Andrew Liddle

The SNP has given Labour a golden opportunity

(Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Humza Yousaf is not a leader with troubles to seek. In the three weeks since his election as First Minister, the SNP has been rocked by a series of arrests and accusations of mismanagement. Meanwhile, the Scottish Nationalists’ poll ratings have continued to slide as Yousaf’s attempts to regain the initiative have inevitably been overshadowed by more negative headlines about his party, government, or both. Rather than a honeymoon, Yousaf has so far endured a holiday from hell. 

Arguably his most damaging misstep is his lurch to the left on policy. Under the influence of his political partners, the Scottish Green party, Yousaf is determined to squeeze an ever-shrinking tax base while paying mere lip service to economic growth. As he outlined in a speech to the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, Yousaf intends to be ‘bolder’ on taxation and redistribution of wealth – despite Scotland already being the highest taxed part of the UK. The exact form this ‘bold’ action will take has yet to be outlined, but Yousaf has already indicated his willingness to lower the higher rate threshold to £40,000 and introduce a new 44 per cent rate on those earning more than £75,000 a year. At the same time, Yousaf’s statement offered warm words but little succour to Scotland’s weary business community, other than to dump or delay some of his predecessor’s more encumbering regulations, such as the deposit return scheme. Rather than tax and spend, Yousaf’s mantra is increasingly tax and mismanage. 

This represents a significant change of tack for the SNP, which – despite the radicalism of its central premise – has never been a party in favour of sweeping social change. While Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon enjoyed grandstanding about social justice and equality, they also sought to support business and economic growth. Both former first ministers recognised that the outcome of an election in Scotland, as elsewhere in the UK, is determined by who controls the centre ground.

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Written by
Andrew Liddle

Andrew Liddle is a political writer and former adviser to Scottish Labour. He is author of Cheers, Mr Churchill! and Ruth Davidson and the Resurgence of the Scottish Tories.

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