NOBODY who supports the independence cause can be excited by the current turmoil in the SNP.

Having three leaders in little over a year, with the husband of one of them recently charged in connection with embezzlement, is not a good look for any political party. However, my concern about the current leadership election in the party relates to the likely economic policies that the leading candidates might adopt.

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Although the SNP membership likes to think of itself as left to centre, and that description is almost certainly appropriate, not least because that reflects the opinion of many people within Scotland itself, the SNP leadership can rarely have been described in this way, even during the tenure of Alex Salmond.

Many of those who, in my opinion, rightly suggest that those politicians who support independence should adopt more radical economic policies to further that cause have been disappointed with the approaches towards economics adopted by John Swinney, Nicola Sturgeon, Kate Forbes and others in the SNP hierarchy over the last decade or more.

The National: Kate Forbes

Most especially, the willingness of the SNP leadership to ignore the votes of its membership on the issue of the currency that Scotland should use following independence and to instead follow the suggestions of former MSP Andrew Wilson and the Scottish Growth Commission has been a cause of dismay. The policies that Wilson and his commission recommended would almost certainly guarantee an extended period of austerity for Scotland following independence if they were to be adopted, so unsuitable are they. This has been quite distressing to those of us who appreciate the unnecessary harm that this would cause.

In that context, to see John Swinney and Kate Forbes emerge as the front runners in the current SNP leadership race was troubling (though Forbes has now said she will not run). To describe their similar approaches to economics as conventional is to be kind. Their experience has, of course, been framed within the environment of Holyrood, where the Government has no choice but to balance its books, but to date, neither has shown the imagination or leadership that would suggest that they are even aware of the different, and necessary, economic approaches that could be adopted if independence was achieved.

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It is fair to say that this failure to understand the ways in which the economic potential of Scotland might be unleashed is troubling, and that it is appropriate to say so because of the adoption by the SNP leadership of what I might describe as a "central bankers’ view" of the economy. That approach does not represent a source of hope.

That is because it is this perspective on economics that has so deeply undermined the income, quality of life, economic sustainability and the credibility of government in the UK as a whole. To think it should apply to Scotland after independence might be achieved seems contrary to the spirit of open-mindedness and enterprise with which independence should be pursued.

The National: Kate Forbes MSP alongside John Swinney MSP and Nicola Sturgeon MSP during First Minster's Questions at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh. Picture date: Thursday January 11, 2024..

I am, of course, aware that people can change their minds. I am also aware, of course, that there are other political parties promoting the cause of independence. But given the significance of the SNP within the Scottish political arena, it would be disappointing if the current leadership crisis that it faces did not provide it with an opportunity for reappraising just how it thinks the economy of Scotland might be managed if independence was achieved, which must be its ultimate political goal. I doubt that either John Swinney or Kate Forbes would have permitted that, and if that is the case, my expectation is that the SNP will stagger from one crisis of its own making to the next.

That is not least because the approach of these two would seem to be so out of step with the thinking of so many of the SNP’s own members, and the sentiment of so many people in Scotland, all of whom must be hoping that there really is an alternative to the dismal economics of austerity that Rachael Reeves is promising if she gets to be chancellor in Westminster. I just don’t think that either John Swinney or Kate Forbes will offer that alternative, and that is a real problem for Scotland.