A great deal has been said about the SNP’s frankly underwhelming launch of its economic plan on Monday. More qualified commentators than us have gone through it line by line re its economics and we don’t intend to repeat that here; you can see those analyses on Robin McAlpine’s page or on Richard Murphy on twitter. What we as a political party looked at, was the politics of the announcement and where it takes the independence movement. What are the messages that we need to send and the arguments we need to make? It wasn’t what happened on Monday and we’ll explain why. But first we need to look at the political battleground that we stand on, because it has changed since 2014.
Back in 2014, there were lots of variables in the political landscape which meant that the Yes campaign had to adopt a more cautious approach in its arguments. We were still in the EU. We had not embarked on the monumental folly of Brexit. And there was still a fair amount of prosperity in trade. People had things to lose. They were afraid of exiting the EU. They were afraid of what a change in currency might mean for the pound. They had just started to recover from the bust of 2008 and didn’t want to go through another one. Austerity was mooted as the solution to that. The Yes campaign had to cut its cloth accordingly and not frighten the horses. This meant hedging bets and postponing debates on things like currency and reassuring people that all would be well and all manner of things would be well re EU entry etc. It was the right strategy to edge people towards Yes, but it had its limitations which were exposed on the TV debate that Salmond had where he was asked about currency, and he didn’t specify one solution to the currency debate. Arguably the referendum turned on that pivot. As we say, it was the the correct strategy for its time, but the Unionists knew its weakness and exposed it mercilessly.
This is now 2022 and everything has changed. The political landscape has narrowed. We’re out of the EU. Austerity has been exposed as the fraud it is; not the canny saving of money and paying off debt, but the deliberate impoverishment of the poor while those responsible cream off profits. And the pound has crashed. In the last few weeks, the complete idiocy of the current government cost the country £65billion through a nonsensical budget, only for it to be almost completely reversed a few days later. Arguments about the value of sterling when it is plunging through the floor and dead cat bouncing along the basement, ring very hollow. Nobody really cares about sterling; they just want their money to actually be worth something.
In short, there are only a very limited number of political choices left. We just have to make those choices and argue the case.
Let’s take the EU. Everyone in the political community knows that we can’t join the EU right away. We’re already screamingly out of alignment with Europe and it would take us several years to do that. That’s ok. Not everyone wants to be full members of the EU. But the vast majority of us can agree on joining the EEA/EFTA and start to trade properly with Europe again. We can talk about recovering our export business. It’s a strong, pragmatic political argument with a definite direction and course and lots of appeal – but that argument has to be made. Yes, there’s going to be difficulties with England and different regulatory areas, but that’s not necessarily always going to be the case – we suspect that many in England will be thinking about and voting for EFTA in the not too distant future as well. We should not be fishing about in the waters of mights and maybes re full membership when that is only a distant possibility, especially when there is a very real, reachable prize within people’s grasp.
Again, we need to be clear about needing a separate Scottish currency. In the face of the unravelling economy of the UK, it offers a permanent route out of the fiscal nightmare that the ERG Tories have created. Not a difficult argument to make. It allows us to ‘take back control’ of our finances and a welcome route out of the UK’s spiralling debt. (One additional thing that might well help is the fact the UK has a new monarch and the currency is going to be changing appearance anyway and people don’t have the affection for Charles that they had for the Queen.) But we need to be upfront about picking that choice and arguing for its effectiveness. Why is that argument being attenuated by talking about ‘when the time is right’ and a lead in from sterling? Are you joking? Setting up a central bank? For God’s sake we’re Scots. We set up the Bank of England and the Banque Generale (France’s first central bank) as well as several of our own banks. We’re the land of Adam Smith. We can manage a central bank.
Right now people are prepared to do difficulty. They are prepared to make choices that might take a while to implement – as long as they can see where it is going to take them. What looked scary to them in 2014 looks like a realistic possibility in 2022. And no matter how much the unionists howl, the fact is that people are sitting in a hell that their masters created and they want a way out of it. We just need to convince them that we have answers.
This can be summed up in one word. Boldness. And that was what was abjectly lacking on Monday. We suspect that the SNP aren’t very far away from our own conclusions on what needs to be done, but we are surprised at the lack of urgency and the delay in taking a definite position on these policies. We are surprised at the tinkering round the edges of austerity policy when it is now officially a political dead duck with no appeal whatsoever to people. We don’t know why they are still talking about a lead in time for a Scottish pound, when sterling is so devalued, or why they are mooting full membership of the EU, when only EFTA is economically realistically open to us. That was the campaign tactic in 2014, but it is not 2014 anymore; it’s 2022 and it isn’t any way suitable for the situation facing us now. We need clear, bold, pragmatic arguments, not obfuscation. We need to pick policies and stick with them.
The past is a foreign country. We are on new territory. A new battleground requires new tactics. It takes a while for ideas to filter through to people. You have to say the same thing repeatedly and break it down. It takes time, money and planning, with emphasis on time. We now know what we have to do and what arguments we have to make. But we have to start making them – now.