An alternative path to austerity
Delivering a keynote speech at University College London, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon outlined an “alternative to austerity” which focused upon putting fairness at the heart of economic growth. At its most basic level, she called for a “more moderate” approach to deficit reduction, extending the timeframe of eliminating the deficit beyond 2020, increasing welfare spending, and increasing departmental spending across government by 0.5%. Importantly, she gave no details on how any of this would be paid for.
Nevertheless, she argued passionately that the impact of austerity on individuals is too often overlooked and that economic policy is a means to an end – to enable citizens to live healthy, happy and fulfilling lives – and viewing it in the isolation of the deficit is wrong. She also argued that the UK Government’s economic policy had failed as it had not reduced the deficit as planned or rebalanced the economy before going on to outlining her view for a more fairer and prosperous country.
From a political view, the speech cleverly parked the SNP tent in the heart of the Westminster field. Her speech outlined a passionate critique of UK economic policy from the Left – a position which the Left at a UK level has failed to consistently articulate. Sturgeon also confirmed that her preference in the event of a hung parliament was “towards a confidence and supply agreement” with Labour and in doing so identified some clear ‘Red lines’ of negotiations. How Labour seeks to react to this latest manoeuvre from the SNP will be telling, particularly at a time when polling is less than favourable to the party in Scotland.
The Vow what didn’t win it
Despite the SNP post-referendum narrative and Unionists scrambling to be seen to deliver the so-called ‘Vow’, research from the University of Glasgow has found that the ‘Vow’ actually had little impact on the final result. Using Google Trends, an analytical tool that traces search terms to work out the significance of key events during the campaign, researchers found that neither the ‘Vow’ nor the TV debates had any real or lasting impact on voting patterns.
Researchers instead found that the key element in driving the Yes vote to 45% was the “grassroots movement” impact on swing voters. Worryingly for pro-independence advocates, the research also found that the more people searched for information on the issue, the less likely they were to back independence.
Slow down the devolution
A joint statement by a group of equality campaigners has warned about the “breakneck speed” at which devolution of some welfare powers is occurring. The group, which includes the likes of the SCVO, the Electoral Reform Society Scotland, and Scottish Women’s Aid, are concerned that the speed at which the Smith Commission’s recommendations are being implemented does not allow sufficient time for full public consultation to occur. The warning was issued as the UK and Scottish Ministers met for the first time to discuss the Commission’s welfare recommendations, which include the devolution of Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance, and Carers Allowance.
Stop and Search Powers
Police Scotland is set to announce that it wants new powers to stop and search children. The issue of “consensual” stop and search practices on under-12s dominated FMQs last week as both Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie pushed the First Minister on why the practice continued, despite a promise made by Police Scotland last June that would stop the practice.
The practice is currently used to confiscate alcohol from under-18s, though the Police have no specific powers to search for alcohol. There are concerns that under-12s in particular are not aware of their rights with regards to “consensual” stop and search practices.
Police Scotland are currently consulting on whether to end “consensual” stop and search practices for all under-18 years of age.
TNS has published its latest Scottish Westminster voting intention polling. The results suggest that Labour (31%) has managed to close the gap to the SNP (41%) to 10 points. However, it should be noted that when TNS’s results are combined with the last week’s Lord Ashcroft’s polling, it still suggests that the Party are looking at serious loses. According to Prof John Curtice’s analysis such a 10 point margin would see Labour reduced to 20 seats, while the SNP increases their representation to 35 seats.
Away from the fight between Labour and the SNP, the Tories vote remains at around the 16% level; the Lib Dems remain rooted at 4%; and the Greens at 6%.