Nicola Sturgeon: Scots don’t want more austerity

RECEIVED wisdom is that this is the most unpredictable Westminster general election in modern times, with the future governance of the UK more uncertain than at any time since at least 1974.

Nicola Sturgeon: Labour are just as committed to an austerity agenda as the Tories are. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

So what do the people of Scotland want to see in May? In my view, they want Scotland’s voice to be heard and they want Scotland to have real clout. What is also becoming clearer by the day is what they do not want to see. They do not want another five years or more of Westminster austerity – cuts that are disproportionately harming the most vulnerable in our society.

George Osborne tried to put a gloss on his final pre-election Budget last Wednesday, but the reality was a recipe for more cuts and more pain, even though the Chancellor admitted he now had room to manoeuvre in terms of investment – and despite the fact he has spectacularly missed the deficit reduction targets he set in 2010.

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But perhaps the most telling moment of the political week came not during Osborne’s speech to the Commons on Wednesday but the following morning in a BBC studio. It was there that Labour’s Ed Balls revealed that he would change precisely “nothing” in the Tory Budget of the previous day. The shadow chancellor, in that one word, has given the game away completely.

I have already outlined how a responsible deficit reduction programme can be put in place while also ensuring significantly more money for frontline public services. But, as the admission from Balls confirmed, Labour are just as committed to an austerity agenda as the Tories are. Indeed, we witnessed that earlier this year when Labour MPs trooped through the voting lobbies with the Conservatives to back a further £30 billion in cuts.

And that helps to clarify the choice that Scotland has.

As metropolitan observers increasingly look northwards to eye the electoral map of Scotland and what it could mean for the UK as a whole, I have found myself in recent weeks speaking to London-based commentators and broadcasters about the SNP’s prospects in this election and what we want from it.

But some of those conversations have also turned to what first motivated me to become involved in politics as a teenager – and the truth is, the democratic deficit which first inspired me to join the SNP in the 1980s when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister is as pronounced today as it was then. Scotland has been governed by a Tory-led administration for five years even though they have only a single MP here.

And just as I saw no real prospect of Labour effectively addressing that democratic deficit back then, I see no prospect of it now – the big difference today is that this now seems to be the overwhelming view of the people of Scotland too.

Let me be clear. Opinion polls are just that, a snapshot of opinion and no more. And I do not take a single vote or seat for the SNP for granted.

But the prevailing public mood in Scotland is clear – people are scunnered with Labour. Perhaps that is why – almost unbelievably – they have a leader who is even more unpopular in Scotland than a deeply unpopular Tory prime minister.

And that is why polls show that people don’t want a future Labour government to be left to its own devices – because that will mean a Labour government that is not very different to a Tory one. People therefore want to make sure that there are SNP MPs in numbers at Westminster to make Scotland’s voice heard in a way that Labour hasn’t for a very long time, and to force Labour to pursue more progressive policies – in other words, to make them more like a Labour Party should be.

The SNP will meet for our spring conference in Glasgow next weekend in great heart – it will be the biggest conference our party has ever seen, with around 3,000 delegates packed into the SECC.

It will be a chance for us to make our pitch directly to the people of Scotland – and to an engaged, energised electorate who are eager to have their say.

Nicola Sturgeon is First Minister of Scotland and MSP for Glasgow Southside