First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will be feeling quite good this afternoon; she has just launched her party’s manifesto to a crowd of the party faithful in Perth which set out her anti-austerity agenda for Scotland, promising fairer taxes, tackling inequality and granting more powers to the Scottish Parliament. However, this was all very predictable and all entirely uncosted. Chinks are beginning to show in the SNP’s glimmering tartan armour.
The “unofficial opposition” have set out an agenda of policies providing a stark contrast to the Scottish Conservatives, marginalising Labour away from the socialist left and positioning themselves as “the only party standing up for Scotland”. But the question arises; are they really standing up for Scotland?
Independence, of course, features. The manifesto reaffirms Brexit as the catalyst that will pave the way for a second Independence Referendum, confirming that the SNP believe an independent Scotland should be part of the EU. The manifesto proclaims that a process to EU membership will be presented to Scotland prior to a new independence vote. This will be a popular notion given that Scotland voted to Remain in last June’s referendum and relies heavily on access to the single market.
The headline policy of £118 billion in public services investment will raise many eyebrows of SNP sceptics. Scotland is still grappling with a national deficit larger than most in Europe, outstripping GDP by over 9%. Indeed, this sets the tone for the manifesto document; no reduction in corporation taxes, incentives for businesses including oil and gas industries in the North Sea, free higher education, increased investment in the NHS, opposed increase to VAT, all while balancing the budget by the end of the next Parliament (2022). Even for an average mathematician, these numbers do not seem to add up.
There are a number of policies that will prove popular, seizing seemingly progressive ground by including the right to vote for 16-17 year olds, maintaining Scotland’s Commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights (not really progressive, but contrast to the Conservatives) and increased powers to ensure that students and low skilled workers in particular, are able to come and go, including a post study work visa so students can stay in Scotland.
The wish list that they have presented is extensive, expensive and arguably unachievable. It is 10 years since the SNP seized power in Holyrood and rightly the public are starting to ask questions. Why has nothing been done to tackle inequality? What has been done to reduce the education attainment gap and improve the standard of education in Scotland? Independence fascination and Brexit have halted what many voters saw as an opportunity for Scotland to be reformed, poverty quashed and the economy revitalised.
Nevertheless, the SNP are in a solid position in Scotland, while the Conservatives may gain a smattering of seats, Sturgeon is likely to hang on to the majority of seats north of the border. But concerns about domestic policy are beginning to chip away at her demeanour as Heroine of the North. Voters in Scotland are beginning to analyse how their lives have changed, as independence fatigue is beginning to take root in some areas of the country.
Flanked on stage by Westminster candidates and senior figures from her party, Sturgeon said “A vote for the SNP on June 8th is a vote for MPs who will always stand up for Scotland’s best interests”. I’m sceptical, but I want them to prove me wrong.