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The SNP's Vision for Tartan Neoliberalism - Spectator Blogs

13 February 2013

3:19 PM

13 February 2013

3:19 PM

The SNP’s rise to power at Holyrood was predicated upon two useful qualities. First, the party has successfully contrived to appeal to different audiences without the contradictions in their doing so becoming either too blatantly apparent or too crippling. The SNP have targetted erstwhile Labour supporters in western Scotland at the same time as they have consolidated their power-base in distinctly non-socialist Aberdeenshire and Perthshire. This has been a good trick, played well.

Secondly, of course, they were not the Scottish Labour party.

Some 90% of SNP supporters profess themselves happy with Alex Salmond’s leadership. In one sense this is unsurprising. He has led them to within sight of the promised land. And, yet, such an approval rating – as measured by the most recent MORI poll – remains startling. Not least because it is increasingly evident that Mr Salmond and his finance minister John Swinney are on the right-wing of the nationalist movement.

Were the SNP to form the first government of an independent Scotland (something which is not, of course, assured) it may be that those keenest on independence might be those most disappointed by the outcome. And vice versa. That’s the subject of this week’s Think Scotland column:

Mr Swinney is sometimes referred to as a “safe pair of hands”. This is mildly patronising. He is rather more than that. The Finance Secretary is not a head-banging, delusional, dreamer. Or, as he put it last week, “I don’t envisage ­increases in personal taxation in an independent Scotland.”

[…]  The SNP’s economic and fiscal leadership is more neo-liberal than many independence supporters may care to think. Of course, the SNP is not led by socialists. This should cheer non-socialist Unionists. And it should remind these Unionists that the battle for Scotland is not only a matter of the Union versus independence but of socialism versus a more prosperous, non-socialist alternative.

Or, to put it another way, is a neo-liberal independent Scotland preferable to – and liable to be better-governed – than a Scotland that remains within the Union but is ruled by a Labour party in London led by a politician as lacking in imagination or nous as, well, say, Ed Miliband?

This is a question rarely asked. Can Scotland afford the return of a government in thrall to old-fashioned tax-and-spend politics? Not necessarily. This is not a brand of politics that has served Scotland surpassingly well in recent decades.

Independence might concentrate minds. As Crawford Beveridge’s Fiscal Commission reported this week, “An independent Scotland will need to establish its credibility on international financial markets to minimise its borrowing costs. This could be achieved by adopting a strategy for reducing public sector debt, and an effective budget constraint for the public finances.” Well, yes.

Mr Beveridge’s suggestions, commissioned by the Scottish Government, add weight to the notion that Scotland’s future lies as a low-tax, flexible, nimble, enterprise. It is not the Nordic future envisioned by some in which the state spends more than 50% of national income.

Of course perhaps Mr Beveridge, Mr Swinney and Mr Salmond are mistaken. They may be! Nevertheless it seems quite probable that cutting public spending – for one reason or another – will be one of the first tasks facing an independent Scotland.

The SNP are caught between promising the earth and reassuring voters that relatively little will change. Especially on tax. I fancy it is those who believe the earth comes cheap who will be disappointed by independence while those who presently suspect independence must be a disaster might be pleasantly surprised by the degree to which it proves to be something less than a disaster.

[…] The more immediate point is that Scotland just might – these things can never be guaranteed – be a more right-wing country, fiscally-speaking, than it presently is. Which leads, of course to this question: other than for reasons of sentiment (which reasons should not be dismissed) and assuming that Mr Swinney is speaking the truth, why should right-of-centre Scots be so afraid of independence?

Whole thing here.

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