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As I See It

Sadly, no imagination in SNP’s bland plan

Terry Murden, Scotland's Programme for GovernmentNicola Sturgeon’s Programme for Government, beyond a few big ticket announcements – on mental health, children’s rights and more investment in schools and hospitals – was a bit of a lacklustre affair.

There was not a lot to set the heather alight on the government’s economic growth plans. No wonder the various trade bodies and other business representatives had so little of substance to say about it.

“We welcome plans to reform business rates / support exports / increase infrastructure investment / encourage digital connectivity / blah, blah….

If you want details of what they all said then please look elsewhere as this just about sums up the reaction. Business, it seems, got more or less what it wanted in respect of assurances on the aforementioned or, more to the point, what it expected. We’ve heard it all before, so not much point repeating it here.

As for the opposition parties inevitably stuck the boot in, telling the FM that she’s got it all wrong and ought to be coming up with new ideas instead of just freshening up what was basically an agenda building on what is already happening (or not happening, as the case may be).

Ms Sturgeon was again accused of blaming Brexit for Scotland’s poor growth record and, indeed, she seems happy to do so. Despite her complaints about the shambolic negotiations, regrets about withdrawal and demands for the UK to stay in the single market, she won’t support a second poll. Privately, she must feel a little glow from the results of a survey on Monday suggesting Brexit will push Scotland closer to independence. So why doesn’t she back the Brexiteers? Damned if any of this makes much sense. Maybe all will become clearer at next month’s SNP conference.

Her opponents, meanwhile, are thrashing about looking for more sticks to throw at the government while equally stuck for new ideas of their own.

Labour seemingly wants everything under public control in the belief that this will make the economy both fairer and more efficient. They want a reversal of austerity (aka an end to public spending cuts) and the trains back in state hands because British Rail was such a good performer. Goodness knows how they plan to pay for their largesse, but tax bills will not be pretty if Labour gets a sniff of power.

The Scottish Tories are desperately trying to wriggle out of the Brexit straitjacket that leaves them struggling to make a convincing case that they could manage the economy any better when their Westminster colleagues are making such a mess of the EU negotiations.

The PFG was essentially an agenda for improving health and education with some commendable plans for mental health and childcare, though a number of these proposals are correcting existing shortcomings. Beyond that there was little to suggest the cabinet is brimming with radical measures to get the economy firing on all cylinders. As stated here many times, there are limitations to what the Scottish government can do to stimulate the economy, given it does not have the same toolkit available to Westminster (control of interest rates, corporation tax, etc). Even so, this should not be an excuse to shrug shoulders and cross fingers that something will turn up to get the economy out of the economic slow lane.

Yes, productivity has narrowed and rates of employment and unemployment have improved. But the range of measures announced yesterday merely confirmed action already under way, such as business rates reform and the new Scottish National Investment Bank. There were  vague pledges to boost exports (who wouldn’t?). Beyond that we got more promises to boost Scotland’s low carbon credentials and close the gender gap. These are laudable, but they also come with cost pressures rather than provide a stimulus to growth.

This is not enough to encourage business that the government is getting on top of the economic challenges we all face. Indeed, it shows a lack of imagination or willingness to put the economy first.

It seems Scottish politicians still fail to grasp that wealth creation is fundamental to funding their welfare policies.



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