ALEX BELL: The SNP’s political suicide note​

© PAFirst Minister Nicola Sturgeon receives the Sustainable Growth Commission report from commission chair Andrew Wilson.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon receives the Sustainable Growth Commission report from commission chair Andrew Wilson.

A suicide note is a mix of the self-serving and the raw truth.

The SNP has just written a long one – longer than that notorious 1983 labour manifesto. This note is called the SNP’s Growth Commission.

It contradicts most of the Scottish Government’s White Paper (thanks, civil servants, but we have just left you up the creek) and asks the membership to believe things they have previously been told were unionists lies. (Thanks, suckers).

We get some raw truth.

On Indy, budgets will have to cut further and faster than any Tory or Labour government would dream of – and things might get better only around 2050.

This would be heroic – well, noble at least – if it weren’t for the fact the SNP leadership is simply saying what a lot of of us have said for years. Coming so late to these truths feels like the party has been reluctantly dragged to reality.

Self-serving – utterly – but then, it is an internal party document, not a tablet of stone from the government.

The SNP went to great efforts to pretend it was somehow authoritative, even going so far as to release a statement, six minutes after releasing the report, which “welcomed it” – George Orwell is birling in his grave.

This was to give the illusion it might be another White Paper – it isn’t, it’s an internal party policy.

SNP membership didn’t get a chance to discuss or debate their new policy until it was being trailed across the media and published. Quite why the rest of us should debate a paper the party hasn’t read is not explained.

The document had sent spin doctors into confusion – what was the good news? Journalists were sent a preview with the strict instruction: “no follow-up questions”. A stupid instruction as at the same time journalists were aware that it was being briefed to colleagues.

It smacked of arrogance – the SNP would tell the nation what the story was.

Yet the story was confusing.

The document pointed in favour of a New Zealand-style economy, they said.

Which presumably meant low regulation, no state assistance for farmers and neo-liberal aggression.

The next round of briefings said it would be directing Scotland to a Danish model. Denmark has almost stagnant economic growth, high taxes and lots of state assistance.

Next, we heard Scots would be £4,000 better off after Indy. Who thought it was smart to adopt such a cheap gimmick in the wake of the Brexit £350million promise? Whoever it was, they should probably be fired.

We were the told Scotland would get her own currency, but only after a period of using the pound. In turn, this became we might just use the pound forever as we may never think it’s a good idea to switch.

If we stick with the pound, that would mean restrictions by the Bank of England, thus blocking the Growth Commission’s plans for whizzy tax cuts – and so the real story is that Scotland would incur the cost of independence but never acquire the economic freedom to recover.

None of this weakens the principled case – Scotland could be independent and could survive. That hasn’t been the argument for a long time – the argument lies in the cost.

It’s just that it is all very complicated, will inevitably lead to spending cuts as the new state adjusts to its real income while picking up the bill for new government structures, and may never achieve real economic freedom.

This June, the Nats gather in Aberdeen and my guess is the entire book will be swallowed whole, like square sausage for the Indy soul.

Which rather suggests it didn’t matter what it said, just that it existed.

The real message here is threefold.

The first is to con the nation into thinking the White Paper has been updated, which might make people think another referendum is inevitable.

Second, the leadership is giving loyal Nats some meat on the bone to chew over, and hopefully not notice there isn’t a referendum.

Thirdly, to smuggle in a pro-business agenda for the next Holyrood session.

Wilson, the architect of full fiscal autonomy back in the early days of the millennium, can see Scots have got a lot of powers, and there is no appetite to go further. This Growth Commission gives the party permission to move to the right. It is suicide because there is no referendum and no means to trigger one. Meanwhile the membership have been taken for fools, told all the emotional effort in defending the last argument was pointless.

Labour will pick up disillusioned lefties who now can see that welfare and the NHS won’t be any better after Indy, and the Tories are waiting to welcome back centrist Conservatives who drifted to the Nats. Both will do well. They have been given all the evidence they need to defeat the SNP from, of all places, the SNP.

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