Learning and skills will work for Wales and strengthen Scotland21 April 2015
Nationalist parties (in the UK at least), are often accused of an obsession with constitutional issues. Independence, powers and funding can dominate their narrative, and are often the caveat to many of their other policy ‘asks’. It makes assessing their manifestos perhaps more difficult than others, especially in a UK election where many of the areas relevant to NIACE are devolved to the national legislatures of Wales and Scotland.
With 9 seats between them, it’s fair to say that Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party have often found themselves on the fringes of Westminster politics. However, the momentum gained by the SNP during the Scottish independence referendum has changed everything. With a couple of weeks to go, Labour show no sign of reversing their decline in Scotland, and it now looks probable, rather than just possible, that the SNP will be the third biggest party in the House of Commons. Conversely, it seems unlikely that Plaid will add to their three current seats (although adding Ceredigion and Ynys Mon to their current three isn’t completely out of the question), but the nationalist ‘bloc’ at Westminster seems likely to be around the 50 seat mark. In a hung parliament, they will be a significant voice.
The SNP’s manifesto, launched yesterday, only mentions independence once, while Plaid lead with a call for £1.2billion in extra funding each year for Wales – giving us per capita parity with Scotland.
You can do a lot with £1.2billion each year, and Plaid are strong on investment in learning and skills throughout their manifesto. Further education would get a boost, as would Apprenticeships (particularly Higher Apprenticeships). There would be devolution of powers to allow for a Welsh Job Centre Plus ‘not focused on sanctions’, and a Welsh Migration Service to include a skills shortage list which identifies the need for skilled migrants. Perhaps most interestingly, Plaid pitch for a ‘Citizens’ Service’ focusing on giving young people the skills they need for the work place. The caveat: none of the candidates to be Chancellor of the Exchequer are likely to commit to the extra billion pounds needed each year.
The SNP’s manifesto is sadly lacking any meaningful new policies on further and adult education, the central pledges on education are the continuation of free university places and the extension of the Educational Maintenance Allowance in Scotland. The economy is a key theme throughout – with a challenge to what the SNP call a ‘Tory and Labour obsession with austerity’. It reads more of a critique of Westminster politics than the shopping-list approach to a manifesto, but like Plaid, it is clear that the SNP will prioritise challenging the consensus on cuts and demanding further powers.
Both the SNP and Plaid pledge to be the voice of their respective nation if elected at Westminster, but it will be interesting to see how this translates in potentially messy coalition negotiations. Both parties have put some interesting ideas on the table and as ever, we will look forward to working with them to discuss and challenge their thinking. It will be interesting to see how their thinking fits in a devolved context for the 2016 elections.