The announcement of massive cuts, and the ideology behind them, represents the most significant rightward turn for the SNP yet, argues David Jamieson.
Scottish Finance Minister Kate Forbes’ spending review (31 May) focused on the need to shrink the public sector to pre-pandemic levels. This mean cutting tens of thousands of jobs and engaging in a campaign of wage restraint – really wage cuts at a time when inflation nears 10 percent.
In her words: “…consider scope for innovation that embraces entrepreneurship, improves value for money, offers opportunities for commercialisation, better manages assets and brings benefit to the public purse.”
She’s saying the public sector the SNP has presided over for 15 years is too big, employs too many, and pays too much.
This is, straightforwardly, an ideological argument about the role of the market and the state, in traditional Thatcherite mode. Scotland’s march into the past is accelerating.
Far from apologetic about tens of thousands of job cuts, Forbes was in hectoring mood. After her speech, she Tweeted: “Here’s your regular reminder that our spending plans are balanced because they must balance by law.” (When was the last time you remember the news of sackings being accompanied by a passive-aggressive Twitter “reminder”, lest the soon to be jobless raise any complaint in self-defence?)
And yet, perhaps of all the devolved administrations in the world, the Scottish Government is best-placed to have understood its financial predicament and acted to shore-up its position. It has, after all, been in power for fully 15 years. In all that time it has made constant claims to be generating new capacity to uplift Scottish citizens.
Local tax reform, to abolish the baleful Council Tax – a three decades old regressive Tory innovation – has been promised by the SNP for most of its existence. This could have been replaced by a land and property tax, to raise revenues from Scotland’s notoriously unequal concentrations of land ownership. Plans for reform (of both the local tax and land ownership) are on indefinite hold.
The Scottish Government could have implemented meaningful rent controls years ago. It could do it now. But instead it has pledged it will wait years to implement controls – years in which it will, of course, hold court with Scotland’s powerful landlord lobbies. Whether these controls never arrive, or whether they do but in a completely mutilated form, it’ll be too late for people facing rent spikes and evictions today.
The National Investment Bank is, predictably, a shadow of what it should have been. These days, it spends much of its time, and a silly amount of money, looking around for corporate executives to pamper.
A National Energy Company could have been a huge opportunity to simultaneously create jobs in a burgeoning Scottish renewables industry and supply capped-price energy to Scottish consumers. Instead, that policy was quietly dropped by the SNP leadership (with no consultation of their membership, who voted for it) and Scotland’s seabed was sold to big oil companies.
While we are on that subject, the SNP at Westminster actually opposes a modest windfall tax on oil and gas profits to mitigate energy prices. Why? Because – and this is important, because in large measure it explains the whole logic of nationalist economic policy – it would upset these giant corporations who now not only control north sea oil production, but our seabeds and future renewables development as well.
Forbes, who is angling for leadership of her party and the country at some point in the future, wants to send the same message: ‘I’m on the side of the big corporations, foreign capital, and the international institutions which have so much influence here. As per your orthodoxy, I will keep a tight control over public spending, and deny the rights and interests of workers where necessary.’ It’s a message broadcast to the EU, Nato, the Bank of England and the British state itself.
Of course, perpetually blaming Westminster makes sense only if you actually intend to do something about Westminster rule. The SNP clearly has no intention of going through with an independence vote in a years’ time (on an impossible prospectus, with no campaign). So every complaint about London’s purse strings is really an appeal to a sense of powerlessness.
If the SNP and Green party leaderships really think they are completely powerless to stop this massacre of jobs and living standards, there’s only one thing to do – resign in protest. Their jobs aren’t more important than the ones they’ll be cutting.
As for the rest of us, we really have no choice but to fight against the Scottish Government and seek to defeat these cuts. Unless, that is, your idea of opposition to cuts and the rise in the cost of living amounts to no more than taking a bus to London for an occasional march. A Scotland based fightback is badly needed – and to exist, it must fight the Scottish Government above all else.