The SNP have derided Scottish Labour for being ‘Red Tories’, and claim they are the only true left wing, socialist party in Scotland. However, the SNP’s rhetoric is very different from their actions. In truth, the SNP have had electoral success in Scotland from campaigning in the centre-ground, subsidising the middle-classes, and doing very little to help the poor.
Take tuition fees as a good example. The SNP have made a lot of the fact that university education is free in Scotland, unlike in England where students now have to pay £9,000 a year. Mhairi Black, the SNP’s youngest MP at the age of 20 and currently a student herself, recently claimed on BBC Newsbeat Election Debates that she would not have been able to afford a university education if she had lived in England, as she wouldn’t have been able to “fork out” £9,000 a year.
Of course this isn’t true at all, in England no fees are paid up front and generous grants and allowances are given to students from poor backgrounds. The rhetoric of ‘free education’ in Scotland might sound great, but in reality Scotland has the lowest percentage of students from poor backgrounds going to university in the whole of the UK, reported by The Herald.
The SNP’s continued policy of free tuition fees has meant they have had to reduce government grants for students from poorer families. A report by Lucy Hunter Blackburn, a former civil servant with the Scottish government, cited by the Guardian, claims that, while middle-class students will remain £20 million better off, the costs for poor students have risen by over £32 million.
Blackburn says that, “Free tuition in Scotland is the perfect middle-class, feel-good policy. It’s superficially universal, but in fact it benefits the better-off most, and is funded by pushing the poorest students further and further into debt.”
The SNP government in Scotland had a clear choice between keeping the populist policy of free tuition, or helping the poorest students with grants. The SNP chose to keep the middle-class subsidy.
A similar theme can be seen with the free prescriptions in Scotland. In England, children, the elderly, and those on benefits, all don’t pay any prescription charges. By scrapping prescription charges in Scotland the SNP effectively put more money in the pockets of those that can already afford to pay. Yet while the Scottish government spends £57 million a year subsidising prescription drugs, it refuses to find the money for a cancer drugs fund that could help those who really need it (as is the case in England).
The same can be said of social care, where the Scottish governments is spending £100s of millions on making sure well off pensioners are given free care homes or social care. In a country where 17% of pensioners are now in absolute poverty, surely the Scottish government could be better targeting the £450 million it spends on giving wealthy pensioners free social care.
There is also the issue that the SNP are keen to introduce FFA (full fiscal autonomy). This would give Holyrood control of almost all Scotland's tax and spending.
As the IFS have predicted, this would mean £8 billion of spending cuts to Scottish expenditure just to get Scotland's deficit to the same level as the rest of the UK. If Scotland thinks Tory cuts are bad, these would be far worse.
If Scotland were to raise the basic rate of income tax by 1p it would raise only £330 million, which highlights quite how bad the tax rises and spending cuts would have to be in order to raise a further £8 billion.
Nicola Sturgeon's party support FFA because it would arguably take Scotland a step closer to independence, and this is inherently the problem with the SNP. The Scottish nationalists, by their very nature, will always choose a policy that advances the cause of Scottish independence over a policy that helps the most vulnerable in Scotland.