As I See It
New parliament deserves more than old battles
Ruth Davidson, who arguably enjoyed the biggest success on Thursday night – from a personal and party point of view – now wants her co-opponents to use their new-found collective strength to unite against the SNP.
For starters she wants the conveners of the committees to come from opposition parties, and for opposition party spokesmen and women to be given greater opportunity to question ministers.
Without wishing to overstate this point, I suggested last year that they could have gone much further. With none of the opposition parties likely to make inroads any time soon into the SNP’s huge majority it was time to forge a new centre party. It could have been built from those across the Labour-Tory-LibDem-Green axis who could find common ground on issues such as the union, pro-enterprise tax and investment policies and a greater moderation of the social agenda. Who knows, by now it might have been preparing to form the new government.
The Social Democratic Party emerged in this way in the early 1980s when Labour was similarly in chaos and the LibDems never looked like a party of government.
Of course, things change and the SDP itself failed because Labour ultimately re-grouped and proved to be more resilient and robust once it rid itself of Michael Foot’s disastrous leadership. Labour eventually came in from the wilderness at Westminster, but it had to wait 18 years to form a government. The LibDems struck lucky in 2010 when the Tories failed to secure a majority in the Commons.
All current analysis of Scottish politics points to Labour facing a similarly long wait because of internal strife. I is not helped by Jeremy Corbyn’s divisive left wing policies and Kezia Dugdale’s inability to decide whether she is with the national party or outside of it. Among the many nonsenses of Scottish Labour’s campaign was its position on Trident. Not only did it differ from national Labour policy but even if she had formed the next Scottish government she would have had to depend on national Labour in order to do anything about it. And she would have been put firmly in her place. What was the electorate supposed to make of such a confusing policy position?
Willie Rennie’s claims about his party’s achievements were equally fatuous. The LibDems, with only five of the 129 seats at Holyrood, are now cast into the desert and face a long walk to find restitution. They may be able to swing a few votes by accepting Ms Davidson’s invitation to unite against the SNP, but this means Mr Rennie’s party will only ever have any power by joining with others.
Ms Davidson’s perennial under-achievers, on the other hand, have at least freshened up a parliament that was in danger of one-party domination. Thank goodness for proportional representation which at last has been able to recognise that there are more Tories out there than some would have us believe. Whatever view is taken of party politics, it can only be good for Holyrood to have a process of government which more fairly and accurately reflects the electorate. The 2016 election has demonstrated to the rest of the UK and the wider world that Scotland is not a nationalist-dominated country, only that a flawed Westminster electoral system makes it look that way.
Nicola Sturgeon, meanwhile, will be preparing for the next five years with an unexpectedly weakened administration. She will have one hand on the tiller and the other holding a red marker pen which she will use to strike out some of her manifesto plans.
Even if there is a Brexit vote in the European Union referendum next month, a second referendum on Scottish independence now looks highly unlikely. She could still secure a majority if the Greens back her, and Ms Dugdale indicated that she would leave individual MSPs to make up their minds. But for the time being this looks like a policy kicked into the long grass.
With new powers to raise taxes now available, the SNP had plans to withhold the rise in the threshold on higher earners, introduced by the Chancellor. Ms Davidson will lead a robust campaign to have it introduced to maintain parity with England and Wales.
This may be the first of many battles fought over the new tax powers which will demand a greater degree of responsibility and should also stimulate some fresh thinking about how we use the tax regime.
Fundamentally, it is crucial that Scotland stops using it punitively to play out the old politics of envy. Simply penalising higher earners as part of an equality crusade is misguided. We need high earners to build enterprises that will create wealth and therefore provide even higher tax revenues. The sooner our politicians grasp this particular nettle the better.