The current financial climate has become a universal get out of jail free card, flaunted with abandon by all and sundry and allowed to pass, on the whole, unquestioned. With regard to the SNP’s proposal to replace student loans with grants, it seems to fit the bill perfectly, especially when compounded with a bit of characteristic muck throwing at Westminster.
It seems that the Scottish Government has been waiting for the right moment to announce that, due to circumstances entirely beyond its control, they will be forced to fall short on this excellent vote winning strategy. But it has taken a year and a half of procrastination to come up with what is at best a half-hearted proposal.
The SNP have blown a large part of their budget on higher priority projects such as their pledge to freeze council tax (borne from another compromised election pledge to abolish it entirely), cut business rates, allocate £3.5m a year in special funding to the city of Edinburgh and phase out prescription charges. All these projects, though worthy in their cause, are very expensive.
Once the budget has run out, it is allegedly Westminster’s fault that they have not provided for projects lower down the list.
Let us not forget that, given these hard times, it is Westminster that has been responsible for bailing out both HBOS and the Royal Bank of Scotland, for the second time, to the tune of £200bn. This is the sort of twelve figure (twelve figure!) sum, the SNP can only dream of. Whilst Alistair Darling sweats over the economy as a whole, John Swinney is sitting relatively pretty.
To blame Westminster for squeezing the Scottish Government’s budget is totally unfair. With student loans, the SNP’s other route of defence is to say that a large part of these loans are funded directly by HM Treasury, and therefore once again they have “no control over a large part of the Budget and must work within the restrictions imposed upon [them]”.
This begs the very obvious question: Why make a election pledge which was constitutionally impossible to fulfil in the first place? Who are they trying to fool?
When it suits them, it is very easy for the SNP to just throw their hands in the air and deny any responsibility, whilst criticising and nit-picking from their position of relative political impotence.