Naked Politics Blogger
Many anticipated, and Nick Clegg desperately hoped, that GE2015 would ignite demand for electoral reform in the form of some sort of proportional representation. The assumption being that Britain was heading towards another hung parliament and the First Past the Post electoral system, championed for its ability to produce strong coherent majority governments would become obsolete in the UK. On the other hand there was another entirely opposite possibility. With the Liberal Democrats almost entirely engulfed in the battle for the middle ground, Britain would have been without a significant third major party and left stranded in an American style clash of the Neoliberal titans.
Given the way the election panned out, this country would likely be sat on the brink of the second possibility. If not for the tenacious campaigning of Nicola Sturgeon and her party, the capitulation of Scottish Labour, and in no small part thanks to the disastrous campaign to prevent Scottish independence, which managed to further alienate Scotland from London. Now in command of 56 seats the SNP certainly does have a voice in the House of Commons. With the Labour party seemingly caught in an identity crisis there is a real opportunity for Sturgeon to assert her party and encourage meaningful social democratic change as well as holding the current government to account. However, in the slightly edited words of Voltaire, (or uncle Ben for Spiderman fans) with great power comes great scrutiny. Here are a few examples of some key SNP policy areas, where they stand and what their track record is.
At the end of the day, the SNP is a nationalist party. It ultimately wants to see Scotland awarded full sovereignty and the title of nation state. So it should come as no surprise that given their exceptionally strong performance in the General Election, there are rumblings concerning another referendum. This issue was thought to be somewhat put to bed following the referendum last year. After all, it was described by many, including then Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond as: a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity‘. Scotland voted to remain part of the UK by a 10% majority. In defeat Salmond claimed that the referendum was merely a stage on Scotland’s journey to independence.
Though still supporting it, current Scottish First Minister and leader of the SNP, Nicola Sturgeon made independence less of an issue for GE 2015 citing that this election was about other things. The Scottish First Minister also stated that there were no plans to make another referendum a policy objective for the 2016 Scottish elections. However she did leave the door open by saying that a “material change” in circumstances could change the position of the party. While it is unclear exactly what this encompasses, it could be anything from failure of the UK government to fulfil their promise to grant Scotland ‘extensive new powers’, to the SNP achieving an almost clean sweep of seats in Scotland in the election. Certainly just in the few months since the election the issue has begun to reignite, with Alex Salmond insisting that another referendum is ‘inevitable’. Recently Ms. Sturgeon announced plans to lay out a timescale for another referendum in the SNP manifesto for the Scottish elections in 2016. The manifesto will also clarify the conditions in which it would be considered appropriate to call one.
2. The EU
David Cameron is currently in the process of attempting to negotiate a “better deal” for the UK from Europe although he hasn’t told us what he wants from this deal. Previously, the UK has rejected to be part of a number of European initiatives. Given our standoff-ish attitude, it is unlikely that the EU is going to be eager to grant us many more exceptions and Mr. Cameron is likely to return with very little. The Eurosceptics will seize this opportunity to demand you vote to leave when the referendum comes. Cameron will campaign for us to remain, however a considerable chunk of his party, including 8 of his minsters are publicly against this. The SNP is resolutely committed to the UK remaining a part of the EU and Ms. Sturgeon attempted to ensure that for Britain to leave the EU then each of its four constituent parts must vote in favour. However, this was dismissed by the government. In the event that Scotland were to be removed from the EU, despite having voted to remain, this would no doubt raise serious doubts about Scotland’s place within the Union and another independence referendum may be on the cards sooner than expected.
The rest of the UK seems to be struggling to accommodate the rising demand for school places. Scotland in contrast, has managed to exceed its targets for building schools by constructing an additional 80 on top of the already planned 250 schools, under the SNP. Moreover, they have managed to reduce class sizes to record lows, and, have kept university fees free to students from Scotland and other EU countries (excluding students from the rest of the UK).
However it’s not all rosy for the Scots. Since the SNP came into power in Holyrood in 2007, there has been an almost 50% decrease in spending on income related student grants. Furthermore, Scotland is now the only part of the UK where the highest rate of borrowing is among students from poorer backgrounds. Hardly perfect by any means, but this is still an impressive record on education, especially given that Scotland has been labeled “the most highly educated country in Europe” following figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) last year. Nicola Sturgeon has announced that it is on education that she would like to be judged so this will certainly be an area to watch.
We should be careful to not get carried away by the potential threat of the SNP in Westminster. After all they’re only the third largest party in the commons and there’s not much left of Scotland for them to conquer. The upcoming Scottish elections should provide us with a better idea of exactly what the SNP plans for the future. But there is one thing that we should be wary of, the SNP will always shout for independence, and the more voices it has, the louder it can shout.