logoIf you’re a party member, pounding the pavements in the last few days, we at Bella Caledonia salute you. It ain’t over till the D’Hondt ratios calculate… And no matter your particular reading of the electoral math, nothing happens if voters aren’t pulled out over their doorsteps. So all hail youze.

But there are those of us – like your humble guest co-editor of Bella this week – who have explicitly stepped out of party-political membership (I left the Scottish Greens a few months ago, having joined the day after the indyref), in order to try and survey the wider picture of Scottish power and politics.

So over the next few days, let me indulge in some general indy-movement speculations about the big challenges of the next term of the Scottish Parliament. (Some of them are of course contingent on the exact electoral outcome on Thursday.) All responses welcome.

1: Can The SNP renew itself in government? I know casting aspersions on the SNP political machine sounds slightly mad, given their thunderous progress towards a third term of office. But third terms are tricky in recent UK political history.

Thatcher was deposed in hers (and though John Major as her successor won the next election, he was defeated on a familiar Tory roll of Euroscepticism and sleaze). Blair signalled that he wouldn’t run for a fourth, handed over to the famous Kirkcaldy volcano – and we all know how that went.

Sturgeon’s set-up is so much better as a leader than either of these. Crowned after her silverback mentor ran out of steam in the indyref, burnishing her lustre as a political icon in the “progressive alliance” of the 2015 UK General Election, and now sure to get her “presidential” mandate (and SNP majority) in 2016. Could a leader ever want fairer conditions to set the agenda?

Yet it’s still a “third term”. The first term was about figuring out what national governance felt like; the second term about how to deploy the civil service to substantiate an independence referendum. The third term (barring unpredictable weather like Brexit, Trident cancellation or Western economic meltdown) should ideally be about laying down a legacy of serious reform, under the enhanced devolved structures that came out of a No vote – itself made because most Scots were convinced that progress within the Union was possible.

Yet however valuable particular objects in the policy basket are – things like closing the educational attainment gap, mitigation of welfare cuts with new powers, or tweaking tax and training regimes to help enterprise – the SNP’s devolved agenda toward 2020 seems to be less about inspiration, but consolidation. Jack McConnell’s “doing less, better” lurks around the whole manifesto.

The London Labour soft-left have a word they love to invoke, near religiously, when questions of their party’s strategy comes to the fore: renewal. The sense is that there is nothing in the party’s traditions that cannot be a resource for new challenges (eg, the postwar welfare state instituted in 1945, “new” Labour as the necessary accommodation with neoliberalism, etc. Though I think they’re struggling with Corbyn…). There’s even an excellent journal devoted to the process.

What is a third-term SNP’s version of “renewal” – given that, if the electoral numbers fall as generally predicted, they’ll be in a clear and secure governing majority? Do they even need it?

The comparison with New Labour is directly interesting. No matter what you think of its quality, they came to power on a tsunami of big ideas and big gurus – The Third Way, Cool Britannia, the Demos think-tank, names like Geoff Mulgan, Martin Jacques, Anthony Giddens… Before war, hubris and the psychodrama of Granita consumed them, you could attribute the vote-winning “modernity” of NuLab as equally to their stuffed chest of policy experiments as to the charisma of Tony Blair.

Does an effective government, with a thumping endorsement, think it needs to renew anything about itself? Maybe not. But history would caution against complacency.

Has the SNP ever had any policy ambitions of this kind – any kind of belief that Scottish conditions could generate brand new, world-leading solutions to enduring government challenges? That a “Scottish Model” for a good society could be put together, and presented as a plan or philosophy to the wider world? (We did it once before, I seem to remember…)

There have been, and are, some genuinely visionary heads floating around Scottish public life, and who sometimes also get in the Holyrood building. The ex-Business Minister Jim Mather says that his long-term job is “reading for Scotland”. Certainly there’s no-one of equivalent seniority who understands as much about how a national economy depends on psychology and networks, as much as natural resources.

Harry Burns, currently serving on the Council of Economic Advisers, is as esteemed a voice on the links between wellbeing, happiness, equality and health as more reputed figures like Pickett and Wilkinson (of The Spirit Level fame) or Richard Layard. The late and much lamented feminist economist Ailsa McKay – whose next frontier after winning the argument for childcare expansion was the introduction of basic citizens’ income – was another such figure.

But it seems the SNPGov is content to set up a series of commissions around clearly-defined topics – fair work, poverty, land, local taxation, early years, innovation, etc – whose recommendations are then rather gingerly picked through, and eventually arranged like small pearls before the next electoral beauty contest. Who’s to say, at least within the devo context, that this won’t be exactly the way it works at the next election in 2020?

I would love – though I won’t be breaking my heart on it – to see something like Mission For Finland 2030  – which aimed to re-brand the country as the solver of “the world’s most wicked problems”. Short of independence, what’s the great contribution that Scotland can make to global questions like energy generation, good governance, cultural flourishing, conflict mediation?

In a private communication recently, the great essayist Neal Ascherson said to me that acting “as if” Scotland was already independent was the likeliest way to actually get there. If we DON’T end up scrambling for ReEntry after a certain Eurodecision in June – which would require a whole other set of demands and skills, and another blog – then maybe some element of the next SNPGov term could be devoted to “global best practice”, using the reforming powers we have.

Does an effective government, with a thumping endorsement, think it needs to renew anything about itself? Maybe not. But history would caution against complacency.

Speculation number two tomorrow.

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