If anything, quite the reverse. Photo:Getty
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SNP manifesto 2015: A document drafted in weakness

The SNP combine electoral hegemony with political weakness, and their manifesto reflects that.

Can you win a landslide, and still be powerless? The SNP might be about to find out. It now looks as if the party is nailed on to win at least 50 seats in Scotland and  it’s not unreasonable to suppose that they might win every seat on the Scottish mainland.

But what can they negotiate with, exactly? They’ve said before, and reiterated in their manifesto that they will not work with the Conservatives in any circumstances. Their leverage over Ed Miliband, my colleague George has blogged before, is vanishingly small. Stewart Hosie, the deputy leader, gave the Conservatives some good headlines with his threat to defund Trident through the budget or shutdown the British government thereafter, but neither weapon looks particularly sharp to me. Whatever the outcome of the next election there will be a large pro-Trident majority whatever the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Greens or the left flank of the parliamentary Labour party do. It is possible that the SNP could vote down Labour budgets thereafter – the Fixed Term Parliaments Act means this wouldn’t necessarily result in an election – but will the Nationalists really inflict a shutdown of government services on their own voters? It doesn’t seem likely and would be electorally lethal.

So the end result is a position of electoral strength and political weakness at Westminister, and as a result the SNP’s manifesto will leave the reader with a sense of déjà vu. A commitment to restore the 50p rate of income tax, a raid on bankers’ bonuses, the end to the married couples’ tax allowance, the abolition of non-dom status and further taxes on expensive homes: these are all Labour policies.

Far from offering a radical left alternative, it feels as if it is the SNP being pulled leftward by Ed Miliband. These are, for the most part, policies that have long been championed by the Labour leader but opposed by the Nationalists.  There are areas where the Labour leader has been outbid; a minimum wage of £8.70 an hour as opposed to £8. But on housing, the SNP fall badly short, promising half (100,000 a year) the new homes that Labour offer (200,000 a year). Tax breaks for businesses paying living wage has been Labour policy for several years now, and is in fact already being implemented by Labour-controlled local authorities in England.  

The trouble for the SNP, is, having ruled out any alliance with one party, they will have a hellish time getting concessions out of the other, particularly as Ed Miliband will be loath to be seen to concede anything to the Nationalists. (And the more seats Labour lose in Scotland this time around, the less they will have to protect over the next five years.) It may be that, far from providing a stronger voice for Scotland at Westminster , the SNP find themselves largely ineffective in the Commons.

Although that, of course, isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world as far as their big argument is concerned.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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