Forget the underwhelming third Kate Forbes budget. All Scottish eyes should be on Berlin – and Cardiff. The German and Welsh capitals are now home to new governments that bring together once-bitter political opponents in the pursuit of economic and social change.
The new “traffic light” government headed by Chancellor Olaf Scholz is a genuine coalition – “an alliance for freedom, justice and sustainability” – of Social Democrats, Greens and Liberals. Each party has won key ministries.
In contrast, the new Welsh Assembly Government headed (again) by Labour’s Mark Drakeford has no Welsh Nationalist/Plaid Cymru ministers in a formal coalition. It is, rather, built on a ‘co-operation agreement,’ with nationalists providing special advisers – and an array of policies.
What unites these two experiments is what Drakeford calls “shared values of social solidarity” and what the 177-page “coalition treaty” sets out as “the goal of driving forward the necessary modernisation” of a Germany that, in many ways, stagnated under Angela Merkel.
Of course, we have our own SNP-led coalition government or “ground-breaking co-operation agreement” with two Green ministers (Lorna Slater and Patrick Harvie) in post so it amounts to a coalition de facto. The point is that there is barely a scintilla of policy difference between the two governing parties and, as the Budget demonstrates, little by way of fundamental policy change. (See James Mitchell and FAI on these pages.)
Does anybody seriously imagine this administration will deliver any of the radical transformations Scotland needs: the just transition to a green, sustainable, digital economy; the eradication of chronic poverty, under-achievement and inequality; and, finally, its own prized goal: independence. Without which, the parties say, none of the above changes (and more) is possible.
As the FT puts it in a relatively sympathetic editorial, “if New Zealand and Scotland end up with governments that bear the lustre of green politics but deliver little of concrete value it will be a shame.” And the same goes for inequality and the digital economy. The Scottish Government, self-avowed admirer of European values and policies, has no connection with continental ideas on all these. It is intellectually spent, even in its new coalition form.
Convincing coalition of change
As the Johnson government in Westminster faces terminal decay after just two years, many commentators on the (centre-) Left such as Raphael Behr and Neal Lawson are looking to new coalitions of the willing and able to take power in any post-Tory constellation. The notion of a “progressive alliance” on the historical precedent of the popular front is gaining ground.
Lawson is blunt: “The numbers don’t lie. SNP MPs will be needed to form a new government – and everyone can see it.” Given that UK Labour needs to win at least 123 seats, according to Luke Raikes, research director, and that includes 25 in Scotland, to regain power after 13 or 14 years in opposition, it would be fanciful to pretend otherwise. Unless the Conservative meltdown is complete which is unlikely, not least because that party’s reach is much wider than it used to be.
So, even though it sticks in Labour’s crawl, the party should consider heading and even working quietly for a UK government that includes the SNP, Lib Dems, Greens, Plaid…As the 177-page “coalition contract” in Germany shows, there can even be space for some significant policy changes that can be agreed. The same goes for the Labour-Plaid deal in Wales.
Et tu, Scotia
What Scotland needs is something similar: a Scottish Labour-SNP pact – probably after 2024 or 2026 – with or without the Greens to deliver social and economic modernisation, including the just transition, digital transformation and local government reform, plus constitutional change.
The latter may well fall far short of independence as such but that option plus others could at least be put to the voters. In any case, you don’t have to believe all or indeed anything Dominic Cummings says, to recognise that the Sturgeon-promised #indyref2 of 2023 will be a no show. The First Minister arguably needs Anas Sarwar to be on side to deliver this breakable/broken promise.
For Scottish Labour, still struggling to get out of the electoral doldrums, such a pact would offer the prospect of enacting serious policy change in Scotland, including the injection of greater democratic accountability and citizen power into the 20-year-old devolution settlement. And, if it coincided with a Labour-led government in Westminster, that prospect could improve immeasurably. And the SNP could escape from the dream of untrammelled sovereignty that prevents it from moving forward.
Whatever the detail that emerges, such a deal would give new momentum, even new passion, to the project that should unite Scotland’s social democratic/green centre-left: creating a political structure that empowers the country’s 5.4m people, whatever their social and demographic origin, to fulfil their potential in an economy and society that genuinely works for all.
See also: Rory Scothorne, New Statesman; Neil Findlay, Spirit of cooperation in Wales, Holyrood
Featured image: First meeting of new German cabinet via Bundesregierung/Kugler; photo of Mark Drakeford/Adam Price via Plaid Cymru
Jackie Kemp says
You don’t provide any evidence for the claim that the coalition. between the SNP and the Greens is “intellectually spent” – that may be your opinion but you don’t back it up. It’s a fresh coalition – Slater for example brings real world experience of the renewable energy sector. They have only ij power for a few months
David Gow says
Plenty of evidence from 14 years of SNP rule! and my contention is that the Greens add little by way of renewal…Slater’s real-life experience onloy matters if she/they inject fresh ideas
In general though I do agree – it would be great to see Scottish Labour looking to work together with the SNP. In policy terms, I guess there are quite a lot of areas of agreement.
Fraser Cameron says
All very logical but if Starmer fights the election on no deal with the SNP how does he perform a U turn? And surely any deal with the SNP would have to include a commitment to Indyref2?
First past the post is so limiting – but I don’t really understand why Starmer can’t work with the SNP – if PLaid are OK.