Will Nicola become Scotland’s ‘Irn-lady’?
The new SNP leader and First Minister in waiting made it clear in her address to party delegates at the annual conference that her ambitions are for a more inclusive and egalitarian society than anything to which Margaret Thatcher aspired.
Setting aside political divisions, comparison with the late British Prime Minister s is no bad thing. For good or bad, Thatcher was a stateswoman; she showed leadership skills sadly lacking in many of her peers; she made others listen; and she changed society.
Of course, she also divided society, endorsing the me-culture and feeding the greed that played its part in the financial crash that came years after she left power. But Alex Salmond also divided society. For all his attributes, the now ex-FM’s legacy is a country deeply riven over its identity and direction.
Thatcher certainly had an ability to exert power and influence and she earned a reputation for wanting to get things done. A view shared across the political spectrum was that she believed in her message and got on with it. Whatever the end result, or the means of achieving it, people like conviction in their parliamentarians.
However, the comparisons between Lady Thatcher and Scotland’s own “Irn-lady” do stop there. The differences in policy are clear and one of Sturgeon’s passions is an almost innate dislike of the Tories and what they stand for. She has hinted at doing a deal with Labour in a hung Westminster parliament, but there is more chance of the SNP sharing portfolios with the the devil than the Tories.
So far she has hardly put a foot wrong and confidence in her ability to take Scotland to greater heights – including eventual independence – is almost unfeasibly high. The big concern, however, is the same as it is for all leaders: can she deliver on her promises?
She has given us a flavour of her plans and they are firmly based on spreading wealth and opportunity. This is no bad thing, but it comes at a price. Promising more child care and empowering communities tells us there will be yet more emphasis on the social agenda. She is committed to the living wage, a reasonable objective in its own right. But once again, as we have repeatedly heard from Holyrood since its formation, the agenda focuses on spending and does not reveal enough about where the money to pay for is to come from.
Nicola Sturgeon will carry much support into the new year and beyond, buoyed by a surging SNP membership and the prospect of another referendum. While she continues to dangle that carrot the members, and a large proportion of the electorate, will stay with her.
But at some point the books will have to be balanced. Without an uplift in GDP growth (and that looks unlikely based on 20-30 year trends) the only way that the social agenda can be afforded is through raising taxes or imposing cuts elsewhere. If taxes are imposed on the wealth creators it will be a huge deterrent to investment in Scotland. Few of Scotland’s political leaders have delivered on promises to put the economy and wealth creation at the top of the agenda and there are no signs of that changing.
Sturgeon is the first female First Minister and she will also be the first to oversee radical changes in powers, including the ability to set tax rates. A true test of the new FM will be her ability to achieve the equalities she desires while not penalising those who have the power to pay for them.
Nicola Sturgeon is Scotland’s new First Minister and everyone will be offering her guidance on what issues she ought to prioritise. Here Daily Business presents a list of 10 recommendations:
1. Scrap the universal free prescriptions policy. Those who can pay, should pay. Furthermore, by and large, they are willing to pay.
2. There is no need for food banks in a country that throws away tonnes of food every day. Introduce legislation that forces supermarkets and restaurants to offer “waste” food for sale at a discount, even food beyond sell-by dates. Supermarkets should be given a guarantee of no liability. Consumers would get cheaper food and less of it would be destined for land fill.
3. Unemployed people should be expected to work for their benefits. There are plenty of jobs that can be done: cleaning up litter, graffiti, tidying up public spaces. They would be better off in work of some kind that instils routine, discipline and self-esteem than sitting at home watching daytime television.
4. Enforce all house builders to include all-weather and indoor sports and leisure facilities in their plans. This would provide teenagers with somewhere to go, encourage families to do things together, reduce crime, improve health and fitness and maybe give the sporting stars of the future a chance to shine. It would also help make up for the loss of school playing fields, the sale of which should be halted.
5. Revise the policy on minimum pricing of alcohol to encourage drinkers to drink in pubs where consumption is controlled and measured. At present too many young people get drunk at home on cheap supermarket alcohol before they go out. This is the real cause of binge drinking. This change of policy would also help slowdown the closure of pubs.
6. Before revisiting the independence question, have a rethink about the economic case built around oil. The recent collapse in the price should make Ms Sturgeon and her supporters look at a different economic model.
7. Reduce the number of local authorities in Scotland. The country is over-governed and 32 local authorities only adds up to narrow-minded thinking. In an age of commuting and cross-country trade it is a nonsense to think and plan on a parochial scale.
8. Create a government-backed bond that would underwrite the cost of bidding for major manufacturing contracts. Other countries have an advantage over UK firms that have difficulty raising finance.
9. Re-introduce grants to help start-up businesses.
10. Privatise Scottish Water, or at least sell a minority stake, and reinvest the proceeds in improving national infrastructure.