IN the fantastically flamboyant mythology of ancient Egypt, after death your heart was weighed against the feather of Maat, the goddess of truth and justice.

The creepy chthonic god of the dead, Anubis, would gravely watch, and Thoth, the god of wisdom, would write down the results. If you were good, then your heart balanced against Maat’s feather; however, if you were bad, then your heart tipped the scales and you wouldn’t get to live in paradise forever with the god Osiris. You can see how this all fed into Christian ideas of St Peter judging your soul at the Pearly Gates.

Well, the SNP’s heart is going to be weighed this week. On Thursday, when the Scottish Government announces its Budget, we’ll finally be able to judge the party’s soul. Is it, essentially, the progressive party it claims to be, or simply a party of petty little nationalists?

Scotland, and the rest of Britain, is reeling economically. We’re in the midst of New Dickensianism, fashioned mostly by the failures of consecutive Tory governments. Austerity pole-axed Britain, thrusting millions into poverty. Public services were put on a starvation diet. Wages were suppressed for years. Money has been sucked out of the country – and the pockets of the people – by unfettered, suicidal capitalism.

The Tory’s Brexit stamped on the head of an economy already on the floor. Then came the pandemic and Russia’s war, sweeping through national finances like a hurricane through a shanty town.

Sure, other western economies suffered too, but not as badly as ours, built out of sticks and straw. We clapped for our key workers, but once the pandemic eased off it was time to sack them, or let the lowest-paid sink in poverty wages. Finally, the Tories delivered a budgetary coup de grace with Liz Truss as executioner, making clear that when it came to Britain’s Government only the rich mattered, and the poor, well, they could quite literally just starve or freeze.

There are mothers today dropping dress sizes as they go without food to feed their children. Those children attend school in filthy uniforms as the washing machine – if you can afford one – is too expensive to turn on. Nurses visit food banks. There are now warm banks. Who even heard of warm banks until this year?

All the while, the rich get richer as immoral companies profiteer from the misery of global chaos, and bankers are told the rules which regulate them will be relaxed so they can earn even more money. Those rules, of course, were put in place after the 2008 crash to stop the recklessness which brought the world to its knees.

How can we tolerate any longer a society and governments – both in Edinburgh and London – which allow fellow citizens to lose hope, dignity and respect, while rewarding selfishness, cruelty and stupidity?

You see, although so much of this pain is London’s doing, there’s plenty that Edinburgh could have done to alleviate this suffering. Credit where it’s due, though, the SNP has created protections like the Scottish Child Payment – a benefit available nowhere else in Britain. But that’s not enough. It’s a sticking plaster for a gunshot wound.

The SNP has told a story of itself that presents the party as a mirror image of the Conservatives. In the story the SNP is compassionate and progressive. Yet appearance does not match reality. The party has a raft of powers at its disposal which it has stubbornly refused to use to ease the pain. In a truly shaming moment, the STUC commissioned its own expert study of what powers the Government has and what could be done with them. The analysis shows the SNP can raise an extra £3.3 billion using income tax, wealth taxes, and replacing council tax with a proportional property tax.

Scotland’s trade unionists – who every day see the effects of poverty on the street, something Holyrood’s cosseted leaders can hide their eyes from in committee rooms and champagne receptions – are effectively begging Edinburgh to act.

Little wonder that many, even in the Yes movement, now believe that the SNP is so dangerously, obsessively, blindly fixated on its lead policy, independence, that it would allow fellow citizens to suffer rather than do anything that might alienate potential Yes voters in the middle classes. Might a few pounds more in tax lose the party those well-heeled supporters? Does the party arrogantly think it has voters in working-class areas in the palm of its hand? That the poor can be taken for granted to back the SNP even if Scotland’s Government refuses to throw a lifeline?

On Thursday, the SNP can either choose to pass on Tory cruelty to Scotland’s poor, or it can choose to do its best to mitigate that agony. The Fraser of Allander Institute, Scotland’s leading economic research organisation, has made clear that the Scottish Government can ease the agony by using its devolved tax powers. All that’s holding back the Scottish Government is the Scottish Government. This is about the political will, not the ability.

So come Thursday we’ll be able to weigh the heart and soul of the SNP. Is it a progressive government that cares about the people and is prepared to use every power to protect the vulnerable? Or is it just a party of petty nationalists, happy to blame London for everything; maybe even be happy to break Scotland if it helped them achieve their aims; a party that cares about one issue only, independence?

The great irony is this: if the Scottish Government acts to help the poorest it makes the case for independence, it shows what Scotland can do even with the limited powers at its disposal. The party would also quell its critics – no more could it be accused of merely posing as progressive. It would also undercut the appeal of a resurgent Labour Party by showing it’s prepared to stand up for the poor.

By not acting, though, the SNP deeply wounds independence. It gifts its critics the insult "Tartan Tories". Why vote Yes if it just means the status quo; why vote Yes if all that changes is the flag? The party’s soul is at stake.

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