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Tuesday, November 26, 2013 

Promising too much, too soon.

The old adage if something looks too good to be true it probably is applies just as much to politics as everything else in life. To go by the extensive and also exhausting document produced by the SNP making the case for independence, Scotland is a veritable land of milk and honey, only held back by the perfidy of everyone south of Berwick. If given the opportunity to go it alone, taking back control of North Sea oil, within a matter of years the country could be rivalling Norway for wealth, its own sovereign fund guaranteeing prosperity for decades to come. Benefits would rise, hated impositions such as the bedroom tax will be abolished, the minimum wage increased, and yet taxes will either stay the same or in some cases be cut.

To give the SNP their due, it is undoubtedly a positive, progressive and admirable vision of what they believe their nation could become. For an obsolete old leftie like me, on the surface it's incredibly attractive, and promotes the kind of policies I'd (mostly) love to see implemented at Westminster. Getting rid of Trident? Check. Promoting and welcoming immigration rather than demonising it? Check (answer 359). Looking towards decriminalising drugs? Check (answer 418). Celebrating being, or in this instance becoming, a member of the EU rather than edging towards the exit? Check.  Rethinking the disaster of the work programme and workfare in general?  Once again, check.

Why then does the entire thing leave me cold?  It's not just that to call much of it pie in the sky would be an insult to flingable pastry based products, it's where it's come from and who's offering it.  I can of course understand the grievances that have built up over the past few decades (or centuries, in some cases), not least the impositions of the Thatcher years and the squandering of the wealth the aforementioned oil could have brought to Britain as a whole.  It's also true Scotland has been dismally represented down the years, and continues to be to this day.  Whether by Tory Scottish ministers who put forward the country as a testing ground for the poll tax, or catastrophically inept Labour politicians who prospered thanks to a complete lack of opposition, the country has long deserved better.

Does it deserve the SNP though?  With the exception of Alex Salmond, lower down the ranks the party isn't in a much better state than its rivals.  Indeed, that Nicola Sturgeon has long been Salmond's deputy is enough of an indictment of the party's lack of talent.  It triumphed in the 2011 Scottish parliament elections not so much due to having a unique selling point, more that it's either them or Labour, with Lib Dem and Tory supporters favouring the SNP, at least that time round.  Considering they are exactly the people likely to be either against or leaning towards voting no, there's really very little in Scotland's Future designed to appeal to them.  Strip away the updated parts that point the finger at the coalition, and it's almost exactly the same case as Salmond and the SNP were making before the crash, just with far less talk of "arcs of prosperity", and Iceland and Ireland exchanged solely with Norway.

For all the claims of encouraging growth, the economic priorities set out amount to their childcare plans, which they believe will result in women being able to return to work as well as creating 35,000 jobs, and cutting corporation tax and err, air passenger duty.  The result of the cuts in corporation tax by the coalition so far? A fall in the amount expected to be collected.  As we've learned over the past couple of years, getting multinational companies to pay corporation tax at all is difficult enough; why would they suddenly decide to just because it's been cut by a further 3%?  It also raises the spectre of a race to the bottom: why would any future chancellor of England, Wales and Northern Ireland not reduce it to the same level as in Scotland in order to match it?  Salmond seems to want to rerun the boom years, spending plenty, while not explaining how it will all be paid for.

This is the obvious disjunct and flaw in the SNP's otherwise better than could have been expected case.  Scotland may be rich in natural resources, but the reason countries such as Norway, Australia and others in a similar position have managed to avoid recession or the worst of the crash is that they had the foresight and will to plan ahead.  Should the country vote yes, the SNP will be starting from scratch.  You don't need to take the IFS report on the SNP's proposals as gospel to think they're promising far too much, far too soon.  At the same time, they dismiss out of hand any suggestion that a currency union might not go too smoothly, that the EU might not immediately welcome an independent Scotland into its fold, while indulging also in pettiness, setting up a Scottish Broadcasting Service out of the ashes of BBC Scotland, not apparently expecting those working for the corporation to object.  Scotland's Future might answer 650 separate questions, but it doesn't bring us any closer to knowing what the only one that matters will be.

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Oh I think you're reading too much into answer 418. The SNP are pretty paternalistic when it comes to alcohol/smoking (at one point they were trying to outlaw under 21s from buying alcohol), so they are not natural decriminalisers.

Quite possibly. I did leave out their continuing attempts to set up a minimum alcohol price, but starting from scratch on drugs would surely mean taking into account updated thinking. Then again, considering Westminster's intransigence, perhaps not.

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