THE SCOTTISH National Party tacked rightwards at its conference in Inverness last week. The message from party leader John Swinney was that the SNP has evolved from a party of protest to one capable of taking power. With just seven months to go before the Scottish Parliament elections, Swinney wants to 'do a Tony Blair' on the SNP.
Over the war, Swinney did raise some doubts about what the government was doing. But it was a much less forthright opposition to the war than previous SNP leader Alex Salmond had put forward during the war in Kosovo. Swinney said that there must be 'incontrovertible evidence' of the threat from Saddam Hussein before an attack. He said an assault without United Nations backing would be 'completely and utterly unacceptable'.
He added that he of course agreed that 'UN weapons inspectors must be given free and unfettered access to sites they wish to investigate in Iraq'.
If they were in any way obstructed and the UN gave its blessing to war, then the SNP might go along with it. During the last decade the SNP has played strongly on the idea that it has stayed true to 'Old Labour' ideas abandoned by the Labour Party. But Swinney sees this as a weakness and is determined to make his party much more like a Scottish version of New Labour.
It will be a pro-business party with only a slightly softer edge than Blair. It will be against nuclear power but not for confronting big business or the rich. He promised changes to PFI in the public sector but warned that there was no 'pot of gold' available.
Swinney confirmed that the SNP has given up on the policy it put at the last Scottish Parliament elections of supporting extra taxation to pay for better services. Instead the party is now convinced that Gordon Brown has made enough cash available.
In an effort to look both compassionate and tough, he pledged more money for nurses and 1,000 extra police officers.
Swinney said, 'Our new approach will be to present independence not as a land of milk and honey but as a land of opportunity. An opportunity to compete, an opportunity to release our potential, our potential as a talented and innovative people.'
The party had started its conference with a crime debate which sounded, at best, like David Blunkett and at worst like the 'hang 'em and flog 'em' Tories. The SNP justice spokeswoman, Roseanna Cunningham, pledged that her party would 'get tough' with offenders. She criticised New Labour for not being hard enough on crime.
It is clearer than ever that in the forthcoming Scottish Parliament elections there will be only one party putting forward a distinctively different set of policies to New Labour. And that will be the Scottish Socialist Party, not the SNP.