Down one path lies a perilous future based on fantasy economics that ignores Scotland’s problems – particularly the £3.5 billion black hole predicted to appear in the government’s finances by 2026/27 – because of the SNP’s single-minded focus on securing and then winning a referendum on Scottish independence.
Choosing the other path would see Finance Secretary Kate Forbes face up to hard reality and announce that she has made some tough decisions about increasing taxes or cutting public spending, when she reveals the details of the government’s Resource Spending Review for the next four years.
Commenting on her dilemma, two experts at the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies wrote: “Difficult choices on Scottish tax and spending over the next few years will eventually have to be faced. Political considerations – including those related to the Scottish Government’s desire for another independence referendum – will undoubtedly play a role in whether those choices are made clear next week or not. Announcing them could be delayed, but they can’t be avoided for long.”
This essentially sets out in a nutshell the corrosive effect of the continual constitutional debate – aka the ‘neverendum’ – on Scottish politics.
Forbes is under pressure not to take decisions which are likely to be politically unpopular because it could damage support for independence – even if they are necessary for the good of the country.
However, there is a counter-argument that doing the right thing also makes sense from the SNP’s point of view.
It would help restore credibility to a government rocked by the Ferrygate scandal, the state of education and the NHS, and other problems that have trashed a previous reputation for a degree of managerial competence.
Furthermore, given independence would undoubtedly be an economic cataclysm, many voters considering the idea will want to be reassured that the government in charge of the process of leaving the UK is capable of doing so in a way that would minimise the damage.
So, while Forbes may be tempted to take the easier and apparently more attractive path, the political calculations are not simple. The economic ones, on the other hand, are blindingly obvious. The sooner we face our problems, the better.