Economic growth is a taboo subject in Scottish politics. Throughout a succession of administrations, of all shades and stripes, the focus of government in Scotland has been almost wholly on social policy. To the extent economic policy has been widely considered, it is in the context of how yet more money can be squeezed from an increasingly compressed and constricted tax base.
The consequences of this inertia are now evident in abundance. Scotland’s GDP growth rate has lagged significantly behind the rest of the UK over the last decade – a not inconsiderable achievement given recent circumstances – while productivity remains stubbornly low, below the national average. Meanwhile, Scotland also faces significant structural challenges, not least its rapidly ageing population. In short, without significant and sustained economic growth, Scotland and its public services are on course to fall into an ever darker, ever deeper, black hole.
Despite increasingly urgent and apocalyptic warnings from business and industry about this looming crisis, Scotland’s politicians remain reluctant to act (if you are kind) – or incapable of acting (if you are not). Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s ailing First Minister, is likely to announce plans to increase Scotland’s already significant income tax rates further, but in this instance at least he is not the only culpable party.
For years it has been perfectly common – indeed, almost accepted – that party political manifestos for Scottish parliament elections need not be costed. This not only betrays the lack of seriousness among the Scottish political class when it comes to economic policy, but also its distinct lack of vision. After all, if you are not going to bother to cost your manifesto, there is no reason why you should not promise to, quite literally, pave the streets with gold.