Austerity and the SNP


Anti-austerity is key to Scottish nationalism; it was the moral force behind separatism and continues to shape Scottish political language. Scotland is a conservative nation and never embraced economic reform willingly. In the 1980’s people were reluctant to embrace industrial modernisation, the battle they fought was bitter and lionised in Glaswegian culture; the Shipyards sit-ins were a national event broadcast on the BBC, a bold Socialist action that demonstrated solidarity with workers across the UK. Workers took ownership of their trades, fought for their communities and lively-hoods, refused to be rats in rat-race and declared a better future for the working man. Trade Unions had always been antagonistic to management and entrenched firmly on class lines, Thatcherism was different, social classes in mortal combat for the soul the nation. With the passage of time this feeling is undiminished; in retrospect the scale of the “loss” seems huge given the march of Neoliberalism into every corner of the globe. The narrative is much mythologized and passed down to generations, a tragic Thermopolyean class war. Another ‘nearly story’ before Glasgow’s Socialist ambitions dissolved in the tempest of Globalisation

In many ways that legacy still defines Scottish politics; the left envisage Cameron and austerity as Thatcher 2.0. Tory policies were against Scotland’s democratic will, opposing them became a centre-fugal force in the independence debate; anti-austerity was the key-plank in the intellectual argument for independence. This created significant fallout; it opened the old Thatcherite wound, elevated anti-Tory rhetoric to new heights and resurrected old socialist shibboleths. In short, Scotland imagined Westminster as a tool of corporate international neoliberalism and defined itself against this imagined enemy. Relying mainly on imagined oil revenues, Scotland would oppose the austerity imposition, scrap Trident, lower food bank usage, fight the Establishment and usher in what modestly called ‘a new age of Enlightenment’. Scotland would be a New Jerusalem.

Westminster on the other hand was the seat of crony capitalism and Cameron its high priest, a wretched runner of a wretched cause, a cloven footed neo-liberal ghoul feeding off avarice and greed who enriched his friends at the expense of the poor. In the eyes of the separatist, the fight was conceived in these hissing Manichean terms, capitalism and globalisation are the problems and the imagined panacea is socialism and the welfare state. Consequently, in the heat of the Referendum, a new Scottish nationalism was forged; a left-wing political anti-austerity position. Spotting this new nationalism, the SNP ran their 2015 election on an anti-austerity platform, in full knowledge that they would never be in a seat of power to implement their policies UK wide. An important implication arises from this campaign; from the voters’ perspective the SNP is the anti-austerity party.With Holyrood’s greater financial autonomy, harsh austerity is no longer predestined. Edinburgh has the power to prevent cuts to local councils; it can increase spending on Police Scotland, education, disability benefits, including the Bedroom Tax, and top up Universal Credit, but there is no indication that the SNP will raise taxes to improve benefits or services, or reverse any Tory cuts.

You do not have to look far for an explanation; the SNP are fully behind the neoliberal agenda. As Alec Salmond stated, he wanted to integrate Scotland into the international financial market, policies such as the reduction in corporation tax would stimulate inward investment from corporations, hardly progressive. He also wanted to maintain a currency union post-separation; conceived for the sole purpose of keeping Edinburgh’s lucrative financial sector integrated with the City of London. Equally tax averse is Scotland’s Financial Secretary, John Swinney; he said ‘I don’t envisage ¬increases in personal taxation in an independent Scotland’. In his most recent budget, he refused to use his newly devolved powers granted by the Calman Commission to increase tax. Nicola Sturgeon is of similar neoliberal stripes, she has shunned the opportunity to reverse the Tory tax give-away, the increase in the personal allowance. She attacked the Labour leader Kezia Dugdale because she planned to overturn this Tory policy. The SNP are not a tax raising party, they are die-in-the-wool neoliberals. Unsurprisingly Andrew Rawnsley commented that the SNP party conference reminded him of Thatcher’s Conservative party conferences in the 1980’s; neoliberalism as a tool of national rejuvenation.
Adding to this is Scotland’s financial black hole. Scotland has a budget deficit of £15 billion, 10% of GDP. To put that into perspective, the Greece deficit is 7.2% GDP. If we were to compare Scotland to a country of similar size, say Salmond’s vaunted neoliberal ‘Celtic Tiger’ Ireland, it would have to severely slash social services. Ireland’s austerity program is an undemocratic nightmare. All of Ireland’s budget decisions must first be cleared with the Troika. In fact, international financial agencies go a long way to making decisions; Troika officials and economist are fully embedded in the Irish government. Under the Troika’s direction,  Ireland abolished the national minimum wage, reduced the welfare state with significant cuts in payment of child benefit, career’s allowance, and implemented an increasingly stringent form of means testing for benefit claimants. Rounded up the Troika forced Ireland to make cuts of £30 billion. According to Oxfam the financial squeeze resulted in increased rates of suicide and alcoholism in the under 25’s. More than likely a separated Scotland would have been in a similar position; the IMF or Bank of England would have provided Scotland financial bail-outs. Enthralled to the Troika or the BOE Scotland would be compelled to cut its cloth.As it stands however, Scotland still has to find a balanced budget. In the interests of market stability and looking credible to outside investors, one of the imperatives of the Smith Commission is Holyrood’s fiscal responsibility. Edinburgh must balance its budget. Given such an enormous deficit crisis Scotland needs to cut social services, raise taxes, or a mixture of both – a measure Jeffrey Howe implemented in the 80’s to good effect. As discussed, raising taxes is not the domain of the SNP, and they have been more than happy to cut services recently. The SNP are neoliberals and the hammer will fall on services.

A conundrum arises from this vicissitude: how can the SNP’s neoliberal vision be reconciled with the fervent nationalism the Referendum created and defines Scottish politics? The point of realization between what the SNP are as a political party and what the people believe they are is coming. In the last month, the SNP’s rating in the second ballot for the upcoming Scottish Elections has fallen almost 10%. As the SNP’s anti-austerity credentials diminish, voters are shifting to radical anti-austerity parties. One of the more peculiar manifestations of this culture is the crypto commie, hippie chain- gang, RISE. Disillusioned with the SNP, these anti-capitalists, eco-socialist, anti-globalisation and anti-austerity Poundshop Corbynistas are united against the tyranny of Westminster. Factionalism will continue should the likely scenario prevail at the elections and the SNP gain another majority; they will lose the moral force of their independence narrative. Should they demur from raising taxes and keep the path of austerity the shine comes off the SNP. As the SNP fully comprehend, for Scotland to be successful it needs to embrace economic change, move away from its tax and spend economy to a low tax high wage economy that benefits society. Currently, with more state influence and ownership in the economy, Scotland is more Socialist than Norway. Scotland needs greater entrepreneurs, a highly skilled work-force, better education, a digital revolution and an increase in specialised roles in the service industry. We need modernisation. To a regular Glaswegian and separatist, however, this stinks of high Toryism. The echo of Thatcher and Cameron. For the SNP to succeed economically it must adopt some Tory policies, an eventuality that has profound consequences. If anti-austerity was the basis of the SNP’s popularity, and the moral force that almost tore the Union asunder, it will be the rock on which the SNP finally crashes.


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