Does anyone fondly imagine Nicola Sturgeon wasn’t fully aware of the fact that the £500 ‘gratitude payment’ given to health and social care workers would be subject to the British tax/benefit system? Does anybody seriously suppose she didn’t know that the payment would be taxed? Does anyone honestly think she hadn’t considered the impact on benefits? Whatever else Nicola Sturgeon is, she is neither ignorant nor stupid. She knew!
Just as she knew full well that there would be no exemptions or exceptions. In fact, she was counting on it. This wasn’t generosity. This was politics. It was entirely a ploy to embarrass Boris Johnson. Not a sophisticated ploy. Not even a very clever ploy. Because while Nicola Sturgeon is neither ignorant nor stupid can can at times appear remarkably naive. It was naive to entertain the notion that Boris Johnson could be embarrassed. This is not an individual who feels shame. This is not an individual who is capable of recognising shameful behaviour. Think of the things he’s done. Have you ever seen anything that resembled remorse? Supposing Boris Johnson might be embarrassed by being made to look like Scrooge makes no more sense than imagining he can ever be shamed into respecting Scotland’s democratic will.
The ploy could have backfired badly. Had Boris Johnson been smart and inclined to take the legs out from under her (and assuming he had the powers to do so), he could have responded to her announcement of the £500 bonus by immediately declaring that it would not be subject to tax and what is more, he would direct the the DWP should decline to pursue the benefit deduction which would normally be made. Nicola Sturgeon is not so naive, however, as to think Boris Johnson clever enough to think of such a thing. And she doubtless had a response prepared – probably something along the lines of how she’s forced his hand on this just as she was going force him into granting a Section 30 order if everybody votes SNP next year.
Overall, it was a smart move. Whatever happens, Sturgeon comes out of it favourably. Even an old cynic like myself can be impressed. Not with her good-heartedness, to whatever extent this was a factor. Pleased as I am that the service of these front-line workers is being recognised, that recognition is no more than token. After the ‘generosity’ has been forgotten the social and economic injustice remains of a system which can see the poorest paying a marginal rate of tax in excess of 100%. I’m not deceived. I know there was more of Machiavelli than Rowntree in this move. What pleases me is that it hints at a political adroitness I’ve long had cause to doubt. And maybe some of the ruthlessness Nicola Sturgeon is surely going to need if she is to survive with her legacy intact.