With May’s Scottish Parliamentary election (SPE) looming on the horizon, the main Scottish parties have begun their promotion show in earnest.
However, this election looks set to be a bitter-sweet one for the SNP – and much of it is their own doing.
This election is more likely than not to be another #indyref. The promises the SNP made during the referendum campaign will likely be coming back to the fore as May approaches.
Namely, the unprecedented slump in oil revenues. In November, the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecasted a 94% slump in Scotland’s oil revenues, with the price of oil dropping around 70 points since June 2014.
This is a fall from $115 per barrel, to just under $40. News today also suggests a 3% further fall, due to Iran’s refusal to place a freeze on its production, as many other countries have done.
This the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon came under intense pressure from during an interview on the Sunday Politics show.
Andrew Neil asked Ms Sturgeon on Scotland’s budget deficit, which now runs into £15bn, meaning spending per head in Scotland was $1400 higher than the rest of the UK.
This budget deficit, which now equals around 10% of Scotland’s GDP, is largely due to this incredible fall in oil revenues.
The First Minister responded: “If you look at the projection for the next 5 years, our onshore revenues – and remember 90% of Scotland’s economy is onshore, not offshore -..are projected to grow in the region of £14bn, that’s many many times the fall in offshore revenues.”
Nevertheless, such a key piece of the SNP’s vision for an independent Scotland has now shrunk to almost nothing, and has resulted in the country racking up an enormous deficit.
This many voters will bear in mind come May, and – regardless of onshore revenues – oil is a subject which seems firmly lodged in Scottish voters’ psyches; an issue which could be the SNP’s make or break.
Secondly, the SNP have been (largely) conservative of late during their term in government since 2011.
Limited movement forward in the SNP’s radical land reform bill has seen much of it watered down, and it has gone along with austerity measures by the Conservatives instead of raising taxes slightly.
Furthermore, it took all and sundry to press the Scottish Government to increase council tax for cash-strapped local authorities.
On the point about income tax, it is fairly evident why the SNP are reluctant to see any increase in taxes: it simply gives the Scottish Conservatives a campaigning message of “we will cut taxes.”
If there is anything the SNP do not want to do, it is give the Tories something to use against them. Even so, the chances of the Conservatives winning the SPE is 66/1 versus the SNP’s 1/66.
Therefore, the SNP look to be on the back foot, particularly if those new supporters gained through the referendum begin to feel disillusioned by the party they believed would bring radicalism back to Scottish politics.
Nevertheless, the SNP remain ridiculously high in the opinion polls. They still hold 49% (down 1) voting intention on the constituency vote, and 43% on the regional list (up 1).
Meanwhile the Conservatives have slipped 1 point to 19% on the first ballot. Shockingly, Scotland’s Labour Party is also at 19%. For the party so traditionally associated with Scotland to be as popular at the Tories is almost unprecedented.
The SNP will gain from the near-chaos happening in the UK Labour Party, which is having negative consequences for Kezia Dugdale.
Meanwhile, the Conservatives are still dislike due to the austerity measures (we await Wednesday’s Budget, but one could expect more of the same); along with the party appearing divided on the EU question, the Conservatives are almost in as bad a shape as Labour.
All of this the SNP are capitalising on, as long as they reiterate to voters the cuts to public services are down to Tory austerity measures.
In the end, it is almost certain the SNP will claim their third term in office comfortably. Yet, those members and voters – so enthralled by the independence referendum – may take their votes elsewhere on the regional list.
I am speaking of the Scottish Greens, and perhaps even left-wing parties such as RISE.
It will be a bitter-sweet victory for the SNP, and when they win in May it may not be all down to their record in government and people’s hopes for the future.