The wrong priorities for Scotland
When Scotland’s education system is failing and the NHS is on its knees, another independence referendum should be the last of the SNP’s concerns, argues Jackie Baillie MSP
On 18 September 2014, 85 per cent of Scots went to the ballot box in the independence referendum and voted by majority to remain in the United Kingdom. It was a clear result in what the Scottish National party told us was a ‘once in a generation’ decision on Scotland’s future. Yet here we are two and a half years later and the prospect of a second independence referendum looms large. It is said that a week is a long time in politics but, for Nicola Sturgeon, a generation lasts barely five minutes.
Like many people across the UK, I was disappointed the morning after the European Union referendum. To wake up to a triumphant Nigel Farage on the television screens was bad enough but to then see Sturgeon threatening a second referendum made me feel sick to the stomach.
Brexit was to be used by the SNP as a launch pad for a second independence referendum. The irony was not lost on pro-EU campaigners in my constituency, where SNP members were conspicuous by their absence during the campaign. In fact, the SNP spent less than £100,000 during the whole of the EU referendum. The truth is that SNP activists were posted missing in action because they do not believe in ceding control to any government, other than one in Edinburgh. For the SNP, the Brexit vote was just a useful vehicle for grievance to serve their ultimate goal of independence.
The latest opinion polls show that the vast majority of Scots do not want another referendum. Families and friends were divided in 2014 and the bitter arguments have lingered on in our national politics ever since. We do not need to be divided again.
If the economic case for independence was paper-thin in 2014, it is even weaker now. The SNP promised us a land of milk and honey, paid for by the revenues from oil in the North Sea, which they said would be worth up to £11.8bn in 2017-18 alone. The UK Treasury now expects to receive just a fraction of that, some £4.6bn between 2017-18 and 2021-22.
Add to that the £15bn deficit in the Scottish budget and you would have turbo-charged austerity in an independent Scotland. The Institute of Fiscal Studies estimate that we would either need to raise extra taxes, equivalent to £1,000 per person, or cut public services. The scale of those cuts would be brutal as the deficit is more than we spend on the entirety of the National Health Service in a year. Independence would be economic vandalism on a breathtaking scale.
The Scottish economy is fragile. Businesses do not want to see even more uncertainty piled on top of the confusion caused by Brexit. We already underperform across a number of economic measures compared to the rest of the UK. Growth is down, employment is down, economic inactivity is up. A shrinking tax base poses a real challenge for our economy but the SNP does not even want to acknowledge that there is a problem. And that is before you add in the consequences of independence.
In a country where our education system is failing students and our NHS is in crisis, calling another referendum is the least of our priorities. The government Sturgeon leads is the most powerful administration in the history of the Scottish parliament. With newly devolved powers over taxation and welfare, there is so much potential to choose a different path from the Tories, to create a fairer Scotland. Instead, the Nationalists refuse to back progressive taxes and delay the introduction of our new social security system, leaving the most vulnerable at the mercy of a rightwing Tory government.
The only thing the SNP care about is independence. Like many people in Scotland, I just wish that they would care about their day job.
Jackie Baillie is member of the Scottish parliament for Dumbarton
Brexit, European Union, Indyref, Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish independence, SNP