With the Programme for Government due tomorrow in Scotland, it’s a good time to take a look at the state of politics.
A poll over the weekend showed Labour are now neck and neck with the Tories, with the Conservatives managing to squander a 26 point lead in the space of five months. When Johnson imposed a full lockdown near the end of March, the Tories were on 54 per cent, but anyone who thought the ‘national unity’ Churchillian guff was going to survive the pandemic crisis was naive in the extreme. Backbench Tory MPs, preparing to come back to the House of Commons after the summer break, are publicly venting about the repeated mistakes and U-turns of the Johnson regime, which has had a very bad crisis.
“Too often it looks like this government licks its finger and sticks it in the air to see which way the wind is blowing,” Charles Walker, vice-chair of the influential backbench 1922 committee, said.
The backbenchers have been further aggrieved by reports that Chancellor Rishi Sunak is planning to hike taxes on the wealthy. An increase in corporation tax from 19 to 24 per cent, increasing capital gains tax so its levied at the same rate as income tax could raise as much as £30 billion, and appear to be taken straight out of Labour’s General Election manifesto last year. Sunak wants to claw back some cash after the furlough splurge, but these are measures that won’t be popular among the Tory base of speculators and spivs.
So Boris is under pressure, but he’s not likely to be vanquished like his former Scottish counter-part, Jackson Carlaw, was, at least not yet. Johnson is due to visit Scotland again soon to try to bolster the profile of Number 10’s new man in Scotland, Douglas Ross MP, who may be given the honorary title “deputy minister for the Union” by the Cabinet, just to make him sound a bit more special. Ross will today unveil a transport and infrastructure investment proposals based on joint Scottish and UK Government investment, akin to the City Growth Deals. He wants to create a “Scottish dynamo” to compete with the “Northern Powerhouse”, the term used to describe the Tories largely rhetorical proposals for infrastructure investment in the north of England and the Midlands.
It makes sense for Ross to align proposals for the Scottish economy with Treasury fire-power, but of course Nicola Sturgeon will simply retort: ‘Show me the money’. Whatever Ross can propose to do with Treasury pounds, Sturgeon can too. The SNP leader is riding high in the polls going into the Programme for Government, but tomorrow’s announcement still comes with some pressure, being the last of this parliamentary term before May’s election, and the first since the pandemic crisis. The SNP’s huge poll lead means there is no excuse not to be ambitious, and she has promised a “radical” set of proposals which will “address many of the deep seated challenges our country faces”.
An 18.9 per cent fall in output since March means we are in “the deepest recession in living memory”, according to the Fraser of Allander Institute, while child poverty rates are “set to rocket”, according to the Poverty and Inequality Commission. So this really should be a Programme for Government like no other, introducing immediate measures which turn over the country’s resources to meeting social need. And if Sunak can ask the rich to pay more for the greater good, why can’t Sturgeon? It will be interesting to see how brave the First Minister is tomorrow.
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