Scottish Nationalists Less Progressive Than They Claim

Left-wing voters who hope the SNP will pull Labour to the left may be in for a disappointment.

David Cameron Alex Salmond
British prime minister David Cameron greets Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, in Edinburgh, October 15, 2012 (Scottish Government)

Stories published in the Financial Times and New Statesman this weekend argue that the Scottish National Party is actually more corporatist than socialist and that Labour voters may in for a disappointment if the two go into coalition together.

With polls showing the nationalists winning as many as 56 out of 59 Scottish seats in the general election next week, a minority Labour government would probably need their support to stay in power.

Some leftwingers relish the prospect, seeing the SNP as a less compromising progressive party that would presumably tug Labour to the left. Nicola Sturgeon, the party leader and Scottish first minister, has taken Labour’s Ed Miliband to task for accepting many of the Conservative-led government’s austerity measures and often reminds voters the National Health Service north of the border is more generously funded.

Left-wing voters should be careful what they wish for, though, argues the New Statesman, a magazine that supports Labour. The SNP “has no ideological core” and is first and foremost a separatist movement.

For the non-Scottish left, there can be no question of a principled and trusting relationship with the SNP because you can’t build a common project for social change with someone whose first and only purpose is to smash up the political community to which you both belong.

The left in England and Wales may want the United Kingdom to work differently, the magazine argues, “but they definitely want it to work. Nicola Sturgeon and her party want it to fail.”

The New Statesman also believes the SNP’s progressive credentials don’t stand up to serious scrutiny.

There has been plenty of middle-class welfarism but no effective measures to reduce inequality or poverty. Indeed, the SNP in power has resembled nothing as much as New Labour in its pomp, combining the worst reflexes of authoritarian statism and market liberalism with a superior, “we know best” attitude that brooks no opposition.

The Financial Times takes a closer look at the party’s governing record and reaches the same conclusion.

There is no evidence the SNP has protected education and health spending more than the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have in Westminster. Indeed, school funding actually fell 5 percent in real terms from 2010 to 2013. Test scores in England and Scotland are similar. So is the performance of the National Health Service.

The SNP did abolish tuition fees for higher learning when the same fees in the rest of the United Kingdom were hiked by the coalition government. But this has had no discernible impact on poor Scots’ access to universities.

SNP government is defined less by progressive policies and more by centralization and consensual decisionmaking.

SNP advisers say that for most policy areas they can to bring together the key decision makers in one room — and they know each other already.

This reeks more of corporatism than socialism — which makes sense for a nationalist party that wants to appeal to as many Scots as possible.

Lefties who hope the SNP will keep Labour honest are in for a disappointment. If it does prop up a Labour government, if will be advance Scottish interests, not the cause of progressive politics across the United Kingdom.