Constitutional issues still dominate local elections
It’s almost 25 years to the day since Tony Blair’s New Labour won the 1997 general election by an absolute landslide locking the Tories out of government for the next 13 years and ushering in a new sense of national optimism that politics could be done differently.
As the song went at the time, ‘things can only get better’.
For Scotland, that meant devolution and the pledge to find Scottish solutions for Scottish problems.
A quarter of a century on and without rehearsing all of the dismal arguments about why Labour’s political hegemony of Scotland was supplanted by the SNP, suffice to say that ‘entitlement’ was a factor.
And here we are on the eve of yet another election, this time for local government, which will be fought, not on the politics of the potholes that need fixing, or the poor state of education in our classrooms, or whether our bins get emptied often enough, or that housing is fit for humans to live in, but on the constitution.
And yet with their record for running the country looking decidedly ropey, the SNP is predicted to win with a rallying call of ‘send Boris Johnson a message’. And on that basis, it is the SNP that has indeed fulfilled its own promise of doing a different kind of politics, but perhaps not in the way that most of us hoped might happen.
It feels surreal to be involved in politics right now. Elections are won on grounds that they are not, or should not be, being fought, and when the governance of our country at all levels appears so flawed.
In Westminster we have a government led by a prime minister who has just been found guilty of breaking his own laws. We have a House of Commons where one in ten – yes, one in ten - of our MPs are under investigation for sexual harassment or bullying. And in the so-called Mother of all Parliaments, where misogyny is ironically rife, we unbelievably have a front bench Tory accused of watching porn on his phone during a mass debate – and that’s not some cheap attempt at a gag from a grubby sit com.
Here in Scotland, we have an SNP government that has been in power for over 15 years, which acts like it is in opposition, above the law, and beyond scrutiny. And where there is some foundation to the ‘Secret Scotland’ tagline that prefixes so many stories about it.
The failings of this SNP government are stacking up. A ferries scandal that has so far cost the taxpayer £250m and delivered no ferries; where the idea that vital paperwork has simply gone missing or didn’t even exist is par for the course; in which key players have signed government gagging orders; where the first minister points the finger at everyone other than herself; and where a former first minister has demanded Police Scotland be called in. Where in education, standards have slipped so badly that we are no longer regarded as a global centre of excellence. In health, where inquiries into the deaths of children in hospital must be forced through by grieving parents. In justice, where crimes of rape and sexual assault just continue to soar. Where across Scotland, the statistics relating to poverty, attainment, drug deaths, care experience, and even life expectancy, run contrary to the pledge from ministers that Scotland is the best country for a child to grow up in. And where even a national census runs over time and over budget. Where secrecy, obfuscation, and down right silence, have all contributed to the idea that this is a government working for itself and not the people.
Depressingly, it is likely none of this will figure as Scots go to the polls next week. But here’s a thing, after 15 years in government, having already lost one independence referendum and with no second one in sight, or even real hope that it could be won, the question of who or what the SNP is for, is real. And while, it may seem like there is nothing that can currently sweep the SNP off its pedestal, as Tony Blair discovered, tides can turn and fast, particularly when you are too arrogant to see it coming.
First published in the Sunday Post on 1st May 2022