SNP overplays its hand over horrendous ‘rape clause’ – Kenny MacAskill

After a row breaks out over the SNP’s criticism of the UK Government’s benefits ‘rape clause’ and the Scottish Government’s refusal to offset its effects in Scotland, Kenny MacAskill writes that the party needs to be careful not to overplay its hand.

Shirley-Anne Somerville attacked the Tories then ran for cover, says Kenny MacAskill (Picture: John Devlin)
Shirley-Anne Somerville attacked the Tories then ran for cover, says Kenny MacAskill (Picture: John Devlin)

The rape clause spat is what irritates ordinary folk about politicians. There’s logic in both arguments and yet an absolute position is taken by all sides.

The two-child cap on tax credits – unless the mother can show a third or subsequent child was born through rape – is horrendous. It’s degrading and inflicting misery – both food banks and appalling levels of child poverty testify to that.

Campaigners are right to call it out and Alison Thewliss has been relentless in her pursuit of the UK Government. Yet, it’s also correct that the Scottish Government has the powers to mitigate it, even if it comes at a hefty price tag.

Of course, it’s all part of a Tory plan to either minimise or share the blame, with the Scottish Government required to either suck it up or soak it up. They can plug the gap or pay a political price.

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But that’s always been known. Some see it as a benefit of devolution, others as a trap. It’s also the case that not every cut can be offset by Holyrood. The bill would be too high, nevermind restricting the priorities of the Scottish administration.

But the SNP are hoist by their own petard on this. If it’s so awful, and I think it is, then they have a duty to at least try and mitigate it or explain why they can’t.

Had they left it to their Westminster MPs, they could have avoided any seeming acceptance of responsibility, but perhaps understandably they argued more broadly than that. Had they explained the costs and referred to their limited budget that too may have been acceptable in public eyes. Given other pressing needs, it may well be a price too high for Holyrood and something only Westminster can fix. But instead the Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville lambasted the Tories and then ran for cover, her seeming intransigence undermining Alison Thewliss’ efforts. It’s a lesson not to play overplay their hand. The SNP needs to learn to pick its battlegrounds and ensure it can afford its powers and Westminster has to foot the bill for those that are too expensive. Otherwise leave it to Westminster colleagues to argue.