I am certain beyond any doubt that there is nobody in Scotland who is sitting on their hands, hungrily waiting on my instruction before deciding how to spend their vote in the next election. But I will give you my opinion nonetheless.
We are now eight weeks away from the general election; the first in five years due to the anti-democratic fixed-term parliament law implemented by the Conservative coalition. In the course of the last five years we have seen a government, who publicly obsess about deficit reduction, lower the rate of income tax by 5% for top earners and lower the rate of corporation tax from 28% to 20%. At the same time they have cut public services, leaving the NHS critically underfunded, reduced benefits to the most desperate people in our society, and raised VAT – a regressive tax that affects the poor disproportionately. The Liberal Democrats, who campaigned on a platform of eradicating tuition fees, voted for a threefold increase to £9,000 per annum, making the English university system the most expensive public system in the world.
Despite this savagery, or, perhaps more accurately, because of this savagery, living standards have not returned to pre-recession levels. Economic growth has been week, incomes have barely grown, and unemployment is high. The number of people in low paid, part-time, or zero hours jobs stands near a record peak.
The Conservative Party, if re-elected, promise to increase the speed at which cuts are made. They will likely announce further tax cuts in the budget statement on Wednesday (18 March). They intend to remove the deficit entirely by the end of the next parliament, meaning huge cuts to already decimated public services. These cuts are ideological; they are not grounded in research, or from a commitment to social justice, or meritocracy. This is small government for the sake of it.
The Liberal Democrats are similarly committed to cuts to public services. Their official line is that they want to reduce spending less quickly than the Conservatives, but, with their polling at record lows, the best they can seriously hope for is to form a small part of, potentially, a minority governing coalition.
Yes, despite this horrendous record of governing on behalf of the wealthy, of reducing taxes for the richest, and reducing the tax burden on corporations, while immiserating the poor, the ill and the disabled, it is likely that the Conservatives will form the next government.
I’d recommend this article from the Guardian, which is a meta-analysis of all the polling in advance of the general election: http://t.co/dxSM3qpS9e
It predicts the following outcome:
- CON 279 seats
- LAB 266
- SNP 52
- LDEM 27
- UKIP 4
If this was the result of the election, the historical precedence would be for the Conservatives to have the first attempt at forming a government. Admittedly, if they were only able to form a minority administration they could potentially be less damaging than in their current guise as lead partner in a majority coalition. However, it would still clearly be preferable to have them excluded from government entirely. Note that Labour and the SNP combined would not have enough seats to form a majority coalition.
The Scottish Nationalists have been in government since 2007, almost eight years. They can hardly lay claim to be the outsider; Labour is the only party that hasn’t been in power for the last five years. In that time they have not made use of their tax raising powers. They did not introduce a local income tax to replace the council tax – and they froze the council tax, meaning less tax revenues for Scotland’s public services. As a result, sports and library services are being separated from local government, and placed into charitable trusts to save money. Government in Scotland is getting smaller, services are vulnerable, and pensions that public servants have paid into for decades are no longer guaranteed.
So despite the SNP’s claims to be the part of the left social democracy, their actions in government position them as a conservative, tax lowering, public service cutting coalition like any other. Previously the SNP campaigned to follow in Ireland’s footsteps by reducing corporation tax to encourage inbound investment. Per their website, they remain committed ‘to low and competitive taxes for our business community’. Considering the UK already has amongst the lowest corporate tax rates in the world, this reads like a commitment to reduce taxation to a nominal level.
I am very happy to applaud the SNP’s achievements: the abolition of prescription charges and retaining free tertiary education in Scotland. But I think we must remain sceptical of these giveaways. Ultimately, there is a cost to these policies, and that will be borne elsewhere in government, e.g. by closing libraries, or by allowing the condition of roads to deteriorate. As far as I can see, the SNP has no plan to increase tax revenues to fund further social spending. They may claim to be the anti-austerity party, but there is little evidence for this in their actions in government.
My last criticism is that the SNP argue that a vote for them is a vote for Scotland to have a stronger voice in the union. The upcoming election is an election to determine the government of the United Kingdom. The SNP, the 45, of the 52, or however they brand themselves, must accept that they lost the referendum. We actively chose to be a part of the Union. We already have a disproportionately strong voice in the union due to having two representative parliaments. And I say this as someone who voted yes to independence. But when I cast my vote in May, I will be voting for a party to govern Britain, not a party who stands only for one community within our nation.
The SNP’s big criticism of Labour is that they are the ‘Red Tories’. That there is no difference between them and the Conservative Party. This is dishonest. The Labour party’s policies on the economy are to the left of both the Conservatives and the SNP.
If Labour forms the government, they will increase the minimum wage to £8 per hour, increase public involvement in the railways, and abolish the bedroom tax, undo NHS privatizations introduced by the Conservatives, and increase taxes on the wealthy by restoring the 50p top rate, and introducing a tax on wealth. Labour is further committed to rationalizing the current approach to business taxes. They would reverse the planned cuts to the corporation tax rate, and will carry out a review in order to establish a long-term head-line rate of tax, at the same time reviewing the systems of allowances and deductions that businesses use to reduce their taxable profits.
I agree with the SNP that I would prefer a Labour Party that was committed to non-renewal of Trident. Personally I would like to see them commit to nationalization of the railways and utilities in their entirety. I would like them to be less authoritarian, and more liberal with regards to sin taxes on cigarettes and alcohol, than, like VAT, disproportionately affect the poor and to my mind represent a paternalistic intervention in the lives of people who would rather be left to their choices.
But I won’t hold my nose and vote for them – saying, ‘best of a bad bunch’. I will vote for them happily and proselytize for Labour. To expect any party to represent you and all your views is deeply juvenile. The Labour party is a broad left-wing coalition, which happily accommodates all from Tonys Benn through Blair. And if they were to move to the left, they would likely become unelectable, like the aberration that was Michael Foot’s 1983 manifesto, which preached solely to the pious, and split the party in two.
I would encourage any social democrat to vote Labour ahead of the Scottish National Party. Unless Labour win more seats than the Conservatives, it is highly unlikely that they will form a government. The SNP are not a left-wing alternative. They are the tub-thumpers for a minority. They do not go into this election with a programme for government, they go in as splitters, set on representing only a tenth of the electorate, in a parliament that ultimately must govern for all.