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Salmond's first hundred days
THE SCOTTISH National party (SNP) government recently marked its first 100 days in power in Scotland. Approval ratings have shown First Minister Alex Salmond outpolling his opponents by around three to one. The SNP are riding high in the polls with the SNP's "Holyrood hike" trumping the "Brown bounce" which saw Labour move ahead of the Tories at a UK level.
Philip Stott, Dundee
The first months of SNP administration have seen the abolition of tolls on the Forth and Tay bridges, reversals of decisions to shut Accident and Emergency departments at Monklands and Ayr hospitals and the intention to abolish the graduate endowment for students. These are all widely welcomed.
At the same time however, the SNP has underlined its support for big business and capitalist interests. Alex Salmond announced the establishment of the Council of Economic Advisors, full of neo-liberal ideologues.
This body is chaired by the Royal Bank of Scotland's former head, George Mathewson, who infamously told RBS staff protesting at a lack of decent pay that: "Staff who have not received increases under our approach are poor performers or those who are paid at the maximum salary scale." This was at a time when RBS profits had grown to £7.1 billion a year.
The SNP say this body will play a crucial role in developing government economic policy. Clearly the driving down of tax rates for business and "efficiency savings" i.e. cuts in the public sector, will be at the heart of their approach.
The SNP were elected on a manifesto pledge to end the use of private finance to build schools and hospitals. PFI/PPP is being replaced by a "Scottish Trust" - a government bond that would provide a cheaper way to allocate capital spending for public-sector projects.
However, Enterprise Minister Jim Mather recently told Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce that he was meeting with international business to encourage them to "invest in Scottish public services."
The SNP see this alternative to PPP as being underpinned by international finance but big business will want their pound of flesh for their investment. Mather commented: "We have had financiers from the US recognising that something is happening in Scotland now, and the message they are taking back to America is that if investors wanted to get into Ireland in 1986, they should be investing in Scotland now."
Alex Salmond admits some hard decisions lie ahead. The Scottish Executive's budget, based on a Treasury block grant, is likely to be squeezed when Gordon Brown announces the public spending plans later this autumn. Salmond commented: "The general impression points to a much, much, much tighter spending round than has previously been the case."
The SNP, who want to prove themselves a 'competent' government, will "face up honestly" to these challenges. In other words they will make the necessary cuts.
The SNP, in coalition with the Lib Dems in Edinburgh council, have unleashed a vicious £10 million cuts programme on schools, communities and nursery education. This shows the likely direction that the SNP government in Holyrood will take, bringing the SNP into conflict with increasing numbers of trade unionists, workers and communities.
Building a socialist alternative to the parties of big business remains a vital task in the months ahead.
Talking about a constitution
THE SNP manifesto promised to deliver a referendum on Scottish independence by 2011. But, with most Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) opposed to any referendum, the SNP face an obstacle.
Alex Salmond and the Executive have produced a document to kick-start a "National Conversation" on Scotland's constitutional future. The SNP still advocate independence, but have for some years accepted a gradualist approach involving building extra powers for Scotland's parliament. Most of the Choosing Scotland's Future document does not deal with independence but with which powers should be accrued.
The SNP's commitment to capitalist interests is underlined when the document explains that: "devolution of responsibility for economic and fiscal policy would allow a Scottish government to design a business tax environment calculated to encourage investment in Scotland." In other words it would allow a Scottish government to cut corporation and other business taxes to boost big business profitability.
A consistent majority in opinion polls favours increased powers while a minority back full independence. The SNP strategy partly reflects this opposition to independence among much of the population, including most of big business.
Salmond aims to prove the SNP's ability to govern "responsibly" while seeking to push ahead on the constitution. By dangling the carrot of a low-tax paradise for big business in a Scotland with a form of fiscal autonomy, they aim to win the backing of these interests.
The Lib Dems favour more powers as do the Tories. Even New Labour now concede that the devolutionary settlement needs looking at, although they have all joined forces in a "unionist alliance" to oppose any referendum that includes an independence option.
The Socialist (Scotland) supports a multi-option referendum with the Scottish people's right to decide on greater powers for the parliament, the status quo and full independence.
Whatever the outcome of the 'national conversation' the need for clear socialist policies based on public ownership and democratic control of the economy, an end to privatisation, the abolition of the anti-union laws, a decent minimum wage and the removal of Trident are vital if real change is going to be delivered.
A socialist Scotland is not an optional extra, it is the only antidote to the capitalist market defended by all the main parties.
In The Socialist 27 September 2007:
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