THE constitution has a distorting Hall of Mirrors effect on Scottish politics. SNP supporters put up with, even celebrate, policies which would have them screaming from the rooftops if they came from the Tories or Labour. SNP foot soldiers defend and embrace ideas which should repel them when they are handed down by the Sturgeon Government. Clearly, the same distortion affects the unionist camp. When the SNP shifts rightward, as it increasingly does, rest assured there will be no praise from Scottish Tories.

In the debased tribalism of Holyrood, there are echoes of Donald Trump’s infamous line that he could stand on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, shoot someone, and still not lose votes. Identity politics kills intelligence.

Most SNP supporters drifted towards the party as it seemed to offer a left of centre alternative to Labour under Tony Blair. More than a decade ago, that was kind of true. Today, though, we’re seeing the proof that all power corrupts: that for the SNP, power itself is the purpose and nothing else.

The great irony is that under Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP has become a truly Blairite party. The purpose of Blairism was to scare or offend as few people as possible, to play to the establishment, and pander to the middle class – that amorphous anodyne seam which must be permanently wooed and appeased if power is to be maintained. Power is the principle, not policy.

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Nicola Sturgeon herself has become a sort of doppelgänger of pre-Iraq Blair. She’s thoroughly uncontroversial, drained of all radicalism, as we saw during the weekend’s Jubilee celebrations with her willingness to play the royalist game. With one hand, Ms Sturgeon points endlessly to another referendum, keeping the SNP’s anti-monarchist camp on side with their thin hopes that one day Scotland might become a republic, while with the other hand she strokes and soothes the social conservatives.

But it’s on economics where the SNP most closely resembles Blair’s Labour. Like Blair, the talk is of social democracy, but in action the party is introducing austerity, as proved by Finance Secretary Kate Forbes’s spending review. Like Blair, this is the politics of smiling Conservatism.

“Reset”. That’s how Ms Forbes framed the brutal cuts she plans for the public sector. Every cut to the public sector means the poor suffer. It’s as simple as that. In Scotland, it’s the poor therefore who must bend. The rich needn’t fear. Ms Yet, Sturgeon presides over economic nothingness. It’s skilled and cynical political prestidigitation.

So when it comes to the SNP and its progressive promises, versus the reality of its policies, the famous phrase by the critic Cyril Connolly about F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby comes to mind: “His style sings of hope; his message is despair.”

Unfortunately, SNP supporters are encased in the amber of false promises. There’s no other viable hope for them, in terms of independence, than to vote for the SNP. So like a poorly-loved spouse they put up with just about anything the leadership hands down.

Scotland’s woes mount as there’s no effective opposition to the SNP. First, there’s the issue of capture: if the country is roughly split evenly on the constitution, then the SNP takes a whole half to itself, leaving Labour, Tories and LibDems to share the remaining half between them. Secondly, the opposition parties are as obsessed with the constitution as SNP groundlings – they hammer the Union drum rather than taking the fight to the SNP on policy matters. Thirdly, when it comes to policy, the opposition is either Johnsonian Tory or the grey melange of centrism on offer from Labour and LibDems. If the SNP is effectively Blairite, then how is Scottish Labour – which is living in the shadow of Keir Starmer’s Blairism redux – able to provide any real alternative vision? Lastly, faint hopes of some left-wing alternative have been exterminated by the SNP subsuming the Greens into government.

Sitting atop all this is the fact that Ms Sturgeon has the ultimate get out of jail free card: she can blame the Tories for whatever she does. Introducing austerity? Well, what else can we do, SNP leaders claim, given the Tories control the purse strings? So every sin has an excuse sitting in London.

Done and done, as they say.

So where’s the alternative? Where’s the opposition? The answer is to be increasingly found on the streets, in the workplace. The Scottish trade union movement, under the leadership of Roz Foyer, the general secretary of the STUC, has rediscovered its teeth.

It’s important to note that the STUC is not affiliated to Labour, so it’s not facing up to the SNP on constitutional grounds but on the grounds that matter to ordinary people: fairness and equality. And as Ms Foyer told me, the STUC also supports “the right of the Scottish people to make the decision about whether there’s another referendum – and that decision should rest with the Scottish Parliament”.

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The STUC is ready to take on Ms Forbes over the 30,000 public sector jobs she’s targeting. In the firing line, the STUC says, are 13,300 NHS workers, 8,000 local government workers, 5,000 railway workers, 3,700 civil servants.

Ms Foyer told me that “for all of Kate Forbes’ talks about years of growth in the public sector due to the pandemic, the public sector in Scotland is smaller than it was in 2007” – that’s the year nationalists took power. “The workers who kept our society going over the last two years,” she adds, “now seem to be at risk due to an arbitrary target to cut the public sector by 30,000.”

Ms Foyer went on: “There’s no shortage of wealth or income in Scotland. Yet the spending review contains no new measures to raise income or wealth taxes on those at the very top.”

The Scottish trade union movement is gearing up for a showdown over the assault on workers and the poor. Ms Foyer told me that Ms Forbes “needs to think again about who should bear the cost of this cost of living crisis. If she doesn’t, she risks years of industrial action from Scotland’s trade union movement”.

It sounds like the voice of real opposition speaking in Scotland for the first time in nearly a generation.

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