SNP Business Manifesto: Terry Murden
Same old policies, same old worries in this wishy-washy list
One of the most striking features of the SNP’s manifesto for business is how little it contains that is not already SNP policy. Devolution of air passenger duty and continued membership of the European Union are a couple of old chestnuts. More housebuilding? Heard that one before. Bringing HS2 to Scotland? Yup, seen that one too.
Much of it involves continuing with policies we already have – small business rates relief, support for the oil and gas industry, high speed broadband. The rest is a flimsy wish-list of uncosted, wishy-washy proposals that won’t exactly scare the horses at Westminster, nor encourage business to believe the party really is on their side.
It wants the UK government to “cooperate with businesses and employee organisations to boost industrial relations and bring about progressive workplace policies.” Who doesn’t?
This surely includes a commitment to the Living Wage, though it isn’t stated. And action on much-despised zero hours contracts? Temporary workers’ rights?
At the top of the manifesto is a call for late payment legislation. While anything that tightens this up is welcome, there is already a law in place. All businesses have a legal right to claim interest from late-paying customers. The statutory right to interest and compensation applies to all contracts.
The call for devolution of APD is a curious one. It does not commit the SNP to cutting the tax, only having control of it. That said, it backs demands from the airports and airlines who believe it is a drag on growth. Those claims look a little hollow in the light of continuing increases in passenger numbers at Scottish airports. Edinburgh and Glasgow have celebrated new records in the past year.
A more useful aid to growth would be to introduce government bonds that would provide guarantees for companies bidding for major contracts, particularly in the defence and transport industries. The party’s own economic guru Jim McColl has called for this last year, but appears to have been ignored.
Costing remains a key issue and, as usual, we get little help on this. The party’s call for HS2 to come to Scotland is supported by some businesses, including the Institute of Directors Scotland (though,interestingly, not by the Institute of Directors in England). This is too important an issue not to command more detail on why it should be built. A high speed rail connection is unproven in England, let alone for Scotland.
The party calls for fairer transmission charges for the power companies, a reasonable demand, but makes no mention of the contribution its green policies have made to the closure of Longannet coal-fired power station. Come to think of it, there is no mention of renewables, although there are demands that the oil and gas industry receives support.
There is a pledge to work closely with the business sector, though this clearly does not extend to listening to demands from various business organisations which have demanded the Scottish government follows Westminster by ordering a review of business rates.
Much of this list is uncontestable, and some of it may prove beneficial to business. But it is also about what is not said, notably on shifting the balance of the economy towards manufacturing investment and on taxes, including new taxes. Businesses have not forgotten how Holyrood sprung the large retailers’ tax on them without warning.
As such there is nothing much here to encourage businesses to believe that the party really has their interests at heart. Nothing in this list will dissuade sceptics from expecting business to be hit once questions about funding Holyrood’s welfare programme start being asked.