The SNP is tying itself in knots over Brexit and Indyref2, writes STEPHEN LOW
THESE are difficult times for centrists. Stunned by Brexit, their reactions are confused and inconsistent.
On a wider political front, faced with multiple and overlapping crises in public services, wages and housing, they offer only managerial solutions where radical action is called for. Then they wonder why the tide seems to be flowing in Jeremy Corbyn’s direction. Few groupings exemplify this more than the Scottish National Party.
People can be forgiven for failing to notice the SNP contribution during last week’s Brexit farrago. In fairness, it didn’t add much to the general debate, but it did outline some of the confusion and difficulties the SNP finds itself in.
Ian Blackford MP, the former investment banker leading the nationalists in Westminster, opined that, in the event of either a no deal Brexit or one which left the UK out of the customs union and single market, the SNP government in Edinburgh “would have a conversation with the people of Scotland and we would be asking the parliament in Edinburgh to put in place the mechanisms for a second referendum.”
As threats go, this one is bizarre. Let’s try to follow the logic here. The SNP wants the UK to remain in the single market and customs union.
To try to put pressure on the government it is saying that, if that doesn’t happen, it will call another independence referendum (Indyref2 as we say in these parts).
Staying in the single market and customs union should therefore prevent Indyref2, but the SNP also separately say they want Indyref2 — and independence obviously.
If Blackford is to be believed, however, Indyref2 goes off the agenda if the UK stays in the single market and customs union. This is every bit as confused as it sounds and means the SNP European and constitutional goals are mutually incompatible.
The confusion doesn’t end there. In March this year, the SNP put a motion through the Scottish Parliament instructing the Scottish government to make arrangements to allow a referendum that would “most appropriately be between the autumn of 2018, when there is clarity over the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, and around the point at which the UK leaves the EU in spring 2019.” So even if Ms May, assuming her survival as PM, delivers the Brexit Mr Blackford seeks, if the SNP doesn’t proceed with Indyref2, it will be defying the will of the Scottish Parliament.
Meanwhile the party’s domestic agenda appears to be running out of steam. There has been little legislation introduced into the Scottish Parliament since the SNP won its third term of government in 2016. A mere five Bills, with two of those — the child protection “named person scheme” and proposed cuts to air passenger duty — both running into technical difficulties and proving hugely controversial.
Changes to school governance undermining local authorities have had to be withdrawn. NHS vacancies are at record highs. A widely supported integration of health and social care isn’t delivering the improvement in services hoped for as it isn’t being sufficiently resourced to do so.
This week, the Scottish government produces its budget. The big question here is what it will do to offset the £200 million or so cuts to its spending budget from Westminster.
Previously cuts were simply passed on, mostly to local government. Indeed the SNP Scottish government managed to make cuts to councils last year even when its own budget stayed still.
This year it’s expected some use will be made of devolved income tax powers. No-one though is expecting an attempt to shift the balance of wealth and power.
“We are proud of our entrepreneurs and appreciate that the risks they take in order to innovate require investment,” Finance Secretary Derek MacKay assures businesses, promising a “future-proofed, forward-thinking Scottish economy.”
As if this isn’t New Labour-sounding enough, former Scottish Labour ministers Susan Deacon and Wendy Alexander have been recruited in recent weeks to Scottish government bodies on policing and the economy.This does not look like a government that has new ideas.
Scottish Labour meanwhile has elected Richard Leonard as leader.
He campaigned explicitly on moving beyond the managerialism that has defined Scotland’s post-devolution politics.
His pitch is that serious problems require radical solutions. His emphasis so far has been extraparliamentary and anti-austerity.
The contest in Scottish politics is shaping up to be between the party that says it will be “Stronger for Scotland” and the party that will be stronger for Scotland’s workers.
Expect it to become increasingly obvious who radicals and progressives ought to be backing in that fight.