A DECISION by the Scottish Government to slash the upper limit on its Help to Buy scheme is yet more evidence that the SNP is moving on to what we might think of as traditional Labour territory.
It was announced yesterday that only houses worth less than quarter of a million pounds will be eligible for shared equity schemes, a considerable cut from the previous £400,000 limit.
Housing Minister Margaret Burgess said the decision was designed to widen access to the scheme to lower-income families and first-time buyers.
The truth may also lie in pressure on budgets. Already, it’s predicted the £100 million allocated to the scheme for 2015/16 will not last the full year.
Whatever the reason for the cut, the message is clear: the SNP is all about helping those at the bottom of the ladder to get up.
Yesterday’s announcement follows Finance Secretary John Swinney’s draft budget last week in which he announced a cut in tax payable on house purchases at the lower end of the market.
Both measures – and the language in which they are framed – are pitched at Labour voters who may have backed Yes in the independence referendum. The SNP sees rich pickings among this group of voters and the party’s assiduous wooing should make Labour nervous.
The next First Minister – Nicola Sturgeon – will bring a more distinctive centre-left focus to the SNP’s politics for which Labour will have to find a response. It is not easy to do so, however, when one’s opponent is wearing one’s political colours.
The Nationalists’ decision to actively pursue traditional Labour voters marks a change of tactic. The SNP’s Holyrood election victories of 2007 and 2011 were delivered by small-c conservative middle-class Scots, whose aspirations were reflected in the party’s language and its money-saving policies.
The SNP, with policies of a traditionally Labour nature, may risk turning off some of those voters. But this may be a gamble worth taking.
Some No voters who backed the SNP at Holyrood elections will be lost already but for others the Nationalists remain the most credible party to govern. The SNP may be able to take for granted the support of a great many middle-class Scots.
Scottish Labour seems ever more lost in the face of an SNP which has swerved past any potential pitfalls since referendum defeat and now appears to have real momentum.
Some in the Labour Party are willing to recognise that a problem exists but there is precious little sign that anyone has the first idea of how a fightback might begin.
While Labour flounders, the SNP sweet-talks Scots who have backed red at elections for generations. To some eyes, it is beginning to look like a candy-from-a-baby scenario.
If Labour loses these voters, it may never get them back.
Fitting honour for a great musician
MARTYN Bennett’s career was an all too brief flash of brilliance. The Scottish composer, whose unique combination of modern dance music allied to traditional folk inspired a generation of musicians, was just 33 when he died of cancer.
Though Bennett released just a handful of albums, his presence looms over Scottish music, his influence evident in the work of many who followed him.
It’s entirely fitting, then, that his musical legacy is to be honoured at one of Scotland’s biggest music festivals.
The 2015 Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow will open in January with a gala performance of Bennett’s final album Grit.
A 75-piece orchestra will bring to life a record that fused obscure traditional Scottish folk songs with contemporary electronic sounds. Bennett – an accomplished piper and fiddler – completed the album while he was seriously ill and it is considered a masterpiece.
The gala performance, which will take place shortly before the tenth anniversary of his death, will open a festival at which he was often a star attraction.
His early Celtic Connections performances were as something of an outsider, a daring young musician taking extraordinary liberties with songs that had sounded “just-so” for decades, even centuries.
But the return of Bennett’s music to the festival and the grand nature of its arrival is proof, were it needed, that he re-invigorated the Scottish music scene.
Martyn Bennett created thrilling new sounds while always respecting the traditions from which his music grew. Now he has his rightful place among the greats who inspired him.