AS IT SEE IT: Terry Murden on why there is only one issue to be resolved in the Scottish elections.. and how a brewer’s collapse is a warning to others
So, health, education, the environment and the economy top the list of voter priorities for the Scottish elections, according to pollsters. Tell me something new. And anyway, they’re wrong. The poll on 6 May is about none of these things. It’s about independence. It’s a quasi referendum. Nothing else. That means other issues, like those aforementioned, are unlikely to influence the outcome.
Let’s face it, every party promises a better health and education service, a crackdown on crime, more support for carers, a more “sustainable” economic future… you’d do well to find a voter who can spot the difference. No doubt the parties will start squabbling over who will plant the most trees, create more jobs, or be the first to achieve net zero. It’s just election babble.
The best that the Opposition can hope for is that they stop the SNP getting a majority and therefore put the independence campaign on hold.
Views are deeply entrenched on both sides, so much so that it almost renders the election campaign pointless. However, there are a lot of waverers. This is the target group. The ones who will tip Scotland out of the union, or really kill off the independence campaign for a generation, and tactical voting will play its part.
In an earlier version of this article I said the opposition parties needed to accept this is a single-issue election and present a united case for the union. Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative leader, has seen the light and launched a unionist manifesto, asking all major pro-UK parties to back it.
It’s an acknowledgement by Mr Ross that fragmentation of the Opposition has made it easy for the nationalists, many of whom will shrug off the chaos and division within the SNP. They only want independence and the SNP is seen as their best chance of achieving it. They will vote SNP even if it can be proved to be incompetent and corrupt.
Alex Salmond’s new Alba party, which will contest the election, has created a new dynamic that could split the nationalist vote, though together Mr Salmond believes they can create a “super-majority” for independence. No surprise that Mr Ross is warning that the threat of a Scottish Parliament focused entirely on breaking up the UK for the next five years “is now very real”. His fears confirm that the election is about securing or stopping an SNP majority with its ultimate aim of splitting up the UK.
Sadly, the Labour party leader Anas Sarwar has rejected Mr Ross’s overtures and prefers to believe the voters will be focused on actual policy issues rather than the SNP’s ‘psychodrama’. Sorry, Anas, but the SNP is in pole position, and almost certain to be re-elected into government. It is steering the debate and Labour needs to look at the bigger picture and the immediate challenge to Scotland’s place in the UK from which all other policies will flow. Voters won’t be fooled into thinking a vote for Labour will bring an end to child poverty. If Labour wants power it either has to support independence, or throw its lot in with the Tories and LibDems and campaign together against it.
Fundamentally, and despite all that has been said and written, we’ve still not heard enough of the substance behind either case: how an independent Scotland would really be run and financed – with its own monetary policy, central bank, defence, currency; or why the union is still relevant and vital to underpin Scotland’s economy and the wellbeing of its people.
These are the key areas requiring the focus of debate. Without resolving the design of the house there is no point discussing where to place the furniture. The constitution has to be settled and the election is as good a time to do it.
Wooha administration: will others follow?
The collapse of Wooha Brewing is saddening for those immediately impacted, not least founder Heather Macdonald who has been among the current generation of standard bearers for women-led enterprises.
It happened within 24 hours of angel group Investing Women celebrating the latest cohort of female-run growth firms picking up mentoring and missions prizes through its AccerateHER programme. While they were exclusively in the seemingly untouchable tech sector, Wooha’s failure is the familiar story of weak cashflow resulting from a fast-disappearing customer base.
These two developments also show that being in the right sector at the right time is critical. The pressures of Covid restrictions and Brexit have been hugely discriminatory, hitting those in business sectors that rely on social gatherings. It runs – in this case almost literally – through the food chain, from supplier to distributor, and on to the end retailer.
One worry is that because Wooha’s collapse is not for company-specific reasons, it may not be the last that we see in the craft sector that has boomed in recent years. If Wooha was suffering problems caused by the closure of hospitality venues and difficulties with exporting as a result of the Brexit changeover, then so will others.
Wooha’s hopes of salvaging something from a five year journey of rapid growth now rest on a buyer coming forward. It’s unlikely, for the aforementioned reasons, that another small craft brewer would want to take on extra capacity and risk, but the brands might just appeal to a bigger player.
The craft sector generally has adopted a maverick approach, styling its brands with bizarre names and campaigns. Maybe Wooha could tempt its near northern neighbour BrewDog – that champion of the maverick – to add its brands to a portfolio that already includes an eclectic mix from around the world.
This commentary has been updated