NICOLA STURGEON FACES two thorny problems that will continue to cast doubt on her leadership. One is the ongoing inquiry into her Government’s handling of the Salmond affair; the other is restlessness over the SNP’s strategy for achieving independence. For all the furore over Salmond, I take the view that the second problem could be substantially bigger than the first. However, for now, both issues are subsumed in the public mind by the question of managing the pandemic. And here, in the shadow of May’s election, the news is (superficially) good for the SNP.
According to a Savanta ComRes poll for the Scotsman, nearly half of Scottish voters believe the vaccination process is going well, while just one-in-five say it has gone badly. The poll also shows that, while pessimism remains the overriding story, anxieties over the economy and education are easing.
Perceptions are inevitably coloured by party-political affiliations. A massive 64 percent of SNP voters believe the vaccinations are going well; an equally disproportionate 48 percent of Scottish Tory voters believe they are going badly. But those numbers also suggest that the Scottish Government takes the bulk of credit when the vaccine rollout goes well. And there is further good news on that front, as Scotland (22.98%) has passed England (22.85%) in terms of first doses of the vaccination, although both lag behind Wales (24.89%).
Sturgeon was able to announce that “pretty much everybody” in care homes had received a first dose. (Care homes, of course, bore the brunt of Scotland’s early phase of the pandemic.) Equally, “close to 100%” of over-80s living in the community and around 99 percent of those aged 75-79 have had their first injection.
Later today, there will be announcements on the potential easing of lockdown restrictions. We are told to expect little “imminent” change (see below). However, we could see the beginnings of a phased return to school, with a full return mooted for P1s to P3s and some limited classroom work for older pupils.
As I have argued before, the surprising feature of our last twelve months has been the public’s willingness to adhere to restrictions. Libertarian resistance has gained little traction. The vaccination process, equally, has met with little opposition, despite lurid speculation about mass anti-vaxx sentiment, which, like so much of our politics today, was largely an anti-populist spectre in the mind of the liberal middle class. With few exceptions, the public has responded positively when messaging has been clear.
So, reasons to be cheerful? If we are heading towards the end of this tunnel, we are simply progressing towards collision with the bigger challenge of managing the economic fallout. I have not mentioned this among Sturgeon’s looming problems, because the challenge transcends the SNP, Scotland and our national question. It cuts across capitalism as a civilisation.
Nonetheless, if an independence referendum was a serious prospect, addressing the economic challenges would be first priority. The Sustainable Growth Commission model is already a historical relic, a nineties throwback that was dubious a year ago and frankly meaningless after the completion of Brexit and vast spending on the pandemic.
That problem of economic vision is basically the problem of independence. And we can register the SNP’s seriousness about the latter by their willingness to address the pending collapse of capitalist economics. Politically, good news on the vaccination might take us to May’s election – but what happens next is anyone’s guess.