No doubt wary of being tarred with the nastier aspects of nationalism, the SNP have gone to great lengths to portray themselves as a progressive, liberal and left-wing party. This is an important part of their narrative which is so central to the nationalist movement: the idea that Scotland is uniquely left-wing amongst all the parts of the UK, and that only the SNP can stand up for those values. The SNP have been very successful in maintaining that image even when their track record in government doesn’t seem to justify it. After two full terms in “government” at Holyrood, the SNP continue to be seen as champions of social justice and all things progressive despite refusing to use Holyrood’s tax raising powers, cutting social services and consistently aligning themselves with the political establishment against the wishes of the ordinary people.
How then do they maintain their image? They do so by shouting very loudly on highly symbolic token issues over which they have no power, drowning out the quieter and more reasoned criticism of their policies on everyday issues. One of their favourites is of course Trident; just this year Nicola Sturgeon shared a platform with Jeremy Corbyn at a CND rally, and she has made a good deal of her involvement with CND from a young age. Last year, Holyrood held a vote on Trident despite defence being a reserved matter*, and all but one Labour MSP joined their SNP counterparts to push through a 96-17 victory in favour of an anti-Trident motion. This made a whole lot of noise in the press and no doubt the Scottish political class felt very smug with themselves. The one Labour rebel to vote in favour of Trident was Jackie Baillie, MSP for West Dunbartonshire, who knew that tens of thousands of jobs in her constituency rely on Faslane Naval Base. The SNP seemed far less concerned with the plight of those workers in one of Scotland’s most deprived areas, and were happy to see those jobs shipped over to Gibraltar just so they could take the fashionable opinion.
Indeed whenever the SNP pick an issue to take umbrage with, you can be sure it is one over which they have no actual responsibility. They can safely get outraged at the plight of Syrian refugees, knowing they have no control over immigration. They can safely get outraged at Britain’s military involvement in the Middle East, knowing they have no control over foreign policy. They can safely get outraged at Brexit knowing they have no control over international relations. But ask them about the plight of the Scottish NHS, the spiralling debt of the poorest Scottish students or the shocking deprivation in Govanhill in Nicola Sturgeon’s own constituency, and suddenly they have a lot less to say. These are all things the SNP have been responsible for managing for the past decade; by focusing on the token issues over which they have no power, they can deflect from their poor record in government.
A SOCIALISM FOR THE MIDDLE-CLASS
The SNP’s brand of “socialism” seems to be a very convoluted, middle-class brand of socialism. A sort of socialism where the working-class, who are the least likely segment of society to attain higher education, for some reason pay taxes to send the sons and daughters of doctors, lawyers and academics to university. The bizarre policy of providing free higher education for even the wealthiest of students has been described as “populism for the middle-class”, and has led to a £20m wealth transfer from the poorest to the wealthiest students, with grants for poor students almost halved in one year alone from 2013/14 in order to maintain this ridiculous policy . As a result of this, Scottish children from the most deprived areas are 4x less likely to go to university than their wealthier counterparts. This compares to 3x less likely in Wales and Northern Ireland, and just 2.4x less likely in England . So much for Scotland as a bastion of all things progressive.
Then of course there’s the similar situation with the abolition of prescription fees. For some reason, the SNP consider it a hallmark of social justice to provide free paracetamol to millionaires, even when the cost of providing it through the NHS amounts to twenty times its cost in any ordinary supermarket. Last year, the bill for this flagship SNP policy amounted to £900m , a phenomenal and entirely unnecessary drain on an already hugely overburdened NHS. Once again it is the poor that bear the brunt of the SNP’s socialism for the middle and upper classes; they don’t have the option of private healthcare when the NHS tell them there’s no hospital beds available.
NO TO CUTS?
The SNP also make a great deal of noise about cuts, all the while refusing to actually do anything to combat them at Holyrood. They have had tax raising powers since they entered an informal coalition government with the Conservatives in 2007, and not once have they used them. In the 2016 Holyrood election, the Liberal Democrats campaigned for a universal 1p income tax rise to combat education cuts, while Labour promised a 50p top-band rate to combat cuts to public services. Meanwhile, the SNP and Conservatives shared a platform on opposing any rise in tax rates, leading Ruth Davidson to describe SNP tax policy as “realistic and responsible” .
Then there’s council tax, which the SNP have frozen since 2007, placing a massive burden on local services and forcing an increased reliance of local councils on funding direct from Holyrood. This is more than a case of the SNP simply trampling on the poor once again; the reason why they freeze council tax is precisely so that local councils become reliant on Holyrood – what the SNP would consider to be their ‘central government’ – for funding. This is about political control, about stifling local politics and bringing everything to the Scottish level. It’s the same reason why they centralised Police Scotland and Fire & Rescue Scotland, widely criticised bodies that replaced valued local services. The SNP want all politics to be conducted at the Scottish, not local or UK, level. They want all loyalties, all identity to be invested in the Scottish ‘state’. That this creates cumbersome and inefficient services is secondary to this ideological drive.
THE LIBERAL FASHIONS
When it came to the EU, the SNP’s pro-Remain drive saw Scotland align itself with all the elitism and corporatism of cosmopolitan London, while the English and Welsh working-classes overwhelmingly voted for Brexit. Why they did so is obvious: the working-class more than any other segment of society are the victims of globalisation; of mass immigration, of increasing economic specialisation in high-skill trades, and of multinationals that operate with impunity across national borders, forcing all countries in a race to the bottom to attract any investment from them.
From the Welsh mining heartlands to England’s devastated de-industrialised North, the working-class voted Brexit and sent a powerful message of rejection to the political, cultural and media establishment that sent shockwaves throughout the nation. Meanwhile Sturgeon vent on a vanity trip to grovel to the political elite in Brussels while Alyn Smith (an SNP MEP who profits massively from the EU gravy train while paying his interns £2.81 an hour ) made a cringe-worthy speech in the European Parliament begging them to keep Scotland in the EU. The SNP’s liberal elitism betrays their contempt for the working-class – if they had not contorted the EU debate in Scotland by conflating it with the issue of independence and similarly led some unionists into a misguided pro-EU tactical voting campaign, then it is almost certain that Scotland would have showed solidarity with working-class England and Wales in voting Leave.
Indeed, the SNP’s fixation with the liberal fashions of the political class has bred a sort of snobbery within the party, most obviously manifested perhaps in the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act. This act is so poorly thought out that it has managed the impressive feat of uniting everybody from Cat Boyd, to Willie Rennie, to Tommy Sheridan, to Ruth Davidson in opposition against it. As with so many SNP policies it discriminates outrageously against the working-class, criminalising ordinary football fans in one of the few pastimes that remain firmly grounded in working-class culture. The SNP obviously deem the songs that some fans sing to be insufficiently liberal for their tastes; strangely they have no problem with whipping up thinly-veiled anti-English xenophobia to boost their nationalist cause, or even with their own MSP John Mason when he openly tweets that he is “certainly anti-British” .
All in all, the SNP are no friends of the Scottish working-class. They may project a progressive image by latching onto every liberal cause going; typically on issues like Trident that matter more to young student radicals than they do to the ordinary working man. From their distinctly middle-class brand of socialism, to their crippling of public services, to their terrible record in government in general, the SNP have been nothing but bad news for those at the lower end of Scottish society. In time, perhaps the working-class will come to punish them at the polls for it.
* employment is, however, not a reserved matter, and Faslane Naval Base employs a lot of people, so Holyrood does in truth have some justification in addressing the issue. The blame for this lies with the very flawed devolution system.