20 Apr 2016

SNP works out where ‘centre of Scottish political opinion truly is’

At the Edinburgh Conference Centre the SNP packed in 1,400 supporters for their manifesto launch.

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There was a weird moment, one that compared to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, as the SNP faithful gathered around all four sides of the SNP leader’s podium stopped clapping and simply held up the image of Nicola Sturgeon that dominates the front cover of the manifesto. She stared out at them holding up images of herself staring back.

Nicola Sturgeon makes much of her party’s commitment to social reform but she’s not reaching for the conventional left of centre lever, higher taxes, to pump in as much fresh funding as she could.

Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour leader, says Nicola Sturgeon is “very risk averse” and scoffs at the memory of the SNP leader’s appearance in the 2015 leaders’ debates when Nicola Sturgeon became the darling of the left in the rest of the UK.

Scottish Labour has tried to tack to the left to reconnect with fleeing supporters. It has promised to raise the lower and higher tax rates by 1p and take the top rate up to 50p … and little thanks has it had for the exercise (the Lib Dems are also adding a penny to the lower and higher rate and a penny to the 45p rate).

The SNP, by contrast, is forgoing the 40p threshold rise that George Osborne announced in the last Budget but otherwise leaving tax rates unchanged.

Demanding powers and then not using them is one of the central stories at the heart of this campaign. Given the levels of support for the SNP you have to assume they’ve divined where the centre of Scottish political opinion truly is and it isn’t as far to the left as political mythology suggests.

That’s Alex Bell’s view. The former policy chief to Alex Salmond says the SNP’s hugely conscious of the need not to frighten the middle classes, diverted from radical policies because of the need to keep together an alliance for the independence dream. He speaks of Nicola Sturgeon having a right-wing angel balanced on one shoulder.

Nicola Sturgeon says there’s nothing radical about raising taxes for people on low or middle incomes. In her address the First Minister implied that promising higher taxes was something that people who had no serious chance of office tend to do.

The SNP acknowledge that their claims that an early referendum would distract attention from the Holyrood elections has not come to pass. The EU row might be drowning out English local elections on national media but Scotland’s long developing separate political conversation has again asserted itself and the battle for the Scottish Parliament is getting plenty of coverage.

First place for the SNP is a foregone conclusion but that doesn’t stop the party using every moment in the campaign spotlight to demand both the two votes (constituency and regional) that Scottish voters have in this election.

The leadership has been irritated by demands from fellow independence supporters on the left saying they should get a share of the action and some second votes to make Scotland a little more pluralist.

The SNP still believes the road to independence goes through its party HQ, through its membership, through its cause and not some sideshow. They look as determined as ever to get there even if they expect the next term of office governing Scotland to be one without a second independence referendum.

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