Briefing, Labour Party

Return of the Tartan Tories

Jim Mackechnie

Glasgow Kelvin CLP

Little did the 50,000 demonstrators who marched through Glasgow on May 5th. under the ‘Independence Now’ banner know what the SNP had in store for them a couple of weeks down the line.

For May 25th. saw the much delayed publication of the SNP’s long awaited Growth Commission report. Aiming to tackle the criticisms of the SNPs economic case for independence advanced during the 2014 referendum, it was entitled ‘Scotland – the New Case for Optimism’. In terms of a rosy future for an independent Scotland it was anything but, for it marked the abandonment of the Party’s positioning on the left. The only optimism lay in its potential to win back to Labour many of those who had turned away from party in disgust during the Blair/Brown era and went on to embrace independence as a route to a fairer society.

The Report was concisely summed up by financial expert and supporter of independence, Professor Richard Murphy:

‘This Commission’s suggestions are a disaster for Scotland, the SNP and the cause of independence. The Commission has proved itself the slave of pre-crash economics and a proponent of everything that is oppressive about neoliberalism.’

Despite Sturgeon’s frantic assertions to the contrary, the Institute of Fiscal Studies confirmed :

‘It’s a continuation of austerity’.

No wonder they came to that conclusion, as the Report recommended :

  • Bringing down Scotland’s annual budget deficit from 5.9% to less than 3% of GDP within five to ten years, so putting enormous pressures on public spending
  • The sterlingisation of currency, (much in the same way as Panama uses the US dollar) for ‘an extended transitionary period’ but without any formal currency union so leaving the Bank of England to set Scotland’s interest rates, mortgage rates, inflation policy, and exchange rates. (Not much independence there!). After ten years, consideration would be given to Scotland having its own currency.
  • Disregarding all oil revenues – due to their volatility, counting-in oil revenues proved to be an Achilles heel for the SNP in the 2014 referendum
  • A payment to the UK of £5.3b a year as part of Scotland’s share of the UK debt, so further reducing the cash for public expenditure
  • A cap on Corporation Tax, so closing down that avenue for securing greater income for public expenditure.
  • A total debt ceiling of 50% of GDP (the UK’s is currently 86%), so underlining the need for frugality.
  • Tough public spending restrictions for the first ten years of independence to bring down the annual deficit

This neo-liberal agenda has already started to create splits among SNP supporters. Former MSP and economist, George Kerevan said the Report ‘was in danger of robbing the next independence referendum of being a rallying cry of hope for working class voters;’. And the influential left-leaning, pro-independence think tank Common Weal has simply said ‘end this madness now.’ Jim Fairley a former Deputy Leader of the SNP observed it was ‘impossible to get anyone to explain the sense of it’.

Scottish Labour’s response has been robust. Richard Leonard has condemned the Report as offering ‘an unprecedented decade of domestic austerity with even deeper cuts than those implemented by George Osborne’. It was ‘A vision of another wasted decade, with people living, surviving, many struggling under the dogma of a deficit reduction plan.’

Former Leadership contender, left-wing MSP Neil Findlay has called it ‘an eye opener for many who supported ‘yes’ in the referendum because they wanted a fairer more equal Scotland’

Tellingly, the Report’s authors had consulted some 20 business organisations, but not one trade union. Forced to choose between the aspirations of working people to see an end to austerity, and the economic orthodoxies of the Bank of England and the Treasury, the SNP have chosen the bankers and financiers. Such is where a class-collaborationist party ends up!

The aim must now be to get the message out to the wider electorate. The importance of the Report lies in as as much as how it shows the SNP’s willingness to embrace a right wing agenda as it does in determining a vote in any future independence referendum. As a clear majority of the Scottish electorate is still opposed to IndyRef2, Sturgeon is bobbing and weaving to avoid naming a date for a second poll. So the next big electoral test is likely to be a General Election. With Labour trailing the SNP by 17 percentage points in Scotland, making a key plank in our campaign a vigorous denunciation of the path charted by the SNP’s ‘Cuts Commission’ could pay dividends.

Former Labour supporters who left us over our lack of a radical programme surely now have little reason to stick with the SNP when Jeremy and Richard can offer an economic plan promoting hope over austerity and championing a real redistributive economic policy, with an expanding role for public services and public ownership.