Scotland's Economy

Holyrood 2016 – The Race for Second Place

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Bizarre UKip manifesto image of the memorial to the Declaration of Arbroath

There is only a few days to go until the Scottish elections, but it just doesn’t seem like it. Campaigning has been fairly low-profile and there is little to excite the interest other than a few ill advised photo opportunities, mainly as no one thinks there will be anything other than an SNP win. If there is an interesting story it’s the demise of Labour in the polls and that the Tories stand more than an outside chance of coming second. Note I didn’t say the Tories have a chance of overtaking Labour, the truth is more like Labour seem intent in reversing past the Tories into third. In the last few days the question of whether or not their will be a second independence referendum has created noise but I think everyone knows the conditions under which one will happen and those don’t exist yet.  Independence is only inevitable if the SNP Greens Rise and wider Yes movement get together and campaign to get independence support unto a winnable level.

Connected to that the most contentious topic of debate so far has been between supporters of independence. And it’s not about policies but about how much the SNP are going to win by and if there is a tactical benefit for SNP supporters in lending their second vote to the smaller parties. The theory is that the SNP will win a majority of first past the post seats and so second votes for them are wasted and a list vote for the Greens would increase the pro-indy majority. While that may be right, we’ll only know if is right or not after all the votes have been cast. So many people think its a done deal that the SNP may well have trouble getting out its less committed voters – and if they don’t, the tactical voting plan will backfire, hence the SNP is having nothing to do with it. The Scottish Parliament voting system was set up with the distinct goal of allowing Labour to dominate a Lab-Lib Scottish Government in perpetuity and to stop any party forming a majority, and by “any party”, I obviously mean the SNP. And without another majority, I can see it being very hard to force Westminster into accepting there is a mandate for a second independence referendum under any circumstances.

Having a good read of the party manifestos was an interesting exercise. Most people’s understanding of policies comes from a combination of TV interviews, newspaper articles and social media commentary – all of which has to be filtered and the author’s/interviewer’s views taken into account for bias.

Audience members hold the SNP party Scottish Parliament election manifesto up during its launch at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre in Edinburgh, as the party bids for its third term in power. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday April 20, 2016. The manifesto pledged to increase NHS funding by £500 million more than inflation over the five-year course of the next parliament, with Ms Sturgeon describing this as "part of a package of investment and reform to equip the NHS for the future". See PA story POLITICS SNP. Photo credit should read: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

At 50% in the polls SNP policies have to appeal to a broad church so nothing radical

Specifically, I was looking at the promises on the economy and business and found very little from any party that really sets the heather alight. The polls say the SNP will win the votes of nearly every second person in Scotland and to collect such a big vote their policies have to appeal to a broad church. They have done this well and the clear and well-designed manifesto makes a strong play on their record in government and sets some real targets and makes some meaty commitments. However, the SNP clearly don’t want to rock the boat and the manifesto doesn’t need to be radical or highly exciting; it simply needs to make the case to re-elect the SNP and keep Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister and it does that job. The press are saying that there is no commitment to another independence referendum in the SNP manifesto but there clearly is a caveat, in a way that says “if we think we will win it we will call one”.

Labour’s manifesto needed to contain policies so clever, radical and innovative that they could close the gap on the SNP and put the Tories’ second-place ambitions back in the box. It fails badly. It’s better than the confusing mass of policies with no real connection that Jim Murphy went with, but not much. Some of their policies are good but don’t differ from what is on offer from other parties, such as developing the role of the Scottish Investment Bank to support green high tech industries, the focus on improving productivity and establishing Scotland as a Real Living Wage nation.

They also recognise the importance to entrepreneurs of tackling late payment when they commit to having the Scottish Government pay suppliers within two weeks, which I would praise except that target is four days longer than the current one. And frankly coding errors on the website such as the statement that reads “Scotland’s Future requires a dynamic economy (fthat…” just adds to the feeling that Labour are a pale shadow of the party they once were.

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The Scottish Greens manifesto for 2016 which they hope will see a return of up to 10 MSPs

The Greens, however, have a slick manifesto that focuses in on what they see as the SNP’s weakness (that lack of radical policies). Their website has some slick videos and make the headline promise of 200,000 new jobs in the renewables sector. They are stronger than Labour on trade unions, social enterprises and cooperatives and overall their message is short, sharp, to the point and gets their unique selling point across. Some polls suggest the Greens might get close to 10 MSPs and I would like to see that; a stronger voice for the environmental movement in parliament can only be a good thing. One thing you can say is that they are a party transformed in terms of presentation and funds and if not this time then a breakthrough is coming for them soon.

The Tories have produced a manifesto that is best described as the Better Together manifesto. It is a blatant attempt to triangulate the 2014 No vote, and, as such, focuses on its core support groups such as No voters, big business, rural business and those that want lower taxes and smaller government. Their whole campaign is about coming second, and looking at the party manifestos and watching Labour wilt I am beginning to think they might just succeed.

I understand the frustration of Rise who worked so hard for a Yes vote in 2014 but they won’t see a reward in these elections – despite putting forward the most credible list of candidates from the left in Scotland ever. I hope their lack of success doesn’t deter them or kick off the usual socialist wing infighting (despite the fact that I disagree with so many of their policies).

Ukip’s manifesto only merits a mention as one of the photographs shows a Vote Ukip sign under a memorial to the Declaration of Arbroath, which I can’t figure out the reasoning for. The manifesto shows just how much they have moved onto traditional Tory party ground compared to where they stood a few years ago.

And finally, the Lib Dems should maybe rename themselves the educationalist party as it dominates their manifesto. A penny for education, localising policing and saying what everyone else says while trying to look nicer sums it up, but that isn’t going to work after the Carmichael affair.

Hopefully there will be some fireworks in the last week of campaigning and some more meat on the bones of the business and economic policies, above and beyond how to use or not to use highly limited tax powers which dominated most of the early exchanges.


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About the author

Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp

Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp is the Founder and Chief Executive of Business for Scotland. Before becoming CEO of Business for Scotland Gordon ran a business strategy and social media, sales & marketing consultancy.

With a degree in business, marketing and economics, Gordon has worked as an economic development planning professional, and in marketing roles specialising in pricing modelling and promotional evaluation for global companies (including P&G).

Gordon benefits (not suffers) from dyslexia, and is a proponent of the emerging New Economics School. Gordon contributes articles to Business for Scotland, The National and Believe in Scotland.

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