Analysis: How big a boost will SNP gain from economic figures?

Nicola Sturgeon has now renewed calls for Holyrood to gain control over immigration. Picture: SWNS
Nicola Sturgeon has now renewed calls for Holyrood to gain control over immigration. Picture: SWNS
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For the second time in as many weeks, Scotland’s governing party is enthusiastic over economic data which shows the country performing well.

The SNP has hailed this morning’s news that unemployment in Scotland has hit a 25-year-low as a big step forward for their plans to revive the economy.

Economy Secretary Keith Brown said that the labour market in Scotland is resilient, a word echoed by the Tories economic spokesman Dean Lockhart.

Scotland’s unemployment rate is now 3.8 per cent, lower, as Nicola Sturgeon was at pains to point out this morning, than the UK average rate of 4.5 per cent.

It’s a remarkable turnaround considering that after the General Election the political and economic debate in Scotland was starting to centre around whether the country would enter recession.

With Ms Sturgeon apparently seeking to ‘relaunch’ her tenure as First Minister over the summer, how big an impact will the continued good news have on the SNP?

A gloom lifted?

The SNP has had a rough few months.

Nicola Sturgeon’s party is still recovering from the loss of a number of key party figures after 21 of their MPs found themselves voted out by constituents.

READ MORE: How Scotland avoided recession

The General Election result followed a difficult local election, which saw them remain the largest party, but in which the Conservatives, and latterly Labour, picked up seats.

Party grandees have pointed fingers at the leadership, including Ms Sturgeon’s husband Peter Murrell, over the successive bad election results.

Previously, the economic data had showed Scotland, at least in the words of the SNP’s opponents, on “the brink of recession”.

The First Minister hasn’t had her problems to seek, and this news, following on from the positive GDP figures, will be a welcome relief.

A stick to beat the opposition

In political terms, the first thing that it allows the First Minister to do is to have an easy comeback ready when parliament reconvenes.

Most politicians who have had a rough few weeks would welcome the break that the Holyrood recess provides, but, armed with these figures, Ms Sturgeon may be keen to get back to the rough and tumble of First Minister’s Questions.

As Prime Minister’s Questions proved today, the incumbent Government always invites the opposition to welcome any rosy economic figures, rather than point out any potential roadblocks.

READ MORE: SNP accuse parties of being ‘desperate for recession’

Alex Salmond, somewhat off the leash following his shock loss at the recent election, has accused the opposition parties of being ‘merchants of doom’, aided by the ‘unionist media’.

Just ahead of the release of the economic data showing Scotland had outgrown the rest of the UK, the SNP similarly accused Labour and the Conservatives of being ‘desperate’ for a recession.

The SNP aren’t likely to face any elections soon, and have put plans for a second independence referendum on hold.

Holyrood will, as the opposition have demanded for months, soon return to ‘the day job’ – and this news can help put the SNP on a better footing to tackle it.

Plain sailing?

When Scotland was “on the brink of recession” - Mr Lockhart said that the SNP “had no-one to blame but themselves”.

Now that recession has been avoided, SNP figures online are gleefully sharing his comments, and with faux curiosity, wondering whether he agrees that the success is the SNP’s alone.

They have also stoked a row with the Tory-run Scotland Office, who they accuse of running a spin campaign to simultaneously talk down the growth in Scotland’s economy while seeking to claim credit for.

There is still danger in that approach, however, if the economic outlook turns negative, there could be more trouble for the SNP.

That will be even more apparent if the party looks complacency over news that is undeniably good for them.