The news that the Scottish Government is delaying the devolution of major social security benefits to Social Security Scotland until 2024 will have made many people smile. What a joke for a party that is always claiming to be able to better govern Scotland than Westminster!
But there is also a less amusing irony in the SNP’s reluctance to take on full responsibility for social security in Scotland.
The idea that bad things in Scotland are the Union’s fault has long been the nationalists’ number one recruiting sergeant. They point to austerity and a “heartless” UK social security system as irresistible proof of the moral perfidy of Tories in particular, and Westminster in general.
Should life really become that much better in Scotland under devolved government, then this argument for independence loses much of its urgency and emotional power.
Little wonder, then, that the SNP has lacked the motivation to use its devolved powers and the Barnett bonus to the maximum to combat austerity. It is still not doing all it could to mitigate the negative impacts of benefit reform, let alone to stimulate the economy, which is the only route to greater prosperity.
The First Minister’s fine line in rhetorical compassion masks over a decade of cynical political calculation which has left all Scots worse off than they needed to be.
The real question here is how much longer SNP voters are prepared to believe that the answer to Scotland’s woes is independence while their government sits on its hands.