Sturgeon’s grand plan for the cost of living crisis? Carry on blaming the Tories
ON a historic day for British politics, Nicola Sturgeon had some unsolicited advice for the new Prime Minister — to learn from the SNP.
‘Make no mistake,’ Miss Sturgeon said, ‘we will continue to act, where others have not, to help people and businesses — and the UK Government needs to follow our example.’
Why Liz Truss would want to heed this wise counsel is difficult to know, given that the woman dispensing it said on Sunday that the new PM would be a ‘disaster’ for Scotland — well, maybe it takes one to know one.
And in any event it’s not clear what the SNP Government’s example is, apart from a lot of hand-wringing and bitterly complaining that it’s powerless.
Today, we will find out more about what that ‘example’ amounts to, when Miss Sturgeon unveils her agenda for government, but we already know that it will entail a boost in Scottish Child Benefit payments — and, er, that’s it, at least for now.
Miss Sturgeon quickly conceded yesterday that the ‘most significant powers to tackle this crisis rest squarely with the UK Government, and their inaction has compounded the difficulties everyone is facing’.
It’s someone else’s problem, then, and as usual that someone else is Westminster, and the colonial overlords who could bail us out, if only they had the will.
Most of us know the script by now, and the only surprise is that Miss Sturgeon believes she can regurgitate this familiar narrative of blame and grievance, even if it’s wholly implausible, and keep getting away with it.
There is, of course, plenty that Miss Sturgeon could and should do, from rolling back those ‘progressive’ tax raids, needed to pay for a massive rise in the benefits bill, to scrapping the ludicrous workplace parking levy, and ruling out a hike in business rates.
The £20million set aside for the doomed bid for another referendum should be diverted elsewhere, perhaps towards the cash needed for a public sector pay hike — pulled out of the hat at the last minute last week to avert industrial action in schools, and to put an end to bin strikes.
And the First Minister could tear up her unholy alliance with the Greens, the anti-capitalists brought into government to bolster the SNP’s threadbare case for a referendum mandate.
That is a necessary precursor for kick-starting economic growth — which in turn will provide more investment for failing public services.
Miss Sturgeon should follow Miss Truss’s example by committing to lowering taxes to rescue the economy from the doldrums.
Bonfires of the quangos have been promised many times before but like knotweed they have proved difficult to shift, and indeed have multiplied — run by fat-cat placemen whose only talent is meek compliance with Nationalist diktats. The SNP could save millions by taking an axe to them.
And Miss Sturgeon could row back on her opposition to nuclear energy, and to more drilling for North Sea oil, which she reiterated at the weekend.
Miss Truss is said to favour fracking; whether you’re a fan of shale gas extraction or not, it does show she’s capable of a pragmatic approach — and this is no time for green dogma.
That would require a shift in mindset so entirely alien to the separatists running the Scottish Government that it’s about as likely to happen as Miss Sturgeon renouncing her lifetime goal of splitting apart the UK.
Yet while Miss Sturgeon has little to offer other than carping from the sidelines, it’s highly probable, if not evitable, that the UK Government will bear the cost of tackling what the First Minister describes as a ‘humanitarian crisis’ this winter.
For once, this isn’t hyperbole, even if she lacks a plan to do anything about it — the typical energy bill in January could be £600, and bills are set to be 47 per cent or £881 higher than anticipated back in May.
Miss Truss is said to be examining plans to freeze all bills at current levels, which would cost £36billion this winter and £64billion next year.
Like furlough, it’s stratospherically expensive, and goes against Miss Truss’s instincts to limit state spending and focus on tax cuts — but there aren’t many credible alternatives, and rapid action is required.
If the plan is approved, the Union will be responsible for preventing a catastrophe that might well lead to civil disorder, and mass non-payment of bills.
Furlough and the coronavirus vaccination programme were only possible because of the pooling and sharing of resources across the UK.
How far would an independent Scotland get with any similar intervention, given that it would start off with an estimated deficit of nearly £24billion?
Last year the loathed Union produced a ‘dividend’ of £2,200 for every man, woman and child living north of the Border.
It’s easy to see why Miss Sturgeon hasn’t wheeled out her podium for any televised pronouncements over the last few months, despite acknowledging the scale of the cost of living crisis.
For one, she was too busy chatting to celebrities at the Edinburgh Festival — amid the dystopian scenes of uncollected rubbish across large swathes of the country.
But it’s also painfully clear that she would have nothing much to say, although in fairness that didn’t stop her appearing on TV virtually every day during the worst of the pandemic.
Miss Sturgeon maintains the pretence that another referendum is on the horizon — an act she has tried to keep up for much of the last decade.
Very few buy it — and you can keep up with their thoughtful and balanced contributions to the world’s most circular debate on any given day if you care to venture into the cesspit of social media.
It’s desperate stuff, and Miss Sturgeon knows that a time of impending financial catastrophe isn’t the best backdrop for another attempt at an independence vote.
You can bet that what public relations specialists call ‘expectation management’ — preparing the ground for failure — will step up a gear soon, but in the meantime Miss Sturgeon has no option but to keep digging the hole she had made for herself, and her party.
But Saltire-waving and endless posturing over the constitution won’t heat homes this winter, and nor will fantasies about the land of milk and honey that always lies just out of reach — kept beyond our grasp by Miss Truss and her fellow oppressors.
These are stories the SNP has told itself — and anyone else who would listen — for decades, but there’s no audience for fairy tales when, as Miss Sturgeon concedes, lives are at stake.
Nationalism has never looked so tired, so inward-looking and so impotent, and the same goes for Miss Sturgeon and her colleagues — washed-up ideologues with nothing left to offer.
- This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on September 6, 2022.
- *Follow me on Twitter: @GrahamGGrant