business friendly. The same commentators are freaking out at the more radical approach embodied by Corbyn.

    As for Podemos, whatever the polls said, it’s basically unheard of for parties to go from 0 to government – Greece was in the most chaos and still rolled back form truly radical alternatives. Once you accept that, the amount of needle they moved is till impressive. I’m more interested in the long term story – if Europe gets another decade of what they have now, it’s going to spin off in more and more unpredictable directions. A boat will rock before the waves capsize it. Europe is definitely rocking.