Published in Public Affairs News, 31/1/2011. Click here to view.
"David Cameron has begun 2011 as pro-business, pro-growth and pro-jobs, but in Edinburgh Alex Salmond appears to be taking a different tack.
The SNP won power in 2007 not least by convincing a previously sceptical business community through a confidence-building campaign around boardroom tables. The party was even prepared to park the independence issue to debunk the risk factor from an SNP Government that advocated lower taxation, entrepreneurship and supporting businesses at all levels. Some of Scotland’s leading business people even put their names to SNP newspaper adverts.
Four years on, it looks rather different. The financial crisis encouraged opponents to challenge Salmond’s close links to the Scottish banks. Then came a showdown with drinks giant Diageo, which announced its withdrawal from Kilmarnock. The SNP demanded a change of heart that was never likely.
Tackling Scotland’s battle with ‘the booze’ was to have been a defining act of this administration, but a minimum unit price for alcohol set SNP ministers at loggerheads with the whisky industry.
Now the respected finance secretary, John Swinney is levying an extra £30m on large shops in business rates – a straightforward hit on those businesses the SNP thinks can best afford it. There’s a tangible concern that it may become more expensive to run a business in Scotland than other parts of the UK.
This from a social democratic party whose success was in part based on championing lower corporation tax, less red tape and sustainable economic growth (ahead, even, of the raison d’être of independence).
Small business still enjoys a rates relief scheme, and SME owners and employees may be more inclined to vote than those in large corporations. The SNP might think the Scottish business vote has nowhere else to go, but in public affairs terms it still seems quite a gamble in an election year.
Alastair Ross is a CSPP Board Member and director (public policy) at McGrigors LLP