John Ferry John Ferry

Scotland’s post-reality politics

(Photo by JEFF J MITCHELL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

When the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) uses the word ‘disappointing’ in its press release, you know things are getting serious.

This week, the IFS said a ‘lack of credibility’ unites the policy manifestos of the three biggest Scottish political parties (the SNP, Scottish Labour and the Scottish Conservatives) competing for votes in the Holyrood election next week. The IFS’s David Phillips also said that, with the exception of the Scottish Conservatives, it was ‘disappointing’ to see ‘no serious attempt by the parties to provide transparent and comprehensive costings for their plans’.

The Tories still got a telling off though, as did the SNP again, for underestimating the true cost of their NHS spending promises. ‘It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the SNP and Scottish Conservatives have downplayed likely increases in how much they would need to allocate to the NHS in order to flatter the amount available for their other myriad pledges,’ said the IFS.

By any objective measure, including the Scottish government’s own statistics, Scotland gets more money out of the UK than it puts in.

And Scottish Labour got a rap on the knuckles for not setting out their NHS and other spending plans beyond this year. For all three parties, ‘paying for the additional billions of pounds of commitments and ambitions set out would require increases in Scottish taxes or cuts to some other areas of spending – unless there is a substantial increase in UK Government funding.’

As the IFS makes clear, the spending commitments are a fantasy. None of the big parties are talking anywhere about cuts or increases in taxes. The manifestos are completely disconnected from upcoming Scottish budget realities. In this sense they fit perfectly into the groove of contemporary Scottish politics, which exists in a kind of la-la land of unrecognised truths and rehearsed pretences.

But as the parties go through the motions of engaging in their pretend spending promises dance-off, we should at least acknowledge that the system and context they are working with has directly incentivised it.

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