So, Nicola Sturgeon has resigned as SNP leader and the campaign for a successor is underway with three candidates declared at time of writing (MSPs Kate Forbes, Humza Yusaf and Ash Regan). The result is likely to be known by the end of March so there is limited time to quiz candidates and analyse their positions.
I’m not an SNP member and have no vote, so my interest is in what we can learn about the future of the present party of government and the options for independence. The change of leadership is likely to produce some form of policy/strategy ‘re-set’ by the Scottish Government. Indeed, it is certain that talk of ‘re-sets’ will headline the contest and the result will have implications for the next Programme for Government Statement (currently scheduled for September 2023) and the period up to the next UK General Election, possibly 2024.
My particular interest is in the matter of Scotland’s Ageing Population and what the new leader proposes to do about it. This arises from the book I co-authored with Craig Dalzell, All of Our Futures (which you can purchase in the Common Weal shop here). In that book we argued for a new and comprehensive Social Contract for our Ageing Population based in a human rights perspective. It’s fair to say we were never satisfied that the SNP Government under Nicola’s leadership had taken up the challenge to the degree we think is needed.
That said a key plus point is that Nicola introduced a Minister for Older People and Equalities in 2018 (Christina McKelvie, MSP). Also, age is a protected characteristic in the 2010 Equality Act. So, the new leader will be able to capitalise on these powerful resources for an early re-set of ageing policy across all the portfolios.
Countering Ageism: A challenge for the leadership contest.
Before getting into some of the specific questions for leadership and government a word of caution is needed about the possibilities for an ageist framing of the leadership campaign and the possible amplification of well-known ageist stereotypes and the prejudices they entail.
An obvious example of ageism in political debate and the media is the uncritical presentation of ‘the old’ as tired, decrepit, out of ideas, unable to change, reactionary etc. This image is typically contrasted with the equally ageist image of ‘the young’ as vibrant, energetic, future oriented and the main resource for positive social and political change. There are already traces of this in some of the leadership commentaries focussing on:
• The relatively young age of candidates.
• A demand for policy dynamism and organisational shake ups within the SNP.
• Calls for a new leader able to engage more ‘young people’ with Yes campaigning.
• The notion of a decisive ‘generational change’ taking place in the SNP and its leadership.
How clearly the candidates signal awareness of these perspectives and how effectively they counter any ageism in the leadership debates will be key areas for analysis of the contest.
This is not a matter for the candidates alone, as the nature of membership engagement is equally important. Particularly so given their wider influence on resetting SNP strategy and the impact that would have on the politics of devolution and independence.
Leadership Change as Policy Re-set: Some key questions for candidates.
Advocating a broad strategy for a ‘re-set’ to counter ageism and address older people’s rights and issues would be a useful basis to intervene in hustings and other events.
The policy backdrop is that as more people live longer the population structure changes to create a different generational profile for work, pensions, housing, healthcare, and society. Consequently, Scotland needs a comprehensive strategy for ageing to ensure we do not perpetuate the inequalities and ageism of current practice.
The main questions to get candidates to answer are:
• How would you bring an end to ageism? This includes institutional ageism as well as personal behaviour and media representations.
• How will you improve respect for the human rights and legal protections of older people?
• Do you have a comprehensive strategy for healthy ageing with social care systems adapted to demographic ageing?
• What is your policy for reforming the labour market and employment rights to offer choices for better, longer, and fairer working lives?
• What are your plans for delivering age proofed housing development?
• Do you support the right to retirement with an acceptable income, including the option of a Universal Basic Income (UBI).
These questions are relevant to us all and particularly the present cohorts of ‘younger’ older people now in their 40s and 50s as they look ahead to their 60s, 70s and beyond. This group amounts to a substantial proportion of the Scottish electorate whose votes can be decisive in securing SNP election results and advancing the cause of independence.
So, the next SNP Leader and First Minister needs to be up to speed on the issues raised here as they relate to both devolved government and the case for independence.
Good luck to SNP members in choosing a new leader and First Minister. We’ll all be looking closely at the results and what they might mean for the next few years of government and independence campaigning.
In the meantime, if you have questions, views, and experiences to share about the issues raised above we’d like to hear from you.