Who’re You Kidding Nicola?

Despite talk of a ‘progressive alliance’, Ms Sturgeon is fooling nobody. The dilemma is hers, and there aren’t any easy answers.

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It must be acknowledged as a moment of supreme pride for Ms Sturgeon personally, to finally stand before Scotland’s parliament with her very own democratic mandate. 63 MSPs after 9 consecutive years in power isn’t nothing, and the scale of the SNP achievement shouldn’t be underplayed.

Kudos where it is due.

That all said however, the SNP are only pulling the wool over their own eyes if they buy into their own rhetoric surrounding Ms Sturgeon’s ‘progressive alliance’ talk. One just needs to examine some major (indeed flagship) SNP policies from their manifesto to realise the dilemma she faces.

Leading a minority government means compromises all round. But for the SNP some compromises will be harder to make than others. In areas such as income tax, or proposed reforms to local government, the real policy similarities are, ironically for the Nats, between the SNP manifesto and #TeamRuth’s.

Income tax policy, reforms to local government, and swathes of early-years education reforms show an impressive policy overlap between the Scots Tories and the SNP. Ms Sturgeon will face the dilemma this will inevitably cast up. Do a deal with the Scots Tories on these policy areas (and therefore get to deliver most of what you set out to deliver), or refuse. A refusal would inflict major policy u-turns on the SNP, and in their first year since 2016’s Holyrood election. For any ‘no deals’ mentality when dealing with the Tories would mean increasing income tax on middle Scotland. The Greens, LibDems, Labour all want to increase the average taxpayers income tax, that is what they campaigned on. And together they’d demand the SNP buckle to this desire. The only way to avoid abandoning her flagship ‘no income tax increases’ pledge to Scotland would be for Ms Sturgeon to ‘do a deal’ with the Tories. It all sounds very 2007-2011 doesn’t it? Let’s not forget how vital Ms Goldie’s Tories where in delivering SNP finance bills through Holyrood back then. A potential back to the future moment raises its head.

But it is a delicious irony isn’t it?

Here is a First Minister who has spent her entire political (and no doubt personal) life spitting ‘Tory’ as if it were a four letter word. Yet at the same time, here is a FM who must surely realise that without those same Tories, her plans for income tax, local government reforms face serious challenge. Put it directly, no dealing with TeamRuth means the SNP effectively have to abandon key aspects of their domestic policy agenda.

Any refusal to ‘do a deal’ with the Tories to keep taxes down, to reform decrepit local government structures wouldn’t go down well with major segments of the SNP coalition. Rural N.E Scottish voters wouldn’t thank the SNP if they failed to deliver on these areas of policy when delivery was oh-so-possible. Indeed,the SNP already face serious challenge by the resurgent Tories in the N.E, and the Tayside. The Tory victory in Aberdeen West, and our dominance on the N.E list underpins the very real threat we pose to the SNP ascendency up in that part of the world. In the Tayside the swings from SNP to Tory averaged 12%-13%. In Perthshire South & Kinross-Shire constituency, the majority plummeted from 7,166 to just 1,384. And the SNP heavy-weight John Swinney faced tense scenes as his majority fell by over half in one night, making it contestable in the future. The SNP took these parts of Scotland from the Tories in the 1970s-1980s, and now the Tories are clearly threatening to take them back. That is why the Sturgeon dilemma is so interesting.

She refuses to do any deals with the Tories, and u-turns on tax and local gov’t reform as she does deals with the other parties, she achieves two things. One: cements her party in the central belt that they’ve recently taken from Labour. But two: they further weaken their position in the rural N.E vis-a-vis the Tories.

All TeamRuth need to say to the voters would be, ‘look, we offered support to keep your taxes from rising, and to reform local gov’t but they refused to even negotiate’. This, coupled with the farm payments fiasco and the serious loss of trust between planet Nat’s politburo in Edinburgh & the rural lairds could mix to be a perfect storm; eroding the foundations of Nat supremacy in rural N.E Scotland.

All I know is this, the dilemma is Sturgeon’s, and so is all of the current hubris. Talk of a ‘progressive alliance’ may appeal to the majority of the SNPs core membership, but it will do nothing to rebuild their crumbling citidels in rural Scotland. Sorry Nic, but you aren’t fooling anyone but yourself with rhetoric like ‘progressive alliance’. Especially when on tax, local gov’t and early years education you’re mimicking the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party.

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