There is a common misconception on the Scottish Left that a vote for the SNP is a vote for some kind of change. Whilst the SNP have delivered policies like free university tuition, free prescriptions and free personal care for the elderly, that arguably have a positive impact on the lives of many people across Scotland, they have all done very little to actually change the lives of people and neither have the augured any kind of radical and progressive change that Scotland needs.
The SNP is principally a nationalist party that adopts a faux social democratic rhetoric in an attempt to attract disillusioned Labour voters. Largely, it has worked. Since 2007, thousands of former Labour voters have jumped ship to the SNP because they felt betrayed by the Scottish Labour Party. It was, admittedly, mired in cronyism and complacency and voters had had enough.
However, we can see the same behaviour starting to be exhibited by the SNP. In just seven months since the SNP won a historic 56 out of 59 MPs in Scotland, two MPs have resigned the party whip due to various financial scandals including an MP who’s company is under investigation for fraud allegations and an MP who is at the centre of a campaign group’s missing cash scandal. SNP MPs regularly send tweets where they could reasonably be accused of gloating, citing that they are at around 50% in opinion polls. You can read a selection of Pete Wishart MP’s personal blogs here, that exemplify that. Whilst there was an underlying whiff of complacency when Labour were the dominant force in Scottish Politics, no MP in their right mind would ever publicly write about how confident they were in winning elections. The SNP have become the smug, willy waving boys in the changing rooms of Scottish Politics.
People are crying out for an alternative and in May, the SNP painted themselves as that alternative. They stood on a platform of a 50p tax rate for people earning over £150,000, increasing the minimum wage to £8.70, introducing a mansion tax and a bankers bonus tax – all policies that, interestingly, Labour came up with first. The SNP have quietly cast this manifesto aside, most likely because the people who elected them care very little about manifestos. But these policies were progressive, social democratic policies. There is little mention of them now.
In the run up to the Scottish Parliament elections, people across Scotland would do well to ask themselves if their health service has improved since 2007, if their children’s education has improved and if the personal care their elderly relatives might receive has improved in any way shape or form since the SNP came to power in 2007. It would not be unreasonable to assume that it hasn’t improved very much at all. In 2016, we are going to be faced with moer cuts and austerity, not just at the hands of the Tories in Westminster, but the SNP in Holyrood too. COSLA have warned that 15,000 people could lose their jobs as councils face a 7% funding cut and the SNP are relentless in ensuring the council tax freeze remains in place, yet John Swinney still has the audacity to stand up in front of the Scottish Parliament to call for an alternative to Tory austerity. Where is the alternative then? Even the Telegraph cited the SNP’s budget as a “tory copycat”.
SNP are essentially being given a free rein is because they have painted themselves as a competent governing party. They are able to get away with things like the Forth Road bridge debacle and some of their MPs being embroiled in sleaze scandals because they have been so succesful at painting their opponents – namely Scottish Labour – as completely incompetent. Predictably, they counter any attack with accusing the attacker of “negativity towards the SNP” or that “it’s all Westminster’s fault”. With more and more powers set to come to Holyrood in the future, the Scottish government will find it increasingly difficult to keep blaming Westminster and will have to start taking responsibility for their own actions.
Next year’s Scottish Parliament elections are set to be the most interesting since devolution. It looks likely that the SNP will win the majority of constituency seats in Scotland. But this isn’t going to bring about the radical change that Scotland actually needs. Scottish Labour are hardly ready to run a school fete, let alone a government, but Scottish Labour are putting forward some radical proposals. We cannot go on defining our politics in constitutional terms. On both sides of the referendum debate, there were many different factions pulling in different directions. On the yes side, we saw millionaires on the same side as trotskyists. On the no side, we saw Tories on the same side as trade unionists. We need to look at who has a real record of change in government. Scottish Labour – who delivered devolution and free bus travel for the elderly – something that has undoubtedly transformed the lives of older people in Scotland or the SNP, who are essentially being allowed to take the people of Scotland for a ride.