Why the cost-of-living crisis is a test of SNP priorities

Since 2007, the SNP has become adept at being 'government in opposition'.

It is a strategy that runs deep in Nicola Sturgeon and her colleague’s politics and is a regular rhetorical device used across economy, health and transport policy.

The tactic is simple – argue you in government are doing all you can within the powers of the devolution settlement and can do no more than paper over the cracks caused by not being independent.

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Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during First Minster's Questions at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh.

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During a period of Tory austerity, this has proven fruitful ground for the SNP and is arguably the most successful electoral approach from any government since 2007.

However, the cost-of-living crisis will be its toughest test.

The Scottish public will be facing rising energy bills, tax increases, food and fuel price inflation and stagnant wage growth.

While the argument from the SNP will be to give Scotland the powers to tackle these issues, independence would be years away and any additional devolution would likely be ignored by Boris Johnson.

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Even if additional powers may help the Scottish Government in hypothetical future crises, what good does banging the constitutional drum do to people facing the choice between heating and eating now?

This does and should not let the Conservative UK Government off the hook.

They have all the economic levers available and they could and should do more, and the Chancellor only has to look at the furlough scheme to see what is possible with the political will.

But the Scottish Government has a budget in the billions.

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For the SNP the response to the cost of living crisis is not a question of funding.

It is simply a question of priorities.

Ministers will point to the doubling of the Scottish Child Payment and other increases in benefits, but charities and experts are effectively begging politicians to do more, now.

The failure of the SNP to respond to the crisis in a way that matches the scale of the problem will be ruthlessly exploited by Labour at the next general election.

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If there is an election in 2023 or 2024 and the cost-of-living crisis continues to hit the pockets of ordinary people, the SNP and the Tories could face the electoral music.

It will be up to voters whether the SNP/Green government's priorities are the right ones.

Want to hear more from The Scotsman's politics team? Check out the latest episode of our political podcast, The Steamie.

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

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