Richard Leonard will seek to capitalise on criticism of the SNP’s Growth Commission from the left, with the Scottish Labour leader saying in a speech today that independence would deliver the “austerity economics of nationalism”.
The Growth Commission’s report on the economy of an independent Scotland warned that “robust” control of public spending would be needed and called for the country’s deficit to be reduced to less than 3 per cent of the government’s budget.
It has been attacked from the left of the independence movement, with the latest salvo coming from former Yes Scotland campaign chairman Dennis Canavan, who accused the report’s author of ignoring the role of trade unions.
But the report has been defended by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who said yesterday the report would win over No voters and help clinch victory in a second independence referendum.
In a speech today, Mr Leonard will argue only Labour are committed to a radical, anti-austerity economic agenda.
“The real divide in the UK is not between the people of the four nations,” he will say. “It is between the richest and the rest of us. Austerity is a political, not an economic, choice and it is the choice being taken by both Ruth Davidson and Nicola Sturgeon.
“That’s the new dividing line which has opened up in Scottish politics; the SNP and the Tories on one side promoting another decade of austerity and public expenditure cuts and Labour on the other promoting a decade of real and sustainable investment in public services and our economy.”
In a column in the Sunday Herald ahead of the SNP conference this week, Ms Sturgeon said the report offered “clear and solid foundations” to “win the trust of a majority of our fellow citizens” in a future independence referendum.
The First Minister admitted in her piece the document had been designed to target those that had been against independence in 2014. She attacked claims it was a recipe for extreme austerity as “bogus” and as “scare” stories from the pro-Union parties. Ms Sturgeon wrote: “Some others who have been firmly opposed to independence have been prompted to look at the arguments afresh – and while not yet fully persuaded, now see the option of independence as a legitimate and credible one.”
She said the report had been “deliberately cautious” in order to “prove that the deficit is not a barrier to independence” and added: “We have to show that people’s jobs, their bank accounts, their rents and mortgages and their pensions are at the forefront of our thoughts.”