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Have We Seen Peak SNP?

13/09/2016 17:20
Clodagh Kilcoyne / Reuters

The SNP have been near invincible in recent years. Riding on a wave of popular nationalism their broad tent politics has attracted both left and right under their tartan umbrella. But is the honeymoon over? Opinion polls are not producing their magic 60% target for a Yes vote. They have lost their majority in the Scottish Parliament, and the Scottish economy, reliant on oil and the financial sector, is looking far from rosy. Are we just seeing a blip in their unstoppable march to independence or are we starting to see the demise of this formidable political force?

Many see the SNP as putting forward a radical left wing message, when in fact their message is aimed at Tories as much as Labour voters. Scotland has been as much a traditional Tory heartland as a Labour one. The Tories were the dominant political force between the 1930's to the 1950's being the largest party in Scotland in four out of the seven general elections held during this period. Even at the height of Thatcherism, in 1983, the Tories still held 21 seats in Scotland. The majority of the six seats the SNP held on to at Westminster elections since 1997 (bar 2001 when they held five), had been previously Conservatives strongholds. However, this all changed in 2015 when Labour, like the Conservatives in 1997, imploded.

One of the main reasons the SNP froze Council Tax from 2007 was because they wanted to court the Tory vote. This has been an extremely popular measure in Scotland, yet it has inflicted a massive amount of austerity upon local councils, with the council tax freeze leading to Scottish local authorities facing £14.8billion of debt, and having to make frontline cuts.

Since seizing power in Holyrood in 2007 the SNP have tried to avoid raising taxes, even though, with the introduction of the 2012 Scotland Act they have the ability to set the rate of Income Tax. In the 1999 Election they campaigned against the 1p Income tax brought in by the Labour Party in Westminster, partly due to the effect it would have upon their Conservative base. The SNP are now proposing freezing income tax for high earners; with these tax proposals the SNP continue to court Scottish Tory voters who have bought into the empty space patriotism of the SNP.

Before the 2016 Scottish Parliament election Nicola Surgeon asserted there would be "a sharp intake of breath" if the conservatives came in second and this would be due to "the spectacular collapse we've seen of Labour's vote across all parts of Scotland". There is no doubt that this electoral result further highlighted the Labour Party's collapse, however on the Regional List and in terms of constituency seats the Conservatives made substantial gains from SNP such as the seat they won in Edinburgh Central. Now the SNP have a formidable opponent in Ruth Davidson, who pushed Labour into third place, it will be harder for the SNP to win a vote on Independence.

The economics of independence still don't add up for the SNP. Oil is central to the Scottish economy. Though China is importing oil at unprecedented level, $32.85million tons this month, and Saudi Arabia and Russia are expected to agree a freeze in output at the Energy Forum in Algeria later this month. Analysts still expect this not to undercut the oversupply of oil in the market. Peter Lee an Oil and Gas analyst from BMI research stated, "even if they would agree on a production freeze, it basically means that everyone would be producing at their peak rates...It doesn't do much in terms of the oversupply." This is bad news for Scotland where it is estimated if Scotland was independent, oil would account for 10%-20% of Scotland tax revenue, and if you take away the revenue produced by oil for the Scottish economy then GDP per person goes down from £26,424 to £20,571 a drop of nearly £4,000. The downturn in oil is already taking a toll on Scottish jobs with the trade body Oil and Gas UK reporting a loss of 65,000 jobs, mainly effecting Scottish heartlands such as Aberdeen.

Further to the SNP woes is the question of Europe. If the UK does lose the EU passport then this would disproportionately hit Scotland. ONS data shows that Scotland accounts for 6.9% of the total finance and insurance sector Gross Value added (GVA), the third highest contribution in the U.K. Further to this even if Scotland were to leave the .UK. and try to become a member state of the European Union, Spain and Belgium assert that they would veto any bid by Scotland to join as an independent country.

The problem for the SNP is the longer the Scots live without independence the more likely it is that they will start to see beyond the SNP's brand of blank cheque nationalism. The economics of independence still don't add up. That is why recent polls are showing the vote at 54% No, 46% Yes. The SNP are that strange beast a nationalistic party with an internationalist outlook. They have pinned their hopes of achieving statehood through internationalism. But with the prospect of the EU not wanting them in their club as an independent state. The SNP will find it increasingly hard to hold their diverse brand of socialist voters and conservative together, as the possibility of independence starts to peel away. Without independence can the SNP sustain their chameleon act of appealing to constituents, as both tax cutters and austerity fighters, and if they don't who will fill the vacuum?

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