Nicola Sturgeon Programme for Government: For once, Scottish Labour and the SNP both have a point on cost-of-living

There was one central takeaway from Nicola Sturgeon’s Programme for Government, and that is that both her and Anas Sarwar have a point.

The First Minister spent significant portions of her speech outlining why Scotland cannot act radically tackle the cost-of-living crisis, lamenting the lack of serious economic and legislative levers available to her Government.

It is a fair point.

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Nicola Sturgeon announces rent freeze to help tackle cost-of-living crisis
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The SNP leader cannot intervene on the multi-billion scale available to Liz Truss, nor borrow at a level sufficient to radically alleviate poverty in the short term, or re-engineer the energy market to better protect consumers.

In crises like these, with a difference in political outlook from Westminster shared by more than two-thirds of the Scottish Parliament, Ms Sturgeon is hampered by devolution.

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More powers and by extension more economic freedom would be useful for her to hold, that is a simple fact.

Nicola Sturgeon and Anas Sarwar gave different solutions to the cost-of-living crisis.
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Despite this, the announcements she did make – particularly the rent freeze, the Scottish Child Payment, and the ScotRail fares freeze – demonstrate with clarity Mr Sarwar is also right.

Scotland is not doing as much as it could with the powers it holds.

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The rent freeze, while welcome news for those who faced potentially inflation-busting increases to help pay their landlord’s mortgage, will be judged by the detail.

It must simultaneously protect tenants from rises now, but also significant hikes after the freeze ends, alongside covering student accommodation, and ensuring landlords cannot increase rents between tenancies or if tenancies end during the freeze period.

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The salient point from Scottish Labour is these measures could have been introduced earlier, preventing thousands of rent increases across the sector over the summer (including, as a disclaimer, my own £900-a-year increase).

The SNP could also have gone further at no budgetary cost.

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Nowhere to be seen was reform of council tax, something that could claw back hundreds in payments to second home owners in the short term and redress systemic unfairness in the long run.

Yes, Scotland could do with the powers of Westminster in a crisis like this.

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It is also true it could be using its own much better

The SNP balancing constitutional grievance and increasing support for independence with failing to fully use devolution during this cost-of-living crisis is arguably Ms Sturgeon’s biggest political challenge yet.

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All episodes of the brand new limited series podcast, How to be an independent country: Scotland’s Choices, are out now.

It is available wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

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