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by Mandy Rhodes
05 September 2021
Comment: The SNP-Green deal makes the prospect of transformational change ever more remote for everyday Scots

Comment: The SNP-Green deal makes the prospect of transformational change ever more remote for everyday Scots

“Historic...ground-breaking...a leap of faith.”

There’s been a lot of flowery language used to make fragrant a rather pedestrian and fishy-smelling marriage of political expediency between the SNP and the Greens. But none of it can disguise the fact that in the 14 years that the two have actually worked together – both formally and informally – to push through budgets, to further the independence cause, and more crucially, to help save important SNP skins, they have failed to use that immense political capital to improve, fundamentally, the lot of Scots.

And now, with the Greens in power, with their new ministerial titles ludicrously longer than their actual functions, and with an engorged government and its ever-expanding army of advisers now costing the taxpayer well over a million pounds a year, the prospect of transformational change for everyday Scots seems ever more remote.

No one can blame the first minister for wanting to share the load. This has been a hellish past year. A pandemic, a sexual harassment scandal, the savage end to a close political friendship, a brutal parliamentary inquiry, a probe into whether she broke the ministerial code, the very real threat of being forced out of office, her trusted deputy at risk from a vote of no-confidence, a fear of defections, an election leaving her short of a majority, a party at war with itself, and all the while, a mounting in-tray of seemingly insurmountable issues. 

It’s been relentless. She could do with some relief.

And with COP26 coming to Glasgow and the world’s eyes on her record on climate, perhaps a deal with the Greens seems the right, or at least the most convenient, thing to do.
Another first for Scotland. A greenwash on a party that built its support base on a battle over oil.

But as the First Minister used every plaudit in her playbook to welcome the Scottish Greens’ co-leaders, Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater, into her ministerial team, the grim reality of her best efforts in government were being starkly revealed.

Even as this new Green deal was breathlessly being talked up as the vehicle that could now make possible the building of a fairer, more just Scotland, a report, Scotland’s Population 2020, by the National Records of Scotland, was dumping on the record so far. And its findings were dire.

The death rate in Scotland’s poorest neighbourhoods is almost double that of the most affluent. Men in the more prosperous areas are living an extra 25 healthy years as opposed to those in the most deprived. And in every one of the adverse health categories set out – Covid, alcohol, drugs and suicide – Scotland’s most vulnerable citizens are at greater risk of death simply by dint of their poverty.

Deaths from drug abuse were 18.4 times higher in the poorest areas and 4.3 times higher for alcohol-related deaths. Indeed, in a country that pioneered minimum pricing on alcohol, the stats make for even more depressing reading, with 1,190 alcohol-specific deaths in 2020, a 17 per cent increase on the previous year and the largest total since 2008.

And while we have all been aware, anecdotally, that the pandemic hit the poorest hardest, that was also laid bare, with the report revealing that Scots in the most-deprived communities were almost two and a half times more likely to die from Covid-19 than those in the most affluent.

And now, with the Greens in power, with their new ministerial titles ludicrously longer than their actual functions, and with an engorged government and its ever-expanding army of advisers now costing the taxpayer well over a million pounds a year, the prospect of transformational change for everyday Scots seems ever more remote.

And surely the most injurious of the report’s conclusions to the left-leaning leader of the Scottish Government was this: “There is a huge gap in healthy life expectancy for people in the most and least deprived areas.”

The SNP has been in power for 14 years. If this government runs its full term, the nationalists will have been in charge for nearly 20. Two decades. More than enough time to transform a nation. And yet, we now know that for the poorest of Scots, this government has taken years off their lives.

So, save me the rhetoric. Hold back on the oft-mentioned aspiration. Enough of the ‘what-could-be-if-onlys’. We have been told repeatedly that Scotland would be the best place for a child to grow up in. And instead, it has proved to still be one of the worst if you are poor. The time now is not for warm words about what the SNP and Greens could do in power, the time now is for action.

For supporters of independence, Scotland’s deep-seated inequities, its poverty, poor health and dismal social outcomes, are all to be blamed on Westminster. But we have control – always have had – over health, housing, education and justice. And we have a parliament with more powers to find Scottish solutions to Scottish problems than it ever did back in 1999 when Donald Dewar spoke those fine words. 

That ambition to make Scotland better is built into the parliament’s very fabric. It’s literally etched into its walls.

And this session, its MSPs will be wrestling with a greater set of esoteric issues than it has ever before. Matters of identity, of who we are, how we treat each other, how we live, and how we die – assisted dying, drug deaths, gender identity, sexual exploitation, misogyny, and hate.

The test will be whether this so-called ‘new model of politics’ will be well-equipped to cope with the nuance, the intellect, and the sheer force of rational debate required to find consensus when almost everything nowadays is filtered through a constitutional kaleidoscope and diminished to a binary choice.

And while it’s not for me to be a defender of the Scottish Conservative leader, Douglas Ross, but when he tweeted his assessment that this new SNP/Green government would be “anti-jobs, anti-business, anti-families, anti-drivers and anti-oil and gas”, it took a certain blind agenda for him to then be accused of homophobia by SNP and Green MSPs who were tacitly supported by the first minister.

It revealed a rigidity of thought where ambiguity, and shades of grey, have no place. And it was instructive because if everything is now viewed through the simple prism of the current divisions emanating from the GRA debate, it is also proving an effective tool for simply shutting down scrutiny of government and that doesn’t bode well for what lies ahead.

Read the most recent article written by Mandy Rhodes - Time to Speak Up

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