On Sunday night the five leaders of the main Scottish political parties gathered in Hopetoun House on the banks of the River Forth to put their case to the Scottish people in the last televised leaders debate. Broadcast on BBC 1, the debate covered a range of issues including health, education, tax and spending, and the prospect of a second referendum on independence. Considering how dominant the SNP is expected to be in the upcoming elections, it was widely considered that these debates would be a foregone conclusion, but there were a few moments that took me by surprise. Rather than go systematically through the entire hour of proceedings, this piece will look at the debates in more general terms and conclude that the SNP are not as invincible as people think.
As a supporter of independence I have often spoken about how the rise of the SNP is a good thing because it puts the issue of independence firmly within the discourse. Indeed when I first advocated this position a few years ago, I held largely the same ideological views as I do currently, and at the time this was consistent as there was no other parties that wanted to support anti-austerity measures and this quest for independence. However, although I am not convinced of the position that another SNP majority government would be a terrible thing, it would be intellectually dishonest for me to support their re-election bid.
The SNP are not a socialist party, and Nicola Sturgeon has identified herself as a social-democrat rather than as a socialist. If, therefore, you are like me in your desire to build socialism in Scotland the SNP is not the party for you. I’m not in any political party and so to reiterate I’m not going to label another SNP government as just like having a Tory government, but if you see elections as a means to an end of creating a socialist society the SNP disagree with you.
This was illustrated by a series of points raised in the debate on Sunday. Although SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon suggested that business rates on the biggest businesses should be increased, it is a modest number and the SNP manifesto doesn’t support reintroducing the 50p top rate of income tax in Scotland. Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale has stated that not only does her party support reintroducing this level of taxation on the wealthiest people, but has adopted a number of policy positions thought to be the preserve of the SNP including opposing austerity, opposing Trident and investing in public services.
I’m also not hear to sing the praises of Scottish Labour either. The party says that it is a socialist party, but that is largely untrue. At the 2015 general election I would have said that it was a toss-up as to which party was more left-wing, however it does appear that the SNP have toned down the populist left-wing rhetoric for the Holyrood elections. Because of this shift from the SNP I would encourage all leftists who oppose independence to continue supporting Scottish Labour. The Tories cannot be allowed to become the official opposition to the SNP because this will result in a watered-down version of social democracy which I believe will be policies that are Blairite in nature.
If however you are a supporter of independence I would encourage you to look elsewhere than the SNP. RISE would be an interesting political force to have in Holyrood but at this time I am unsure as to whether they have the campaign infrastructure to growth that movement in a SYRIZA-like way. All is not lost however, as there remains another genuinely socialistic party in Scotland that could prevent the SNP from drifting further to the Right.
When asked about growing the economy Green Party Co-convener Patrick Harvie said:
“If the unemployment figures go down because people, more of them, are locked in zero-hours contracts on poverty wages, I don’t call that a healthy, productive, decent economy. I think we need to be looking at the quality of employment as well. Things like employee ownership will make sure we have businesses who have their roots in the communities that they serve, and where there is a genuine commitment to ensuring that businesses stay active in that community, instead of a large multinational at the stroke of a pen deciding that this bunch of shops is not productive any more so we’ll close them, or shifting their investment because it’s going to benefit the shareholders, or indeed taking the profits and syphoning them off into tax havens”.
The Scottish Green Party are suggesting that the Scottish Parliament encourage community ownership of businesses and the creation of co-operatives around the country. The Greens are a party that could bring socialism a step closer if they were to be elected in big numbers on 5th May. Obviously they have many other policies but the party’s desire to fundamentally transform and restructure the Scottish economy should be highlighted as a breath of fresh air. We are seeing a party with a fundamental commitment to trying to bring socialism a little step closer, and with the absence of a more left-wing political force demanding more radially change, we mustn’t let this opportunity slip through our fingers.
If polling is correct, and that is a big if, the Scottish Greens are predicted to win around 8 seats, and while this is not many, it makes the party more influential. I genuinely would like to see RISE become the official opposition to the Scottish government and make Labour redundant because of its stance on independence. However that isn’t going to happen in this election. The Greens are a left-wing, pro-independence force that can prevent the SNP drifting further to the Right; Scottish Labour are a unionist force that can stop the Tories from becoming the official opposition and that will also hold the SNP to account from the Left. This is only opinion but, irrespective of your view on independence, if you are a socialist I can no longer see why you should vote for the SNP.