The SNP are in a tricky position at the moment – the people who support them want a huge variety of different things. Lots of them (not all of them) want another referendum; some of them want a small state; some of them want a big state; some of them want more taxation; some want less.
So to keep their show on the road, the SNP have to keep finding a way of looking like they offer something to everyone – hence the nonsense question they ask and answer in the election material they are sending out this week: “Who benefits most from our policies?” “We all do.”
The problem with this, of course, is that it makes it very hard for them to have any radical or interesting policies. So we end up with idiotic muck such as Nicola Sturgeon’s newly announced “groundbreaking pledge” to introduce a “baby box” scheme.
If the SNP win in May’s Holyrood elections, parents of Scotland’s new-born babies will be handed a box that can double up as a cot, containing clothes, toys and nappies. Each box will cost the taxpayer £100 – the total cost will be about £6m a year. This, says Sturgeon, will “help tackle child poverty and improve the chances of some of our most deprived children.”
She may be right; perhaps it will. But if it is designed to help the very deprived, why give it to everyone else too? Anyone who has had a baby and isn’t very deprived can tell you that the main problem post birth is not too few babygros, but too many babygros. To say nothing of too many bits of plastic, too many cuddly toys, too many pieces of clothing from Primark your sisters thought were cute (seven babygros for £7.50!), from your mother’s attic that she thought were cute 35 years ago, and from all your friends’ under-bed storage boxes from when their babies were born 12 months ago (it’s hard to throw away stuff your babies once wore).
And the box that turns into a cot thing? The market does a good job of providing them to those who want them.
This is a classic SNP policy – designed to look universal and to be nice for everyone, but basically a bit pointless. Particularly given that the market – in its usual brilliance – has this stuff mostly covered already: deliver a baby at any hospital in the UK and you’ll have barely finished registering the chaos of new life before the Bounty lady turns up with a bag full of free stuff to distract you from it.
So what should the SNP do instead? Provide a baby box to the very poor if they think that their welfare state isn’t currently providing enough support to them. And then leave everyone else (and their tax money) alone.