The SNP’s dishonesty on welfare benefits puts at risk the most vulnerable, says IAN SMART


I don’t usually refer back but on this occasion I want to make one pretty fundamental point about my immediately previous posting here.

In it I point out that YES Scotland advance a proposition on their website about Scotland’s continued membership of the European Community with reference to a link (which they assume will not be read) which, in fact, says the exact opposite of the proposition they advance in the main article. The true position, as reflected on the source materials to be found on the YES Scotland website itself (!) is that the status of an Independent Scotland in the EU is far from clear. And, assuming they have, at least now, read the link on their own website, they know that.

Nonetheless, the original article has remained on their website.

Now, I’m prompted to this telling observation because it is not an isolated example. Last night on Newsnight Scotland, Derek McKay stated, yet again, that the reason the referendum was to be in the second half of this parliament was because the SNP had stated this in their manifesto. That is untrue and he knows it to be untrue, just as John Swinney knew it to be untrue when he said the same on Newsnight ten days or so before. The reason the referendum (if it ever happens at all) is to be in the second half of the parliament is because that is the choice of the SNP Government. No more, no less.

The key point that arises from this is that the truth doesn’t matter to these people. Just as it didn’t matter when Iain Duncan Smith made the fairly obvious point, earlier this week, that “independence” would mean either higher taxes or benefit cuts. For, as more than one of my nationalist Twitter correspondents observed, “independence” is the prize; who cares what we have to say to get there? Presumably they assume that, like Nick Clegg, it will be enough, after the event, for Eck to pop upon the telly and apologise for making promises he knew he couldn’t keep. Or more likely, deny these promises were ever made.

The truth is that for many nationalists it wouldn’t matter if, after “independence”,  we were all back living in caves with no running water or electricity. At least we would be “free”. A few, at least, are honest enough to admit that.

Anyway, that very current disassociation from concern about the truth makes the SNP as difficult opponents for us as George W. Bush proved to be successively for Gore and Kerry. After all, as Karl Rove, Bush’s chief strategist famously observed, Kerry was hampered by belonging to the “reality-based community”.

But there’s a wider issue here. A lot of people, vulnerable people, are in danger of being very seriously misled. We saw last week the evidence given to the Welfare Reform Committee of the Scottish Parliament. Pretty desperate stuff. Not one nationalist MSP, however, had even the common decency to warn any of them that the Tories cuts were nothing compared to what would follow if Scotland to make a particular  choice about its constitutional future. That despite the fact that all of the nationalist MSPs present, or at least the sentient ones, knew that perfectly well that to be the case.

Here are the Scottish Government Figures.

And John Swinney’s own analysis? That accepting the GERS figures (his own figures) at face value and allowing for a geographic share of North Sea oil revenues on the most favourable terms suggested by the SNP, an “independent” Scotland would have a slightly smaller current account deficit per capita than the rest of the UK. That sounds fine then. Except that it is the position of the SNP themselves that North Sea revenues, or at least the vast bulk of them, can’t be spent on the current account as they’ll have to be invested in a Sovereign Wealth Fund so that we are not reduced to absolute penury when the oil runs out.

And if that were the approach taken? Then on any view a higher still current account deficit would arise which would have to be addressed by either raising taxes or cutting benefits. And that’s not even QED; for the SNP’s position is that corporate taxation should be cut; ie, that corporate capitalists in an “independent” Scotland should pay less tax than they currently pay under George Osborne or… er… Iain Duncan Smith. So it’s not even going to be higher taxes or lower benefits. It’s just going to be lower benefits.

Now it is cruel to worry the already vulnerable but crueller still to mislead them. The job of  Michael McMahon at the Welfare Reform Committee last week was surely, gently but firmly, to point out that the complaints being made were as nothing as to what would lie ahead if Scotland chose the wrong constitutional option.  I appreciate however that Michael was hampered by being in the chair. Never mind, there will be plenty of time for others to do that, even if we do so while still hampered by belonging to the “reality-based community”.

Ian Smart is a lawyer and founder member of Scottish Labour Action. He is also a Past President of the Law Society of  Scotland. Follow Ian on Twitter at @IanSSmart.