To Govern ‘As If’
I won’t be the the only person to say this, on this site and elsewhere, but the Programme for Government set out yesterday by the First Minister is far and away the most progressive and ambitious that the chamber has ever heard. An awful lot of it makes welcome reading to an awful lot of people involved in the broader Yes coalition over the last few years. From a primary to tertiary strategy on education, to a positive and manufacturing and export based vision for the economy – all underpinned by a publicly owned and run investment bank – from an unashamedly optimistic, joined up programme going from infrastructure to green targets to taxation and welfare, this PFG represents nothing less than an aspiration to transform this small country.
That this is being done in the doomed, minimal expectation atmosphere of Brexit is to dissociate Scotland from the UK without even mentioning the Constitution, and it left opposition parties floundering, responding to the speech that they were expecting, not the speech they got. Within the narrow confines of the Holyrood Bubble and it’s attendant commentariat, it was something of a game-changer.
We’ve had a few months now since the election of denial and wound licking. And the document produced yesterday is of course still ambition rather than achievement.
The question of how it will play in the wider world of Scotland, let alone the wider world beyond will probably come down to what the “story” is. And that may comer down to nuance and feeling as much as the very firmly holistic and grounded “culture of government” that the PRG sets out. It unashamedly looks to a Scottish State to coordinate and shape a holistic vision of what a country can be. In the contemporary context, this is almost thrilling in its heresy. It is also entirely, unashamedly, optimistically European.
It is a Programme for Devolved Government with the ambition we’d look for from Independence. In fact, in many ways, it is far MORE ambitious than was the White Paper produced for the 2014 Referendum Campaign.
“It unashamedly looks to a Scottish State to coordinate and shape a holistic vision of what a country can be. In the contemporary context, this is almost thrilling in its heresy. It is also entirely, unashamedly, optimistically European.”
And this, to me, is a sure sign that the Sturgeon Government has moved on. In retrospect, the perpetuation of the “Indy Mood” BEYOND September 2014 and through 2015 and 16 (until the brexit vote, in fact) , that sustained and promoted the fortunes not just of the SNP, but of the rather more numinous “mood of optimism” in our political culture, was bound to come to cultural if not arithmetical grief in the unexpected election of 2017. The wave had been stoked up and kept going by a mixture of stubborn ineptiotude and arrogance in the Cameron government, and charisma in the person of Nicola Sturgeon…and the wave was bound to crash at sometime.
But what was clear yesterday was that the twin realities “external” to the aforementioned Holyrood Bubble of the increased uncertainty of Brexit on the one hand and the mercurial rise of Corbyn on the other may well have taken the immediate constitutional campaign of “IndyRef 2” off the front burner, but they have also opened a space for a far more specific and identifiable “left” programme of government by the SNP.
Thanks to an astonishngly positive response to the new circumstances that seems to be very much led from the front, the SNP government have hit the ground running in a New Normality that I, at least, was slow to see coming.
But make no mistake. This degree of radicalism in government is only possible if the political priority of building a referendum coalition which includes, (as Salmond so cautiously did) a very Not-Radical proportion of the Scottish Electorate that is simply arithmetically essential to a Yes vote, has been decisively dropped. Ironically, we and Nicola Sturgeon may be being afforded this vision of Scotland’s future only because The Independence Campaign – as we have understood it up until now – is off the agenda.
The “Indy Moment” of 2011-2016 is over. We are in a new phase now. There are things happening over which we have control, as evidenced by the leaking yesterday of a Home Office paper on future UK Immigration policy as suicidal as it is illiberal, as oppressive as it is impractical. The contrast of confidence that was displayed yesterday between Edinburgh and London is absolutely stark. . For my money, it is exactly what needed to be done to positively change the story we need to tell ourselves as a culture. The way to prove to ourselves our fitness to govern ourselves…is to do it.
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