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What the City can expect from the SNP

Out-Law Analysis | 13 May 2015 | 4:11 pm | 2 min. read

FOCUS: The City of London will have been relieved at the election of a Conservative majority government but one new element in the makeup of Parliament is the presence of 56 MPs from the Scottish National Party (SNP).

The City has well-developed relationships with Westminster's established powerbrokers, but less experience of working with Scottish nationalists. Some might feel concerned that a party with such populist support, which has won hearts and minds in traditionally working-class, left wing areas, will now be so prominent in Westminster politics.

And make no mistake, influential they will be. The SNP was already represented on the Treasury Select Committee and will now be seeking places on the Business, Energy, and Defence ones amongst others.

What can the City expect from what is now the parliament's third largest party?

First, the SNP group will not be a destructive force at Westminster, as some commentators have suggested. They may not believe in the institution they've been elected to, but under leader Nicola Sturgeon, her deputy Stewart Hosie, and Westminster leader Angus Robertson they respect parliament as an institution and will seek to play a positive constructive role in holding the government to account.

They recognise the need to be responsible and will speak to business to understand the matters of state they now have to scrutinise. The party's Holyrood track record shows it is keen to work with business in order to support economic growth and so doors should be open both ways.

Second, the new caucus of SNP MPs contains some experienced businesspeople like former Deutsche Bank executive Ian Blackford and ex-Standard Lifer Michelle Thomson, while economist George Kerevan, lawyers Joanna Cherry QC and Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, and of course former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond bring intellectual rigour. They, and others in the party, can be allies for business.

Alex Salmond will inevitably be a major figure, possibly chairing a select committee such as energy, which would meet his own political interests and would also give Scottish energy businesses a voice at Westminster, albeit not in government. But make no mistake, Nicola Sturgeon is the SNP leader so overlook her at your own risk.

The SNP will seek early implementation of the Smith Commission recommendations for further devolution and additional powers over welfare, employment policy and taxation – possibly including scope to reduce national insurance rates to stimulate job creation in Scotland. The prime minister pledged on Friday to stay true to his word on implementing the devolution all parties agreed last year, but his own Scottish colleagues view Smith as a floor rather than a ceiling.

Underpinning all of this is a recognition that the SNP needs to establish and maintain its credibility at Westminster, especially on business and economic issues. The party needs to assure the Scottish electorate and the international markets that Scotland is in safe economic hands – and will continue to be so as devolution is extended or if full fiscal autonomy is ever achieved.

There is also an onus on the governments in London and Edinburgh to show they can co-operate constructively – as the previous UK government did on most matters outside the constitution. The two governments are more diametrically opposed than before but, as an increasing number of business regulation and policy issues straddle the border neither can afford to be dragged into continual dispute. They need to demonstrate that the UK remains a viable and attractive marketplace for investment.

And what of the 'i' word? A second independence referendum did not feature in the SNP manifesto and Nicola Sturgeon has carefully avoided committing to one during the campaign, not least because her party cannot afford to lose another one. The SNP would prefer to hold a future referendum at a point of optimal conditions for a Yes vote, but the huge surge in MPs and votes alone doesn't equate to that.

Alastair Ross is an Edinburgh-based public policy expert at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com