There has been a lot of talk in the last week about the next Scottish independence referendum with the FM refusing to rule out September 2018, and that’s all good fun. However, the Scottish Government’s approach isn’t filling me with confidence that they will be ready when it comes. They seem to believe that they have to wait till the Brexit chaos is sorted before they act – but that’s a poor decision.
In March this year BfS launched a crowdfunder called Fast Start to indyref2, and I wrote to all our subscribers stating that I expected a second independence referendum to be announced within weeks and I suggested September 2018 was looking most likely.
It was picked up by the BBC and then dozens of media outlets, which were obviously waiting on a Yes campaigner to make such a prediction. Two weeks later we had Nicola Sturgeon’s process to indyref2 announcement, which surprised a lot of people, but that was swiftly followed by a snap General Election announcement that surprised everyone.
Now we all know the SNP won GE2017 in Scotland, and handsomely, but it was still a bad night given their previous high and the indyref2 announcement gave focus to the Tory campaign.
It wasn’t wrong to announce another referendum but the message should have been ‘here is the new economic plan we are going to contrast with Brexit’, rather than ‘here is how the bill will progress through Holyrood’.
Months later, the SNP still seem miles away from getting the message on business and the economy right with the powers they have, never mind the powers they crave. Even the most ardent of Sturgeon fans will have to admit that she doesn’t carry the business community with her the way Alex Salmond did.
It might be unfair to suggest she could, her natural strengths being on the social policy side, and especially on youth fairness and gender equality – but no one is talking about Sturgeonomics. There is, as of yet, no such thing.
If she is to win an independence referendum, the FM needs to increase her Government’s approval ratings on day-to-day performance. She needs to also bring the business community more on side. Not big business, they will never come on side. Talking to the CBI is whistling in the wind – they are wed to Westminster’s centralised, Unionist, big corporate hegemony.
Small-to-medium sized business owners, the real backbone of Scotland’s economy, were onside but the SNP Government is running the risk of losing them.
The opportunity the Scottish Government has to act now and to be the only party with a winning vision, a solid and credible route to prosperity in the Brexit era is akin to a striker staring at an open goal and refusing to shoot. Now I have been impressed with the SNP’s recent policy announcements in the social sphere and I truly believe in Sturgeon in that respect.
But with business rates still a mess, Land and Buildings Tax needing a swift review, and the delay in the publication of the Sustainable Growth Commission report, the Scottish Government is conceding ground it already held without any concerted or credible action from the opposition parties. Labour are moving further to the left than the SNP (which won’t work) and the Tories are self-destructing with a chaotic Brexit.
I hope I am wrong, but that winning vision probably isn’t going to be the Sustainable Growth Commission Report. Despite all the detailed input to the SGC from BfS members, I can’t help but worry it will be a slightly conservative and unimaginative report – one that aims not to scare the horses.
Will it include the more radical ideas we have put forward for discussion such as Basic Income or Land Value Tax and all the other big ideas for the future? Probably not and at this stage, maybe even preferably not. But ideas such as Benefit Corporation Tax Credits, the “Scotianomics” plan to rethink how we even measure economic success, a dedicated Small Business Minister, legislation to curb late payments to SME’s, a phased introduction to sovereign money creation and a plan to launch a digital Scottish currency now, and then to commit to a separate Scottish currency as part of the independence prospectus; put forward among others by BfS to the SGC? Hopefully.
Even without taking on the more radical ideas, the Scottish Government has the opportunity to set out a positive case for prosperity through independence, and to demonstrate how Brexit will make that much harder. They can light a better path for those blinded by Brexit complexity.
They can start defining the language of the economic conversation and set the bar higher than any Brexit deal can ever achieve. Hard/Soft Brexit choices exist for the rest of the UK, but all are hard on Scotland.
The Scottish Government needs to start campaigning now with a positive, thorough, forward-looking and credible economic vision for independence and challenge the UK Government to show how on earth Brexit-based Unionism can achieve any of the same positive outcomes. They need to put the Unionists on the back foot and not wait to respond to the Brexit deal (there will be one) and risk letting Westminster set the language of the debate.
Politics often boils down to the personality and credibility of two leaders, and I think people can already see no one cares more about people, health and wellbeing, education and families more than our FM. However, that is only one side of the coin. At the point the Brexit deal pain becomes clear, if the media are comparing the consequences of “May’s Brexit Bombshell” with “Sturgeonomics”: she will have already won.
If an economic plan that doesn’t carry the business community and the reluctant Tory voters emerges in response to a deal that all Unionist politicians and commentators are desperately uniting behind, as if their political careers depend on it, she will have already lost.