Scott 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.