Kezia Dugdale: The SNP is on the slide
Nicola Sturgeon is out of ideas and out of options, the former Scottish Labour leader wrote before she stood down
Kezia Dugdale - Image credit: David Anderson/Holyrood
This year will be remembered as the beginning of the end for the SNP.
Over the past 12 months, Nicola Sturgeon has become increasingly detached from reality.
She is devoid of ideas beyond a divisive second independence referendum – and the public are fed-up.
This decline is, of course, best exemplified in the general election result.
SNP spin doctors have tried their best to present the result in a positive fashion, but no one believes them anymore.
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- Sketch: The political year in review
The Nationalists lost 21 seats and had majorities slashed across the country.
In seats across Scotland, Labour is in touching distance of ousting even more Nationalist MPs at the next election.
And that’s precisely what we aim to do. We remain on an election footing and we know that SNP MPs are terrified of another election.
Nicola Sturgeon should have reflected on June’s result. She could have sought answers as to why so many people are deserting the SNP so quickly.
If she had, she would have discovered that people across Scotland simply don’t want a second divisive independence referendum.
They don’t want to be dragged back to the arguments of the past – they want solutions to the problems of the future.
They want Nicola Sturgeon to focus on making Scottish education the best in the world once more. They want an NHS that is properly resourced with staff that are properly paid.
These are entirely reasonable demands – and it should be the aim of any politician, regardless of party, to reform and improve public services.
But the problem for the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon is they just don’t care about improving government.
Public services are a secondary concern to Nationalist politicians such as Nicola Sturgeon because her political priority – her driving force – is the break-up of the UK.
She is happy to rest, not reform – to be inactive, not innovative.
Take, for instance, the SNP’s record on education. Ahead of last year’s election, Nicola Sturgeon tried to claim our schools are her top priority.
Yet in just a year, results and performances have declined even further beyond the SNP’s already woeful record.
The latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results give Scotland its worst education report since devolution, with Scotland declining in reading, maths and science.
These figures are the direct result of the SNP’s disastrous decade in charge of our schools, with 4,000 fewer teachers, 1,000 fewer support staff and spending cut on every single pupil by hundreds of pounds since 2011.
Nicola Sturgeon likes to blame Tory austerity for her cuts, but the truth is she has refused to stop them, despite having the power.
The budget for local services has been slashed by £1.5bn since 2011, including a £170m cut this year alone after Scottish Green leader Patrick Harvie abandoned his principles to side with the SNP.
Labour has persistently advocated for asking the rich to pay their fair share so we can invest in our schools – but Nationalist MSPs prefer to line-up with the Tories to vote these plans down.
Over this year, more than ever, it has become clear that the SNP’s neglect of education is creating a lost generation among Scotland’s children and young people.
Instead of recognising this woeful record, Nicola Sturgeon has instead tried to double-down on her separation drive.
The people of Scotland have told Nicola Sturgeon her dream of a second independence referendum is dead. They have told her to get back to the day job, but she has refused to listen.
Voters sent her a clear message – yet she has just stuck her head in the sand. Just as voters deserted the SNP in droves this year, they will continue to do so in coming years because Nicola Sturgeon is out of ideas and out of options.
This stands in stark contrast to Labour, which energised voters across the country with a radical vision for the future. Labour offered voters the chance to reject a divisive second independence referendum and tell Nicola Sturgeon to get back to the day job.
But it also offered people the opportunity to vote for a progressive, fairer country.
Jeremy Corbyn’s manifesto was for the many not the few. It presented a different vision for the whole of the UK – an end to austerity and investment in our public services.
The prospect of a fairer, more equal society caught the imagination of millions across Scotland and the whole of the UK.
It helped win Labour seven seats in Scotland and stopped Theresa May getting a majority across the country.
I am enormously proud of each Labour MP elected and I know they will do a superb job of holding the Tories to account.
This year, the Labour family came together in a way that has simply taken my breath away.
In a time when politics in Scotland is dominated by the constitution, we were told time and time again that our values – class over country, families before flags – were out of date.
But we now have a government-in-waiting in Westminster, while in Holyrood it is Labour MSPs who are transforming lives across Scotland.
I am so proud of each and every member of the Labour family who stands up for what we believe in – that by the strength of our common endeavour, it means we achieve more together than we achieve alone.
Of course, it was all supposed to be very different. Theresa May was supposed to have walked the election, according to the pollsters and the pundits.
Sitting in her Downing Street bunker, she expected to win a massive majority.
But she underestimated the mood of the British people and engaged in what will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the greatest political blunders in history.
Now, so desperate is she to cling to power at any cost that she has even put peace in Northern Ireland at risk.
As we look forward to the months and years ahead, Theresa May’s fragile majority and increasingly unworkable agenda shrouds our future in uncertainty.
The government’s key test – Brexit – looks increasingly like it will be failed.
A weakened Theresa May lacks the authority to keep her cabinet under control. Many are now openly challenging her authority on a daily basis.
Amid the tough task facing her and David Davis in Brussels, these splits and divisions are only going to worsen.
Theresa May’s EU Withdrawal Bill may have changed name yet again, but that can’t disguise her attempt to force a Brexit on the UK that risks jobs and livelihoods.
Labour believes there should be a jobs-first Brexit; not one that allows the Tories to erode workplace rights, consumer rights or environmental standards.
People did not vote to make themselves poorer and the government has a responsibility to every voter – Leave or Remain – to ensure they do not lose out from Brexit.
And my colleagues in Westminster will seek a clear and binding commitment to repatriate powers in devolved areas to the Scottish Parliament. We will insist this must be done in a short, but achievable timeframe.
Labour is in a position to force the Tories’ hand, until the moment comes when Jeremy Corbyn’s government-in-waiting is in power.
Scotland and the UK now lie at a crucial juncture. The decisions we take over the coming year will have a fundamental impact on our future and our children’s future.
In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon must accept that her independence dream has been shattered by a public who want her to get back to the day job.
She must drop her plans for a divisive second independence referendum and start fixing the mess the SNP has made of our schools and hospitals.
As an initial measure to regain public confidence, she should reshuffle her cabinet and get rid of her failing ministers who are clearly incapable of managing their departments.
At a UK level, Theresa May must recognise that voters have profoundly and clearly rejected her vision for Britain.
People across the UK do not want her version of a costly hard Brexit that would leave them worse off, both economically and culturally.
As well as rejecting her vision of Brexit, voters also rejected the Tories’ failed austerity agenda. People across the UK are fed-up with cuts to public services and low pay.
They want the richest to pay their fair share so we can have investment in our public services and end cruel measures like the public sector pay-cap.
Over the coming year, Nicola Sturgeon and Theresa May need to learn the lessons of the past 12 months. People voted for change – for fresh ideas and fresh thinking.
If Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon respected the electorate, they would provide just that. But it seems that both are determined to continue with their agendas of division and decay regardless.
In contrast, the party I lead will work tirelessly every day to make our country a fairer and better place to live and work.
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