Introducing the Scottish National Party’s manifesto, the leader of the party in Westminster, Angus Robertson, crowed: “Welcome to the manifesto launch of the real opposition.” The queue outside the Perth concert hall attested to the loyalty the SNP still enjoys in its heartlands.
But, as Scots know, the SNP isalso a long-standing party of government, with a leadership that has learned the chameleon-like qualities needed for political survival. So First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who two months ago was ambushing the UK government with surprise referendums, was instead clad in what looked suspiciously like a Labour-red jacket, and talking about “a manifesto to make Scotland’s voice heard”.
Indyref2 has been officially kicked into the long grass – Sturgeon said such a “choice” would be “for the end of the Brexit process”.
Instead she focused on “a more immediate opportunity” to “strengthen Scotland’s hand against Tory cuts” and oppose a hard Brexit. Voting Labour, she said regretfully, would only risk letting in Tory MPs: “Only the SNP is strong enough to keep the Tories in check.”
As for the Tories unchecked? Sturgeon warned of a welfare state dismantled, an economy ruined by Brexit and the SNP the only bulwark against it all. The SNP, rather than being the force of change, is the guardian of continuity.
Unlike Labour, Sturgeon has to wield opposition rhetoric while also defending a track record in government. So pledges to “stand against the Tory assault on social security” are followed by a long-winded explanation of how the SNP government will differ on the question of public-sector pay (short answer: it’s not trebles all round).
Her pivot away from independence is astute – indeed, Sturgeon, who waited more than a decade for a chance to lead, may have preferred it from the start. A YouGov poll on 18 May found that just 39 per cent of Scots would back independence if there was a referendum tomorrow.
The SNP manifesto is not so much a radical plan for government as a pitch to be a trustworthy opposition. You might call it strong and stable.
The SNP manifesto policies at a glance
- Oppose austerity cuts
- Support a 50p top rate of tax in the UK as a whole
- Protect the triple lock on pensions
- Support a ban on zero-hours contracts
- Oppose further reductions to corporation tax
- Lobby for the reinstatement of the post-study work visa
- Back HS2 for Scotland
- Oppose attempts to take Scotland out of the single market
- Seek powers repatriated from Brussels for the Scottish Parliament
- Support a repeal of the Trade Union Act
- Track down “missing millions” of funding allegedly not passed onto Scotland
- Back a lowered voting age of 16
- Support abolishing the House of Lords
- Back scrapping Trident and invest in conventional defence
- Support further investment in renewable energy