Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq
It is not about who governs Scotland, but who delivers improvements for Scots.
At the Scottish Leaders Debate on Tuesday evening, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the Conservatives all levelled one central accusation at Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP. Presented in various guises, it had one common plank; in the lust for independence, the SNP has forgotten to actually improve the lives of Scottish people.
The lives of many in Scotland are getting worse. Child poverty increased from 23% to 26% in the year before the pandemic. Sturgeon argues that this is a result of Westminster, yet it was an SNP-led Scottish Parliament which passed a landmark Child Poverty Act in 2017. That 260,000 young people lived in relative poverty before the pandemic is the fault of those who govern Scotland.
The SNP’s formula is simple; ‘wins’ show what Scotland could do if independent, ‘losses’ show that Scotland needs the power to do more. How then, in this electoral formula, to explain that for the first time ever, children from low-income families in Scotland are less likely to go to University than those in England? How to explain that Scotland has slipped below England in the Pisa rankings for English, Maths, and Science?
Nicola Sturgeon says she has a ‘defining mission’, and that mission is to close the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils. Not only is she is failing, she is covering these failings up; in 2017, the SNP scrapped a longstanding survey of literacy and numeracy that had shown declines, leaving Scotland as “one of the worst-served education systems in the developed world” for the quality of its statistical data.
These failings are deep wounds— Independence would be brutal amputation. Undeniably, there are powerful reasons for Independence. Sturgeon, however, won’t come clean on the clean on the cost of Independence; the Institute for Fiscal Studies noted that Independence would be a recipe for austerity. Indeed, the UK Treasury subsidies of £1,633 per year per Scottish person would be lost. Scotland’s budget deficit is at 10%; tax rises or spending cuts equivalent to £1,765 per person would be needed to reach the EU’s 3% ceiling for new members.
Add those numbers and Independence would cost each Scot £3,398 per year before we even discuss the trade impact. That is also the economic ‘best case’ scenario if Scotland was to keep the pound for at least a decade post-Independence; a currency it would not control. Despite publicly rejecting this, Sturgeon is quoted in private as saying that the economic downsides don’t matter as she is “a conviction politician”.
Scotland rejected Vote Leave’s Brexit campaign in part because it saw through the deceit of English nationalists. They didn’t fall for those labelling Brexit’s costs as ‘Project Fear’. They might fall for the Scottish equivalent, if for better reasons than anti-immigration. Instead of a credible plan for Independent Scotland, Sturgeon is mimicking the ‘have your cake and eat it dance’ of Leavers by suggesting a soft border would be kept with the UK. Sadly, the Institute for Governments says a hard border would be “inevitable”. Scotland would have to either remain in a customs union over which it has no control, or accept additional charges on the 60% of exports that flow from Scotland to the rest of the UK. In other words, Independence would put it between a rock and a hard place.
This election will determine the parameters that leaders of all political colours in Scotland operate in for decades to come. In the debate, Sturgeon was attacked for not delivering. More damning is that she knows Independence would ensure that Scotland’s future leaders would not be able to deliver—that is what is on the ballot on May the 6th.