As they prepare to try to breath life back into the nationalist cause, the SNP give the impression of having lost their soul.
George Romero’s classic zombie films are much scarier than modern ones. In more recent films of the genre, the undead run at the living. They are enraged monsters, filled with evil purpose. Romero understood that what was truly horrific about his shuffling zombies wasn’t that they wanted to eat us, it was that they were us without passion. In his films the resurrected aren’t animated and angry, they are listless and lifeless versions of the living. We are unsettled watching zombies because they are doomed to an endless, meaningless facsimile of life.
Watching the SNP in recent weeks has filled me a similar sense of disquiet. They repeat old routines but are increasingly lifeless, monotonous, and purposeless.
This is SNP Austerity
When Nicola Sturgeon came to power she was clear about her animating cause. Her “personal defining mission” was to ensure that kids born to poorer parents would get as good an education as those raised by the rich. That project is now officially dead and in place of that moral cause we are offered cuts to education.
The cuts came in a brutal Spending Review by the Finance Minister Kate Forbes. Despite the Scottish Government’s budget increasing in real terms over the next few years, public services are going to be slashed. As Forbes boasts of a financial reality check, for those of us on the centre-left, all the wrong people are cheering her.
The movement whose bumper stickers promised to prioritise Bairns Not Bombs is cutting early years provision in real terms. The party whose members cosplay as The Bruce or Black Douglas on their protest marches is cutting the budget for the stewards of Arbroath Abbey and Stirling Castle by a quarter. The leader who flies around the globe to proclaim that closing the door on the UK means opening Scotland to the world is cutting spending on trade and tourism by 16%.
After 15 years of local council services being stripped to the bone by the SNP, a fresh round of cuts will go marrow deep. It is just as well that compliant SNP council leaders have been replaced across Scotland by opposition parties who will at least voice complaint.
The nationalist strategists who ran a campaign telling us that leaving the UK is the way to escape austerity are now briefing that the SNP’s pre-independence austerity will reassure voters that there won’t be irresponsible spending post-independence. All the signs are that the SNP will stick with the Sustainable Growth Commission blueprint for sterlingisation and lower public spending. A fresh article by Andrew Wilson was crammed with euphemisms for the austerity to come: "It will be challenging","the work of a generation and more", "the process will be challenging", "self-improvement takes hard work and effort".
This spending review should end the lie that you can spend more on social provision without either significantly raising taxes or significantly growing the tax take by growing the economy. The SNP haven’t done enough of either, with Scottish growth falling behind that of other parts of the UK which have far fewer devolved powers. Modest changes in income tax aren’t doing enough to fill the gap. Instead, election promises are paid for by cutting public services. Rather than a focus on growing the economy, the investment intended to create the jobs is being cut. It is a recipe for continuing national decay.
However welcome new universal provision is (and it is) it can never be truly progressive when the poor are robbed by the other hand.
This is not a new tactic from the SNP: think abolishing the graduate tax for those benefiting from university education and paying for it by denying college education to those on lower incomes; introducing free prescriptions for the wealthier while cutting NHS treatment for those struggling with addiction; giving baby boxes full of goodies to wealthy parents while more and more children slip into poverty.
What has changed now is that they cannot credibly claim that the cuts are Tory callousness while the benefits are SNP largess. Both sides of the ledger are their choice. This is SNP austerity.
What is the point?
The conversion to austerity economics was inevitable because lower public spending is inevitable if we leave the UK. What has changed is that the SNP are trying to make a virtue out of their rhetoric now being more aligned with reality. There are signs of this in other areas too.
The firebrand rhetoric about ‘removing the obscenity of nuclear weapons from Scottish waters!’ has been replaced with the admission from the SNP Defence Spokesperson that being NATO members means we will have to accept nuclear weapons in our waters. SNP activists were understandably miffed by this, only to be chided by their Foreign Affairs spokesperson for indulging in “the narcissism of small differences.” Taken together with the early years cuts, it seems the bumper stickers now reads Bombs Not Bairns.
The strategy behind all this seems to be to offer reassurance to voters who worry that leaving the UK is too much of an upheaval. But watching the nationalists go full circle on their animating grievances, voters may be left wondering: what is the point of any of this anymore. An SNP that has abandoned its moral mission for the future of our children, that sells its own austerity as prudent economics, that gives away power over our currency to a foreign power, and that argues for nuclear weapons in Scottish waters, feels like an SNP whose soul is decaying. You might not have agreed with their proposition in the past, but at least they had a purpose.
The party will doubtless continue to plod aimlessly onwards, their principles slowly decaying, their activists mouthing the words of positions they no longer hold. The only flickers of light in the eyes of nationalists will come when they talk about the referendum that nobody really believes will happen. Even appears to be rotting away though.
After a fresh round of results from all the regular pollsters there is not a single poll now showing a majority for leaving the UK.
Ipsos, one of the most respected pollsters, had been an outlier with strong leads for the nationalists. Now they have the pro-Union side ahead. Yougov has the split at 44 Yes 55 No. Despite being gifted with a Prime Minister who can’t even convincing his own MPs that he should be governing the country, the SNP can barely move the needle.
We are told that we will soon see the publication of plans that will breath some life into the nationalist cause. It will be a challenge because at the moment the SNP appear to be a zombie party and independence to be an undead cause.