Euan McColm: The SNP has ducked out of delivering a new politics
Anyone who thinks that Nicola Sturgeon's party is a radical force needs to get a grip of themselves.
Scarcely has the result of an election been such a foregone conclusion. On May 5, Scots will decided just how large the SNP’s majority in the Scottish Parliament is to be. The smart money’s on very large indeed.
Nicola Sturgeon will begin the next Holyrood session with the most powerful mandate any First Minister, including her predecessor Alex Salmond, has enjoyed since the parliament opened in 1999.
To complement her considerable political muscle, Sturgeon enjoys the unquestioning adoration of a substantial number of Scots: hundreds (thousands, if the venue can accommodate) turn out to hear her speak; parents proffer their children for kisses from the Sturgeon lips; should you wish to spend an afternoon drinking cider by the canal, you can do so in a Nicola branded hoodie, part of a range of garments bearing the First Minister’s name and providing year another stream of income for the wealthy SNP.
Sturgeon is no mere politician; she’s a phenomenon. The First Minister of Scotland might not be more powerful than the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom but she is far freer than David Cameron. Sturgeon has neither plotters in the ministerial ranks nor dissenters in the wider party. She could, if she was so inclined, do as she damned well pleases without fear of challenge.
Sturgeon soared to power as the “new politics” made flesh. She promised a radical break from tired and (according to the nationalist script) broken Westminster.
During the 2014 independence referendum campaign, Sturgeon - as part of the nationalists’ Yes Scotland group - told a story about a Scotland that would go its own way, where politicians would break from Westminster “austerity” and take decisions that reflected the peculiarly compassionate nature of the people (readers who had the misfortune to be born outside Scotland must remember that those of us who entered the world north of the border are special because we just are).
With Sturgeon as the Yes campaign’s modern, progressive figurehead, sundry radical sorts joined in and began “imagining” a better Scotland.
Members of the radical fringes, because they’re a naive lot, believed that the SNP was a truly radical force. In the aftermath of the independence referendum, SNP membership soared to around 130,000; many of the new recruits wanted a second vote on the constitution sooner rather than later. They’d been cheated out of victory and a wrong required righting.
Sturgeon has already told those supporters they’re not getting their second referendum any time soon. Instead, after the Holyrood election, the SNP is to launch a new “initiative” to build support for independence. We wait, breath bated, for details of this wheeze.
But it’s not only those who want a second independence referendum who are to be disappointed by Sturgeon. Anyone who though the SNP was a radical force should get a grip of themselves, now.
The Scottish lion does not, as Alex Salmond once declared, roar. Instead, it hides in the wardrobe in the spare room, like a skittish kitten when the doorbell rings.
Despite SNP promises dating back many years, the council tax is not to be abolished. Instead, there are to be “reforms”. And, although the nationalists might have given the impression that they favoured a “fairer” Scotland, where progressive policies were the norm, there is to be no use of Holyrood’s tax powers (much demanded, of course) to distribute wealth from top to bottom.
The SNP’s priority is keeping happy the middle-class voters who handed it its first Scottish Parliamentary election victory in 2007. This is perfectly wise, of course; the SNP didn't start winning elections by being radical.
The First Minister promised a new politics for Scotland but when the opportunity arose for her to make that change, she backed down.
Under Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP is the most cautious, conservative political party in the United Kingdom.