It’s been a decade since the SNP faced any real opposition and it shines through in their manifesto.
For the past ten years, the Nationalists have coasted, their gravity-defying poll numbers affording them the luxury of defining their opponents and steering clear of difficult decisions. Now Professor Newton has caught up with them and they are struggling to keep their heads above water.
Their 2017 manifesto is the rickety canoe they have fashioned to keep themselves afloat. Independence hasn’t quite been thrown overboard so much as shoved into the hull in that hope that no one notices.
In the foreword to yesterday’s publication, Nicola Sturgeon writes: ‘A vote for the SNP will also strengthen Scotland’s right to choose our own future. This election won’t decide whether or not Scotland will become independent – but a vote for the SNP will reinforce the right of the Scottish Parliament to decide when a referendum should happen.’
You know she means it because she’s scrawled her signature underneath. This is one of these promises she intends to keep. It’s about independence, after all, not something trivial like cancer waiting times or those 4,000 teachers they’ve lost since 2007. But Miss Sturgeon must perform a balancing act, deploying language lawyerly in its crafty precision to convince soft No voters they can back the SNP without bringing another divisive referendum crashing down on their heads — all the while using the magic words ‘democratic mandate’ so she has room for manoeuvre in the future should the polls shift.
So the First Minister’s manifesto — the rank and file might have got to pick the colour of the glossy pages, but that’s about it — sets out a ‘triple lock’ for Indyref 2. The first lock was the SNP’s victory in the 2016 election (yes, the one where they lost overall control of the Scottish Parliament). Lock two was Holyrood voting for a second referendum (poor Patrick Harvie didn’t even get so much as a thank you) while the third lock would be the SNP winning a majority of Scottish seats on June 8.
This is the second triple lock Miss Sturgeon has enunciated on independence. The original specified public support, victory on a pro-independence manifesto, and a Yes vote in a second plebiscite as the conditions for achieving separation. The First Minister has taken a bolt-cutter to the public opinion lock because poll after poll shows the voters are agin all this constitutional argle-bargle.
At this point, it no longer matters whether Miss Sturgeon sets out three locks, six locks or Fort Knox; nothing will stand in her way when it comes to independence — no promise, no principle, no public opposition. Unionists may find this frustrating but they should actually welcome the SNP’s inveigling, for it makes clear that the only way to stop separation is to defeat SNP MPs — and eventually remove the Nationalists from government in Holyrood.
The singular obsession with the constitution has taken its toll in a manifesto that is a tepid retread in some places and a summersault of inconsistencies in others.
The paper boldly asserts: ‘This election is about the kind of country we want to Scotland to be. More than ever, Scotland needs strong voices in Westminster, standing up for the values we hold dear. A vote for the SNP is a vote to ensure Scotland’s future is in Scotland’s hands – not in the hands of Westminster Tories.’
If you are experiencing deja vu, you are not alone. We were assured we had sent 56 strong voices to Westminster last time round,even if that number dropped to 54 as some of those strong voices lost the party whip. The fighting talk of 2017 was once the wide-eyed idealism of 2015, when the Nationalist manifesto declared:
‘A vote for the SNP… is a vote for MPs who will always stand up for Scotland’s best interests. It is a vote to make Scotland’s voice heard at Westminster more loudly than it has ever been heard before… The SNP will use our influence at Westminster to help deliver positive change for the benefit of ordinary people, not just in Scotland, but across the UK.’
How did that work out for them? Two years ago, Nicola Sturgeon promised her MPs would fight the so-called bedroom tax, agitate for an increase in benefits and reform of welfare sanctions, and press for a 50p rate on income tax for the highest earners. None of it happened because changes like these require a Labour government, and the SNP was hellbent on stopping one of those.
This is the paradox of Scottish nationalism: The SNP wins elections by promising to wield influence that it knows it does not possess. If it ever found itself with such influence, it would freeze in terror on the spot. Scottish nationalism runs on grievance and if Westminster was to acquiesce and give them what they want, the juggernaut would run out of fuel. The SNP pledges bread and circuses hoping the baker will burn the loaf and set fire to the big top.
In other exciting news, Miss Sturgeon has rediscovered the cause of social justice. The First Minister spoke about little else during the referendum and ahead of General Election 2015. That’s when she was pitching to Labour voters; when things got back to normal at Holyrood, social justice got kicked into a corner like last season’s tartan heels. Holyrood, where the SNP has real power to make real change, sees the SNP at its most conservative — cutting, neglecting, and lamenting (more in sorrow than anger) that budgets are tight.
Yesterday marked the return of Comrade Sturgeon, Tribune of the Workers. Unveiling the Nationalists’ blueprint, she said: ‘Today I am setting out a three-point plan to tackle poverty and inequality and increase the incomes and the living standards of families across the UK. Firstly, we will support moves over the next Parliament, working with business, to increase the Minimum Wage to the level of the real Living Wage…
‘Secondly, here in Scotland we will take a different approach to public sector pay. The one per cent pay cap was designed to protect jobs at a time of spending cuts imposed by Westminster… So for next year and in future years, we will not assume a one per cent cap… Thirdly, the policies in this manifesto will restore fairness to our social security system.’
You are not imagining things; this is the SNP that just three weeks ago voted against scrapping the one per cent pay cap. The exact same one. Three weeks ago. But that is the model of consistency compared to their stance on income tax. In 2015, the Nationalists called for a 50p rate on the highest earners. In 2016, they opposed a 50p rate on the highest earners in Scotland. In 2017, and at time of going to print this is still their view, they are once again in favour of a 50p rate. Nicola Sturgeon recalls the good-ole-boy American politician who would campaign in elections saying, ‘Them’s my principles but if you don’t like them — I kin change them!’
Some things, of course, don’t change. The backbone of SNP defence policy is still that we ought not to have a backbone. The Nationalists remain committed to surrendering Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent, despite the threat of nuclear powers such as Russia and North Korea and the devastating impact of scrapping Trident on Scottish jobs and communities along the Clyde.
The SNP has prospered until now by governing as a campaign and campaigning as an opposition. They have finally been caught out and their manifesto shows it. They promise all things to all people but now, at last, the voters are beginning to see through it. No political party can be for everything and the SNP is only for one thing.
Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Contact Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org.