The party’s business agenda should “be thought of as centre or centre right”by Serena Kutchinsky / June 18, 2015 / Leave a comment
Read John Mcdermott on the SNP’s record in Scotland
“The beauty of the Scottish National Party is that it’s a mix of people from different backgrounds,” says Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, one of the SNP’s group of 56 Westminster MPs. “Some have come from the right, some from the left but everyone has something to offer.”
A solicitor, businessperson, and former actress, Ahmed-Sheikh is now the SNP’s Trade and Investment spokesperson. She is also a former Conservative who was born in Chelsea and raised in Edinburgh. She defected to the SNP in 2000. Speaking to Prospect in May, she said that her party’s economic stance was a mix of pro-business ideas which would “traditionally be thought of as centre or centre right,” with a strong sense of social responsibility. When challenged that she was therefore a Blairite, Ahmed-Sheikh replied: “Absolutely not.” She suggested that the SNP’s landmark election victory has shifted the political landscape away from the traditional axis of left and right. “We are an inclusive party with a civic nationalism that puts nation first,” she said.
The party’s electoral success was remarkable—but the challenge for the SNP is to have an impact in Westminster-. With Labour in disarray and focused on its leadership contest, she suggests that SNP is the only “true opposition” to the government. Ahmed-Sheikh is adamant that the government’s slim majority means her party can exert significant pressure on legislation. “The SNP got 50 per cent of the vote in Scotland. David Cameron’s government will be ignoring a constituent part of the United Kingdom if he doesn’t give us our say.”
There is no more appetite for higher taxes and wealth distribution in Scotland than there is anywhere else in the UK and Ahemed-Sheikh’s pro-business position shows that her both she, and the party, grasp this. In government they have emphasised tax-cuts over increases—witness the business rates relief for small enterprises which benefits almost 100,000 Scottish firms. The CBI described the SNP as “very pro-business.”
In a bid to gain further influence on legislation affecting businesses in Scotland, the SNP has tabled several amendments to the Scotland Bill. Ahmed-Sheikh dismissed the bill as a “watered down” version of last year’s Smith Commission, which proposed the devolution of further powers over corporation tax, VAT, national insurance and air passenger duty. The SNP is especially keen to cut the last of theseclaiming that it would boost tourism in areas such as Ahmed-Sheikh’s own constituency of Ochil and South Perthshire. “We need to make sure that we are supporting business,” she said. “Control over VAT and NI will enable us to give, where necessary, a boost to businesses whether they are a new start-up or a business requiring a bit of help.”
One of the SNP’s core electoral messages was its opposition to austerity—but a setback came in April when the Institute for Fiscal Studies published a report stating that there was a “considerable disconnect between [the SNP’s] rhetoric and [its] stated plans for total spending,” and suggesting that party’s policies risked prolonging austerity.
Challenged with this, Ahmed-Sheikh said many Scots are facing “life-challenging circumstances. We stood on an anti-austerity agenda. Why? Because it’s not working—26 per cent of children in my constituency live in poverty. What we proposed was a modest increase in public spending to allow investment into our economy; to allow us to create jobs, build houses and take people out of in-work poverty.”
The SNP is not currently seeking another independence referendum, she said, or full fiscal responsibility. For a referendum to take place, Ahmed-Sheikh said: “it has to be in a party manifesto, and that party needs to be elected into a majority government—that’s not where we are.”
On the EU referendum, she believes there should be a distinct Scottish campaign and that a No vote could be a trigger for a second independence referendum. “If the constituent parts of the UK vote to stay in, but England votes to come out, what are we going to do about that? And what does that say about the ‘one nation’ idea that we’ve heard so much about from the government benches?”