Loyal to king and capital

Yassamine Mather takes issue with those on the left who think the SNP is ‘left of centre’

The Scottish National Party likes to present itself as a centre-left party. Many of its supporters amongst academics I know in Scotland consider themselves leftwing: some voted for the Scottish Socialist Party in the early 2000s; some were (and many remain) sympathisers or even supporters of the Socialist Workers Party; some would support ‘independence’ in a future referendum on the basis that the SNP is ‘left of centre’ and will deliver some meaningful reforms.

During the Corbyn leadership of the Labour Party some of them joined Scottish Labour. However, disappointed by the defeats of that period and subsequent moves of the Labour Party to the right, most of these comrades have returned to supporting the SNP.

Of course, the reality is that in its 15 governmental years in Scotland the SNP has shown itself to be aligned to capital, not the working class. The SNP has always said it is in favour of retaining the monarchy - the queen/king of England would remain head of state after independence in a manner similar to other Commonwealth countries, such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand. However, what might have surprised some is the tone of the sycophantic comments made by leading members of the SNP following the death of Elizabeth II.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon described the death of Elizabeth Windsor as a moment of “acute loss and profound sadness across the UK and the world”. She talked of “Her Majesty’s exceptional wisdom and dedication” throughout her reign:

She has inspired us, on occasion comforted us, and always personified the values we hold dear. Throughout her reign she performed her duties with exceptional wisdom, dedication and fidelity. Scotland loved, respected and admired her.

Ian Blackford, SNP leader in Westminster, echoed those sentiments: “For many in Scotland, she was Elizabeth, Queen of Scots”, who had a “steady hand” and was a “perpetual symbol of stability”. He ended his speech with: “God bless the queen”.

Of course, the same cannot be said of the Scottish people. Yes, there were crowds at various monarchical events, but the tone of the gatherings is clearly different north of the border. The Financial Times noted: “Compared to the vast crowds and banks of flowers outside London’s Buckingham Palace, the tributes to Queen Elizabeth II in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh were noticeably more subdued.”1

According to The Guardian,

The observance was understated, restrained. There were very few union flags or saltires on display, and only a handful of flowers were thrown under the hearse’s wheels. Applause could be heard occasionally, but chiefly the crowds were silent.2

A number of anti-royalist protestors were arrested in Edinburgh on September 11 and 12, while on September 13 there was a demonstration against the crackdown on free speech - some of those who had protested against the monarchy during the processions carrying Elizabeth II’s casket through the Scottish capital were arrested. Yet, as Craig Murray wrote on his tweet: “In the face of this wave of repression, why has there been no statement from Scottish ministers or the lord advocate reaffirming the right to protest?”3

Not surprising

Of course, on their own the royalist sentiments expressed by SNP leaders would not mean much, if you had not followed the economic path of the ‘tartan Tories’ since the party first took office in 2007. The odd spell of economic interventionism by the likes of Derek Mackay is truly dead and buried. Mackay had to resign from his post as finance secretary in 2021 after allegations that he had sent inappropriate messages to a 16-year-old boy.

MacKay’s replacement, Kate Forbes, published the long awaited ‘National Strategy for Economic Transformation’ in March 2022, and those who had previously heard Ms Forbes were not surprised. She is apparently considered ‘a bit rightwing’ by some of her colleagues. Not surprising, in view of comments like this one:

Our mission as a government is this: to create the best conditions for entrepreneurs … to produce, to invent, to scale up, and, in so doing, create secure and satisfying jobs which pay a fair wage. Entrepreneurship is the foundation stone of our society.4

The Scottish Trades Union Congress noted that there was little mention in this speech of the “foundational economy” - things like transport, housing and healthcare, where many people work and experience the economy most directly.

More seriously, the SNP expects the working class to cooperate with business entrepreneurs to create a capitalist Scotland. This ‘centre-left’ party has no plans for the public ownership of strategic economic sectors, such as energy and transport, no plans to set a minimum wage or improve workers’ rights.

The party makes a number of claims about the importance of North Sea oil in a future independent Scotland. This is all very doubtful, as the remaining oilfields are expensive to access and difficult to exploit. The comparison is often made with Norway, yet the SNP has no intention of nationalising oil exploration, while in Norway the state controls major parts of the oil industry. Of course, the 2022 emphasis on oil is a U-turn from 2018, when the party had claimed oil and gas revenues should not be included as part of Scotland’s day-to-day spending, or relied upon to cover Scotland’s fiscal shortfall.

Back in 2016, Sturgeon established the Sustainable Growth Commission, chaired by former MSP Andrew Wilson - a founding partner of the public relations firm, Charlotte Street Partners. The commission was given the task of “making policy recommendations” on “the range of transitional costs and benefits associated with independence”.

The report, published in May 2018, was predictably pro-business. Among those consulted, 17 out of 23 were business lobby groups - CBI Scotland, the Scottish Property Federation, the Institute of Directors ... In order to reduce the country’s predicted fiscal deficit in 2020-21 the report did not suggest raising taxes. Instead it opted for reducing government spending, since it assumed that growth in public spending would be limited to one percent less than the growth in gross domestic product for the first 10 years after independence! Those who have studied the report have commented that its emphasis on fiscal discipline is not the only part that reads like an International Monetary Fund document from the 1990s. In fact the entire report is very much loyal to the kind of economic dogma presented in the past by OECD and the IMF - constantly referring to an “innovation-focused”, “competitive”, “export-orientated” approach, dependent on “flexible labour markets”.

The commission also proposed that Scotland should initially keep the pound sterling without any agreement with the UK government - a bizarre proposal, as very few states make use of another country’s currency without its consent (and those that do are so-called developing countries). It will also present a highly risky situation, as the new independent Scottish banks would have no access to Bank of England liquidity facilities. In such circumstances the Bank of England would make monetary decisions with no consideration for the Scottish economy. So there would be nothing resembling any form of economic independence.

In other words it is not just the SNP’s royalist utterances that should be of concern: far from being part of the ‘left’ of any kind, the party will, above all else, inevitably continue with its confused, pro-capitalist approach.

  1. www.ft.com/content/8235493f-a2ae-40c6-b812-9929ae25f37b.↩︎

  2. www.theguardian.com/politics/2022/sep/12/scottish-crowds-turn-out-for-the-queen-but-support-for-the-monarchy-less-clear.↩︎

  3. twitter.com/CraigMurrayOrg.↩︎

  4. www.gov.scot/publications/economic-recovery-debate-economy-secretary-statement-2-june-2021.↩︎