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by Mandy Rhodes
10 December 2023
If all you have is to blame Westminster, then it's time to step aside

If all you have is to blame Westminster, then it's time to step aside

It feels like we are at the fag end of a fag-end government. And yet the depressing reality is that we are still only halfway through. With a Holyrood election not due until May 2026, the question that hangs is how can this clusterbourach possibly limp on for another two-and-a-half years without more Scots becoming the collateral damage for a party that feels rudderless and out of control? 

With councils threatening bankruptcy, the country’s financial watchdog warning of a £2bn funding black hole, the parliament’s finance committee calling out the government for a failure to ensure policies are affordable, our capital city – among other towns and cities – declaring a housing emergency, educational standards dipping, the NHS on its knees, destitution on the rise and life expectancy on the decline, how much longer can this stasis go on?

Scotland is fast running out of money. And with the budget just around the corner, public services are being braced for things getting much harder.

But the deficit isn’t just in the country’s balance sheet, it is in the lack of intellectual rigour that allows the party of government to celebrate putting cash into the pockets of the poor while simultaneously freezing council tax and cutting public services that will always disproportionately affect the less well-off. 

And yet it is still being lauded by an unquestioning army of nationalist zealots who have been programmed to attack with a volley of social media whataboutery.

But what is the point in a much-lauded child welfare payment when you are closing public swimming pools, shutting libraries, and closing nurseries down? What’s the point in boasting about stopping strikes when your unaffordable pay deals will lead to job cuts? What’s the point of handouts when all you are doing with one hand is cancelling out the benefit with the other?
This is a government that isn’t just fiscally challenged but intellectually, it’s in a stupor. It has run out of ideas, resources, and even ministers really worth their salt.

And if all you have left in your armoury is to blame Westminster for all your woes, then it is time to step aside because what good are you making of devolution?

This failing SNP government has been in power for 16 of devolution’s 25 years and has made life for many considerably worse. And a sure sign of its cognitive impoverishment is to lash out at a Labour leader for simply mentioning the name ‘Margaret Thatcher’ rather than focusing on what it needs to fix. Many of the party’s MSPs were still in primary school – indeed, some still to be born – when Thatcher left office, few will have taken the time to put in context what Keir Starmer was even saying and will, to paraphrase one of their former colleagues, Angus Brendan MacNeil, not have bothered themselves to be troubled by the inconvenience of thought. Perhaps it is by design that this SNP government has ensured our education has fallen so far behind. An unquestioning electorate is surely an electoral convenience for a government that is all but out of answers other than someone else is to blame.

And while the Scottish Government might headline the appalling news that Scotland is slipping down the international educational league tables by saying, au contraire, that it has maintained its standing while at the same time ignoring the fall, the reality is that new data comparing how well 15-year-olds in more than 80 countries could answer questions in maths, science and reading, revealed that Scotland had fallen in all three. There is no good way to spin it. Scottish educational standards continue to slide.

And the Pisa numbers only confirm what parents of children in state schools already knew: Scottish education is no longer the envy of the world. It is not excellent, it is not even good, it is, by many criteria, below average and worse. It’s an indictment of a nationalist government that Scottish pupils are one full year behind in maths compared with their English counterparts and yet, when asked if Scotland’s education is failing, the education secretary says she doesn’t “accept that critique”. This isn’t just a risk in the here and now, it is a point critical to the very future growth of Scotland. We have institutionalised educational mediocrity. And where we don’t like the answers, we simply stop asking the questions. As the education secretary says, “there are other data sets”. 

It is almost two years since I wrote an angry column pointing out the failings of the SNP in power in which I said that a fish rots from the head down. It attracted much opprobrium from the SNP hierarchy at the time, who resolutely failed to recognise that I am neither political friend nor foe but a neutral, and some may say informed, observer and that while they can wear grievance like a comfort blanket and accuse me of being partisan, my denunciation was based on the evidence we can all see and feel, and not on blind tribalism.

I am also a realist and while my censure was heartfelt, I also recognised that the electorate would likely hold its nose and vote SNP anyway because old habits are hard to break. And as night follows day, three months later the party won yet another election albeit no longer with a majority and so they struck a deal with the Greens. 

Since he took office nine months ago, Humza Yousaf has not had his troubles to seek and yet the Bute House Agreement is something he holds dear. In reality the Greens have only added to the SNP’s travails. From the evangelical adherence to support for the Gender Recognition Reform Bill, which could likely push Yousaf to have to support a costly and publicly unpopular legal appeal all the way through to the Supreme Court, through to the abandoned deposit return scheme, the shelving of highly protected marine areas, the scrapping of multi-million-pound plans to have households replace gas central heating boilers by 2030, to Lorna Slater’s uncosted circular economy bill. They have even led to Yousaf having to back them while sacrificing one of his own. Is there a more cynical act of self-preservation than that?

But none of this has gone unnoticed by an increasingly restless SNP backbench. And while Yousaf desperately seeks to balance the books with his budget, it might be time to add up whether the Greens are really “worth their weight in gold” to his increasingly beleaguered
government and if so, at what cost.

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Read the most recent article written by Mandy Rhodes - The SNP doesn't need another 'reset', it needs a complete rework.

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