This is the time to forge a new social and economic vision for Scotland

  • First published in : Visit Website
  • First published on: 30th Sep 2022

Do not underestimate the mess we are in.  Thanks to the hapless Truss and the arrogant but inept Kwarteng, last week’s mini budget has plunged the economy of the UK into the worst crisis since Black Wednesday, thirty years ago. Funnily enough both crises have happened under Tory Governments.  What a nonsense that makes of the Tories hype that only they can run the economy effectively.

We need to sort things out. Quick. Parliament needs to be recalled. Steps taken to reverse some of the most disgustingly greedy and insane aspects of the budget and then we need a General Election to get rid of the Tories. The economist Richard Murphy has suggested that, in the short term, what is needed is a cross-party coalition to stabilise things followed by a General Election next year to elect a new government with real vision and courage.

The Tories are never going to relinquish control, so such a cross-party coalition, a government of national emergency if you like, won’t happen. But if it did should the SNP be part of it? Damn right we should.  It is not in Scotland’s interests for the UK economy to go under and SNP MPs have a duty to do everything we can to save our constituents from the penury threatened by the Tories' hubris. I believe that the siren voices who demand our immediate disengagement from Westminster, pending independence, are wrong. That is not the mandate we were elected upon. Even with a Yes vote in the promised referendum next October, there will be a period of negotiation before Independence Day, and, during that time, decisions effecting Scotland will still be taken at Westminster. SNP MPs need to influence those decisions if we can, and we could be particularly influential in the event of a hung parliament. Keir Starmer keeps bleating on about ruling out any deals with the SNP.  What he is effectively saying is if he wins the election in England that gives him the right to rule the whole of the UK because the majority of English voters have chosen his party but, if the SNP win the election in Scotland the wishes of the majority of Scottish voters should be ignored. That’s a curious position for someone who professes to want to keep the union going.

The one situation, short of a mandate, that might justify the disengagement of SNP MPs from Westminster would be an outright General Election win for Tories or Labour in which the SNP would be without effective influence. For now, our engagement is what is required but that should not stop SNP MPs doing other useful stuff for the independence cause, including joining the Constitutional Convention promised in January 2020 which I hope will be convened soon.

One thing we do know with certainty is that with the present Tory majority at Westminster, Scotland is pretty powerless and on the side-lines of this mess. The SNP may have been the first party to demand a recall of parliament but it won’t happen unless Tory backbenchers demand it in sufficient numbers.  While there are things the Scottish parliament can do to alleviate the pain of the fallout, its budget is limited and ultimately it lacks the economic powers to make a real difference.  That said, mere hand wringing and emoting really won’t do.  We need to take some big learnings from this mess and apply them to the vision for independence.

Earlier this week Kenny Farquharson, a well-known unionist columnist for another newspaper, wrote a thoughtful piece in which he argued that the sterling crisis joins Brexit as a key argument against the union.  The sterling crisis, he argues, has fatally undermined the argument, which held such sway in 2014, that the UK offers financial stability in a hostile world. He put it like this – now, when a No voter asks a Yesser “what’s your currency plan?”, a credible reply is: “What’s yours?”.  He concluded that while the argument for the union is not yet lost, if and when it is, history will see this past week as a key moment.

I think he’s right, but I would sound a note of caution. The broad shoulders of the UK argument may be dead in the water but that does not mean the SNP do not need to provide reassurance and vision. The case for independence is being made for us but the prospectus needs a reboot and only we can do that.

Much detailed policy work has been done by groups like Commonweal and the Scottish Currency Group.  Our message is being shaped by Believe In Scotland, Voices for Scotland and many others to show that Scotland can afford to be an independent country but there are still some major questions to be answered on cross-border trade, the timescale for re-joining the EU and yes, what currency we will use.  All three questions can only be meaningfully answered in the context of a broader socio-economic vision for an independent Scotland.

The Growth Commission, already unpopular with those of us on the left of the independence movement, has been overtaken by events. At the time it was published, many commentators felt it did not adequately address what might be required if Scotland was to re-join the EU.  To be fair it was written at a time when the shape of the final Brexit deal was not known but we know the full horror now and taking that together with the changes wrought by the Covid pandemic, a war in Europe, the energy crisis and increased recognition of the need to ground all our future plans in tackling the climate crisis, so much has changed. A renewed socio-economic prospectus for independence is required. It cannot and must not tie us into the UK’s fiscal and monetary policies. We will need control over our money and how it is managed.  What is the point of independence but to do things differently and better? This is the time for us to be bold and forge a new economic and social vision.

The Commonweal have argued convincingly that there is more we could do under devolution to incubate projects for the economic and social transformation that will only be possible with independence.  SNP programmes for Government under devolution need to be hooked into a bigger plan that rolls us forward towards independence, and they need to be more adventurous.

These are issues that the SNP Conference needs to debate and there is still time for them to be added to the agenda for our upcoming event by way of emergency or topical motions.  Conference motions that merely reiterate the familiar refrain of “up with this we will not put” will not be enough. The party needs to bite the bullet of addressing a world that has changed hugely since publication of the Growth Commission.  The ideal outcome of the SNP conference would be a fresh, concrete and comprehensive vision for Scotland’s future under independence together with a plan for delivery.   

Joanna Cherry KC MP

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