CommonSpace columnist Fraser Stewart examines the direction of the SNP ahead of the Scottish elections in May
“SCOTTISH NATIONALISM is back where it belongs – in the sensible centre,” writes STV digital reporter politics Aidan Kerr , in what is perhaps the most bizarre defense of SNP tax policy thus far.
There are two glaringly disturbing aspects of this particular gambit. First, in the suggestion, yet again, that the SNP is all of Scottish nationalism. We grew tired of defending that appropriation during the referendum and we’re tired of combating the arrogance of it since.
Second, and most frustratingly, is the use of the phrase ‘the sensible centre’. Scottish nationalism was never a movement of the far left and Kerr is right to point out that Scotland is no more to the ideological left than the rest of the United Kingdom, but the Yes campaign was never ‘sensible’ – it was ambitious, courageous and more than a little romantic.
The Yes campaign was never ‘sensible’ – it was ambitious, courageous and more than a little romantic.
It was never about achieving more of the same on a smaller scale, and it was infinitely more exciting than sensible centre politics (the very phrasing of which oozes the essence of Blair minus the illusory aura of hope or ambition).
It was sensible in various justifications, perhaps, but the real attraction of the Yes movement lay in the overriding desire to create a brave and different Scotland.
Sensible, establishment politicking was precisely what we pitched ourselves against. The caricature of Westminster, as Fintan O’Toole expertly describes in the foreword to Gerry Hassan’s Caledonia Dreaming, was our natural antagonist: devoid of innovation and derelict of the ability to inspire.
Which is precisely why the notion of this very same ‘sensible centre’ being at the heart of popular Scottish nationalism is so thoroughly depressing. What we have now is an almost singularly pragmatic Scottish National Party; a pragmatism which has indeed served it well and transformed it into the election-winning machine we know today.
The notion of this very same ‘sensible centre’ being at the heart of popular Scottish nationalism is so thoroughly depressing. What we have now is an almost singularly pragmatic Scottish National Party.
But this pragmatism used to be compounded by an appetite for something bigger entirely, and not just relative to the constitution. There’s an important balance to be struck, between promoting the image of competent government and wishful thinking.
In this case, the SNP appears to have given up entirely on the latter. Its stance on taxation (among other things) echoes an all-too-familiar dearth of determination to challenge the status quo.
Perhaps the only thing more disheartening than this sensible swing itself are the warped and ill-considered justifications therefore, which brings us neatly back to Kerr’s article for STV last week.
Kerr writes of the “miraculous” low tax system implemented by Raegan in the 1980s with some gusto, ignoring the small matter of gross inequality born therefrom. He writes also in praise of Tory policy from 2012/13 whereby the 50p rate was reduced to 45p, more money was generated and suddenly all poverty and inequality ceased to exist.
America may have indeed boosted revenues, but the gap between richest and poorest has only ever grown out of all earthly proportion; the UK now equally so. This is because the school of theological liberalism sees the economy as the single most important aspect of governing any body of people – so long as those with money make more money, the rest of us will be fine.
While I don’t dispute the intention of the SNP, I take issue with its having to adopt the addled ‘trickle-down’ mindset to justify itself. There are fairer alternatives to the faux-meritocratic dogma of laissez-faire fundamentalism and many of them are substantially more prosperous.
But this pragmatism used to be compounded by an appetite for something bigger entirely, and not just relative to the constitution.
I thus see your Raegan revamp and raise you the high tax/high wage foundations of countless successful and sustainable nations the world over. It doesn’t have to be doctrinal socialism. In fact, I’d personally rather it wasn’t.
The SNP is in the fortunate position whereby its capacity to govern is uncompromised and the public perception thereof equally so. Now is the time to be bold and to challenge the narrow parameters of establishment thought.
Now is the time to push further the paradigm-shifting promises once synonymous with SNP ethos beyond the constitutional question alone. Now is not the time to get comfy and play it safe for the sake of securing a few extra seats. No, people don’t want to pay more tax. But that’s not best policy, that’s Mrs Thatcher’s statecraft.
Nobody is asking for the SNP to be dragged to the radical left. We know elections aren’t won that way. All we want is to drag it back in to the spirit of the revolution.
The CommonSpace opinion section is an open platform for anyone who wants to voice their views and does not represent the editorial position of CommonSpace itself. If you’d like to have a piece published, email CommonSpace editor Angela Haggerty at email@example.com
Picture courtesy of Scottish Government