Eddie Barnes: A radical Scotland can’t become a reality if the SNP tries to be all things to all men

SNP has long been vocal in its opposition to Trident. Picture: Getty
SNP has long been vocal in its opposition to Trident. Picture: Getty
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NEXT weekend, pro-independence left-wingers will gather in Glasgow. The “Radical Independence Conference” will set out a clear vision of what they hope an independent Scotland will look like in four years time.

The fiscal conservatism of the current UK coalition government would be replaced with a socialist model. Trident, NATO and the monarchy – all would go too.

Author and supporter Iain Banks declares that “without resorting to crude we’re-so-briliant nationalism or outright racism”, there is a basic “cultural difference” between the Scots and the English. “The Scots… just seem to be more communitarian than the consensus expressed by the UK population as a whole,” he notes. This claim is also made by YesScotland campaigners who use the UK government’s welfare reforms as an example of a policy which isn’t wanted here. The rationale for independence is to free Scotland’s political landscape from the right-wing shackles of Westminster and let the country’s social democratic will be expressed.

And yet, as SNP campaign figures like to remind their own colleagues, if independence is to be won, they will be require 50 per cent plus one in two years’ time. That means they have to try to convince everyone of the merits of independence – and not just the converted on the left. The SNP’s NATO U-turn last month was the most obvious recent attempt to do so. So, too, is Alex Salmond’s monarchist conversion and his plan to slash corporation tax. It has led former Tory councillor and pro-independence backer Peter de Vink to declare that the SNP ”talks left but acts right”.

The SNP has managed these two strands up till now. But with the independence debate now front and centre, the tension inherent is growing. One union leader, Dave Watson, who says he is open to the idea of a left-wing independent Scotland, calls the SNP’s vision as “Scandimerica” – or “Scandinavian services on US tax rates”. Those on the pro-independence left share his scepticism, believing the SNP’s attempt to appeal to all sides is turning the fizz of independence into a cup of weak lukewarm tea – and nowhere near Banks’s “communitarian” ideal.

And yet Alex Salmond will know that, a lurch to the left and a binning of his business-friendly tax plans will lose him the support of key influencers such as airline chief Willie Walsh, who last week made encouraging noises about the SNP’s tax plans.

A logical and completely impractical solution would be for the SNP to prepare for the referendum by becoming a looser coalition of left, centrist and right groups, free to articulate their own prospectus. But the party has a devolved government to run in the meantime. It also will want to stay unified in the tribal battle against the No camp. So, more likely, the party will plough on in the hope that firm central control will paper over the cracks. It’s realistic – but it isn’t radical.