Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Rare Steaks and Sacred Cows

Out for dinner last night in Stirling with some old friends from university and one of our old politics lecturers. We usually get together about twice or three times a year to enjoy a steak and chew the (political) fat, but last night our numbers were enhanced by the presence of Russell, who looks after the SNP's IT needs from 3,500 miles away at his new home in Virginia.

Russell and his wife Joanna recently became parents to a beautiful baby girl, Eilidh. So while it's good to see him on one of his all too rare visits back to Scotland, it's tinged with a wee bit of sadness that he's had to leave the family behind this time. Still, the baby pics came out courtesy of his mobile phone, so at least we got to see how Eilidh has grown since April.

Dinner was as lively as ever, with most of us fairly optimistic about the week to come at the SNP Conference in Perth. Support for Independence is as high as ever, though we agreed we'd like to see the party doing better in the polls than it is currently. We also had a good laugh at the sour and bitter article which Brian Wilson wrote in Scotland on Sunday, before scratching our heads over what Professor James Mitchell had to say in the Sunday Herald.

Mitchell is one of the few commentators who doesn't carry a great deal of anti-nationalist baggage around with him, which means that when he speaks, the SNP usually listens. However, what puzzled us all was the passage in his article where he stated that:

"The real challenge for the Nationalists will be in discontinuing policies long sanctified because they are distinctly Scottish. Slaying a few sacred cows would signify a confident nationalism. In particular, the SNP needs to identify policies done better in England – not because they are English but because they are best for Scotland".

If there's such a thing as 'New SNP', then it was well represented around the table last night. I think all of us would subscribe to the view that policies should be considered on their merits, rather than on where they originate. After all, just because a policy originates in England doesn't automatically mean it is wrong for Scotland, any more than it means it will be automatically right.

It's a view shared at the top of the party, which is why the SNP has been looking at health policies like 'payment by results', as practiced in Norway. It's also goes some way towards explaining why English foundation hospitals, with their need to shed thousands of front line NHS staff to offset their multi-billion pound debts, have not been considered.

Scots policy makers have a fair bit to learn from England and vice versa. But the fact that Scotland has 1/10th of the UK population on 1/3rd of the landmass, with a sparse population outside the central belt and pockets of severe urban deprivation alongside areas of great affluence, mean that the policies which work for England won't always work for Scotland. While a lot of priorities north and south of the border might be identical, it doesn't always follow that the best means of delivering on those priorities will also be identical.

That simple statement of fact forms a key part of the case for self-government. But while it might confound and infuriate someone like Brian Wilson were the SNP to ostentatiously adopt an English health or education policy rejected by the Scottish Executive, I reckon Scottish voters would see right through Mitchell's suggested ploy and simply regard us as being a bunch of chancers.

The SNP needs to continue to build its credibility between now and May, which it can do best by working towards a manifesto which chimes with Scottish needs and aspirations. Advocating policies which stand on their own merits, regardless of where they happen to come from, seems to me to be the best way to continue that process.

Killing a 'sacred cow' for the sake of it, while superficially attractive, would mean adopting the worst excesses of Blairite spin just as the country is looking for an alternative. I hope that this week we'll see the SNP leave the spinning and posturing to Labour, and get on with putting the flesh on the bones of how we hope to make Scotland a better place in which to live.


Anonymous said...

Rare Steaks and sacred cows

Scotland has 1/3rd of the landmass of the UK

I do wish you people would wake up a wee bit never mind the UK take a map scale for scale of Scotland and England, lay Scotland over England and you will be very surprised as to how large Scotland is relative to England, if you chop off Wales and then add all the Scottish Islands you will find Scotland is not as the labour party likes us to believe the best [wee] country !!!! it is bigger than England So come on there is nothing small about Scotland, exepting of course the sad sack out of date unfit for any Scottish purpose unionist bag men and women

Richard Thomson said...

I wasn't arguing that Scotland was small. My point was that Scotland has 1/10 of the population compared to England's 8/10, spread over what is, as you point out, roughly the same area.

For that reason, many things need to be done differently in Scotland, which is why we need to have economic and social policies better attuned to our needs. Since Holyrood has only limited powers, that for me means Independence.