A new neo-liberal consensus in Scotland?

scott arthurScott Arthur says the STV leaders’ debate showed a gulf between the parties ready to use the new powers of the parliament, and those who want to keep the status quo.


The leaders’ debate hosted by STV last night may have been too long and too confrontational, but it did highlight one key fact: only Scottish Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Greens stand prepared to use the powers coming to Holyrood.

All have put forward a plan to tax those who can afford it a little more, and to invest that money in cutting inequality in Scotland.  One could argue that the Liberal Democrats don’t go far enough, that the Scottish Greens are unrealistic or that Kezia Dugdale is being too ambitious. However, it is clear that these parties have a radical a vision for Scotland.

By way of contrast, the Scottish Tories and the SNP appear happy with the status quo. Neither really wants to upset the approach which clearly is not working for so many Scots. Both are doggedly trying to appeal to middle-class voters whilst telling the rest of us that public services can be improved without real-terms increases in spending.  Both refuse to tax the richest 1% even a penny more. Indeed, a new neo-liberal consensus appears to have established itself at the heart of Scotland’s SNP political establishment.

While this may be depressing for many left-leaning Scots, there is a glimmer of hope. It is well-known that the SNP’s political agenda (excluding their relentless focus on independence) is driven, like Tony Blair’s was, by focus groups. These groups are clearly alerting Nicola Sturgeon to the fact that Scottish Labour’s progressive vision is gaining traction with voters. What else can explain why the First Minister chose to question Kezia Dugdale on the 2014 independence referendum, and not her  positive vision for Scotland?

And whilst this does not signal that an avalanche of voters is heading the way of Scottish Labour, it does perhaps show that people are willing to listen, and that arguments are beginning to be won. That’s a start.

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11 thoughts on “A new neo-liberal consensus in Scotland?

  1. My very thoughts Scott, never thought we would see a new Tory Party in Scotland, the SNP, led by she who must be obeyed.

    1. Just watched Scotland Tonight. Regarding Labours proposal to increase income tax by 1p (to end austerity), Labour have shelved their promise to give a rebate to those working poor earning less than 20K. In other words Labour in Scotland are going into the Scottish elections with a manifesto promise to increase the income tax of Scotlands poorest workers.
      Gordon, this is a train crash in Labours campaign. Labours chances of holding onto the ‘second party’ position in Scotland have been seriously undermined by this u turn. I am at a loss to understand why this policy volte face was made, but it has been and confirmed by Neil Findlay tonight on STV. The only explanation I have is that KD is being set to carry the can for ‘Disaster for Labour on May 5’.

      1. Richard,
        Under Labour the change in the personal allowance means those on low incomes are protected. They will not pay a penny more tax than they do today.

        1. The problem is that low earners will pay slightly more compared to England and Wales.
          It’s the same as how the Tories are attacking the SNP for that on the higher band. It might not be much, but it allows them to frame the debate in that way. We should never have let ourselves get in this position.

  2. Neo liberalism is just a name. A more descriptive term voters are more frequently using to differentiate Labour and the SNP with regards to the Scottish economy is credible and incredible.
    And with regard to focus groups; focus groups are voters. The SNP are trying to use focus groups to find out what the voters like and just as importantly dont like. They do this to enable them to shape their manifesto to attract more voters than the other parties and so get to from the next governemnt. To be honest I cant understand why Scott Arthur is so dismissive of such an obvious and handy tool.

    1. Richard,
      Yes, our political parties must listen to voters. However, I expect them to show leadership and set the agenda… not simply follow public opinion.

  3. Kezia’s main problem is that almost everyone who sees themselves as politically ‘radical’ in Scotland decided to identify as Scottish nationalists in 2014, rather than British nationalists. It’s hard to see any way back from that.

    There is also no sense in which mainstream Labour politicians over the last 30 years can claim to be ‘radical’: from Blair to Brown to Mandelson to borderline Tories like Tom Harris, John McTernan. Jim Murphy, etc.

    I agree that the SNP are not politically ‘radical’ (they can’t be, by definition), but then there is no other party for a genuine political radical over the age of 25 to vote for in Scotland. This is sad but true. I’d like to see something more Catalunian, where there would be a whole range of Scottish nationalist parties to vote for, thereby allowing for interesting rainbow coalitions.

  4. What annoys me is the Tories increasing the upper tax band in this budget, just before the Scottish elections.
    I am sure Ruth Davidson isn’t happy about it either. It handed the SNP the easy option of choosing the middle ground on tax. The compromise option.
    Rather than being on the defensive for taking the same position as the Tories.

    And Labour is now stuck defending a tax rise for the lowest earners because the ‘rebate’ position wasn’t thought through.
    At least we can’t be called the Red Tories any more. But what good is that if its not an election winning position ??
    I don’t understand it. When the SNP tried the Penny for Scotland gambit it went down like a lead balloon. And low earners aren’t to blame for austerity, so they don’t see why they should pay the price.

    1. I agree that Labour could have been clearer, but the change in the personal allowance means those on low incomes are protected. They will not pay a penny more tax than they do today.

    2. Did you not see the STV debate on wednesday, did you not hear your leader say she would stand side by side with the tories if their was another referendum, did you not hear your leader deny Scotland the right to have another referendum if their was a mandate agreed for one.

      Oh your the RED TORIES alright, your leader confirmed that on live TV last wednesday.

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