The SNP won through faith; now they must make it real
I was asked to write a contribution to the Our Kingdom debate on the Scottish Spring. This piece first appeared there.
If you aren’t from Scotland, the scale of the political earthquake may be hard to understand. For me, it’s been nearly a week now. It still hasn’t sunk in. Every stop on the Clockwork Orange – Glasgow’s underground system – is now in a seat held by the SNP. These should have been the safest Labour constituencies in the UK. No longer. On a swing of 15%, the SNP painted Scotland yellow.
For people in England, the inevitable discussion has been about independence. But this is to miss the point. Because while the SNP have earned the right to a referendum, this is not what won them their emphatic victory. No. They won because of their relentless positivity. They had a vision for Scotland, a faith in the future, and they painted it again and again. They reminded people that to be progressive is to believe that tomorrow can be better than today. Labour were swept aside not because they are unpopular, but because they did nothing whatsoever to inspire. In an age of austerity, hope trumped triangulation.
And now that Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon have secured for themselves the permission to be bold, it is vital that they are. For too long, the Maximum Eck has in truth swung from a centre left leader supporting universal public services, to a politician of the centre right, cow-towing to corporate power, promising to cut their taxes and hoping his flirtation with international capital will be sufficient to attract it to our shores.
But relying on fickle global capital is a strategy that is doomed to fail. For others can always cut their taxes deeper. Depending on a flow of wealth from England will similarly be disastrous as George Osborne crashes the real economy through the floor, and hopes to re-build London’s house of credit cards in its place. And so Scotland must create her own wealth. The SNP have already secured new capital borrowing powers. They are also seeking control over the crown estate. These will be key if wealth from the planned renewable revolution is to stay at home. This will be one pillar of Scotland’s Green New Deal – of the investment that can build Scotland’s new economy from the ashes of the credit crunch.
They must be more ambitious still. By not just claiming powers from Westminster, but also handing them to communities, they could deliver the capacity to truly root wealth, to end the flirtation with fleet of foot international capital. The Land Reform (Scotland) Act started a process in 2003. The powers of community buy-out must now be extended to urban areas – helping glue our atomised society back together from the bottom up, and starting to ensure that those who command the wealth in society are not those who will run with it to Barbados.
They can’t yet raise the top rate of income tax. But they can hit supermarket monopolies with a Georgist tax on land value. And in doing so, they can avoid cuts, and boost investment in Scotland’s universities. Because education is a social good. But it is also the foundation of real wealth in our society. My generation has the job of replacing an economy smashed on the rocks of neo-liberalism. The SNP must invest in helping us work out how to do so. And, through use of capital borrowing powers, let’s ensure that we don’t languish in unemployment, but can work to ensure we live in the early days of a better nation.
And they must abandon their tartan Tory tendencies. For too long, the SNP walked the tightrope between Ireland and Sweden. The idea that we would now want to emulate Dublin is a joke. In truth, we shouldn’t want to follow either. We should aim to build our own path. Alex Salmond declared that we Scots had given ourselves permission to be bold. Let it be so.